Congress looks at making US cities more ‘livable’

* Bill would pledge millions to “livability”

* Local governments would coordinate planning policies

* Concept encompasses transportation, environment, housing

By Lisa Lambert

WASHINGTON, June 9 (BestGrowthStock) – The U.S. Senate moved closer
on Wednesday to making the concept of “livable communities” a
part of national law that would provide federal grants to help
local governments implement comprehensive city planning.

Almost a year after Sen. Chris Dodd, the Banking Committee
chairman from Connecticut, introduced a bill, the committee
held its first hearing. The bill proposes giving livability
grants to metropolitan organizations and creating an
interagency office on sustainable communities within the
executive branch.

The grant amounts would depend on the size of the city and
the use of the money. The bill would authorize $100 million in
total each year through 2013 for planning grants and $3.75
billion through 2013 for implementation grants.

A similar bill was introduced in the House of
Representatives in February.

Dodd described the bill as combining housing development,
public transit, and infrastructure and land-use planning into
one comprehensive approach to city development. Currently, many
of those decisions are made separately from one another, and
Dodd and others said the partitions have led to urban sprawl.

Livability advocates promote public transportation and bike
paths and building energy efficient homes. The payoff of
combining city planning will be great, according to Dodd.

“Our nation is facing a number of significant problems,
including a struggling economy, an explosion in home
foreclosures, the looming threat of climate change, an
increasingly worrisome dependence on foreign oil, deteriorating
infrastructure, and, yes, worsening traffic congestion,” he
said.

Other senators said the bill will reduce the rates of
asthma in children, draw younger people back to abandoned
downtown areas, reduce obesity by promoting walking and
bicycling, and get workers to their jobs on time.

Critics say the bill is vague, extends the reach of the
federal government too far into the dealings of local
governments and costs too much.

Support may also wane, as fiscal conservatives in Congress
pledge to cut back on spending programs and have recently
fought other measures to send money to state and local
governments.

“Livability” has been percolating as a theme within the
executive branch.

The Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of
Housing and Urban Development and the Department of
Transportation have formed a partnership to better coordinate
their programs. Their leaders spent most of the winter touting
livability at national conferences of city, county and state
leaders held in Washington.

“Rural, suburban and urban counties have been pursuing
local strategies to create livable communities and implement
sustainable development for decades,” Julia Gouge, a county
commissioner from Maryland representing the National
Association of Counties, told the hearing.

Last month, the Ford Foundation announced a five-year $200
million plan to promote “a new metropolitan approach that
interweaves housing, transportation and land-use policy to
foster greater economic growth.”

Stock Market News
(Editing by Andrea Ricci)

Congress looks at making US cities more ‘livable’