Director's Column

Partnering for "Sustainable Communities"

Download Main Street News PDF 2010/09_10

In the long march toward national recognition for our movement, I am happy to report that the “Main Street brand” is more visible than ever with key players in the national arena including, believe it or not, the federal government. 

  Six Principles for Sustainable Communities

The federal agency collaboration involving HUD, EPA, DOT, and USDA is providing funding, leadership, and support for “alignment” along six principles:

1. Provide more transportation choices. Develop safe, reliable, and economical transportation choices to decrease household transportation choices, reduce our nation's dependence on foreign oil, improve air quality, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and promote public health.

2. Promote equitable, affordable housing. Expand location- and energy-efficient housing choices for people of all ages, incomes, races, and ethnicities to increase mobility and lower the combined cost of housing and transportation.

3. Enhance economic competitiveness. Improve economic competitiveness through reliable, timely access to employment centers, educational opportunities, services, and other basic needs of workers, as well as expanded business access to markets.

4. Support existing communities. Target federal funding toward existing communities − through strategies such as transit-oriented, mixed-use development and land recycling − to increase community revitalization, improve the efficiency of public works investments, and safeguard rural landscapes.

5. Coordinate and leverage federal policies and investment. Align federal policies and funding to remove barriers to collaboration, leverage funding, and increase the accountability and effectiveness of all levels of government to plan for future growth, including making smart energy choices such as locally generated renewable energy.

6. Value communities and neighborhoods. Enhance the unique characteristics of all communities by investing in healthy, safe, and walkable neighborhoods – rural, urban, and suburban.

This month, the International City/County Management Association published a new book, Putting Smart Growth to Work in Rural Communities.  Beyond its long title, this guide offers some quick recommendations that form a holistic three-part strategy.  One of their top strategies?  Historic preservation and the Main Street Approach® in places like El Dorado, Arkansas.  (Click here to download a free online copy).

About the same time, the mayor of Lee’s Summit, Missouri, received a letter of congratulations from the National League of Cities, which represents more than 1,600 cities and towns for its recent Great American Main Street Award® designation. 

And recently, representatives of three federal agencies − the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) − convened in Washington, D.C., to consider the first year of progress for their new “Sustainable Communities” collaboration, an unprecedented agreement to coordinate federal housing, transportation, and environmental programs. And what, exactly, have they learned? “Fix It First” should drive all funding decisions, and downtowns are at the center of that philosophy.

These three agencies are not alone.  In a recent meeting with officials from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), they commented to me that while USDA and other agencies are well suited for project development (through grant funding), they do not have the strength “on the ground” to produce long-term results and manage community development. That’s why they are turning to Main Street programs in many states to find creative community development strategies − from building food hubs in Wyoming to planning sustainable streetscapes in Iowa.

These are small victories for our movement, from a time when we were at best invisible or at worst irrelevant to people outside the Main Street and preservation worlds.  But collectively, these small steps toward visibility are giving Main Street a significant, permanent “place at the table” within the larger community development field, where sustainability and livability can all be accomplished in one place.