December 3, 2012

Creating a Greener Tomorrow through Community Partnerships

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I’ll never forget the site visit I made to Des Moines, Iowa this past fall to attend a community open house for The Tomorrow Plan: Partnering for a Green Greater Tomorrow.  Downtown Des Moines is experiencing a bit of a boom, with historic buildings being turned into sought-after apartments and a slew of new pubs and restaurants creating nightlife.  A symbol of its renewal, a new park and plaza along the river, was crawling with people taking a late afternoon stroll and enjoying the sun.  But perhaps the most inspiring sight was the Isiserettes Drill and Drum Corps – boys and girls from the tough neighborhoods surrounding Downtown, where economic revitalization hasn’t been as robust and where parents saw the need to organize activities that keep youth engaged after school and build character and social skills.  Over the past 32 years, The Isiserettes have built an incredibly inspiring, disciplined team of young musicians and dancers.  The Tomorrow team, the diverse coalition that has come together to plan a sustainable future for the greater Des Moines region, had asked the drill and drum corp to open the festivities.  Seeing the dedication and pride of these young people was a reminder that planning for the region has a purpose – to promote a prosperous future for all.

That’s why I am so pleased announce the release of the Office of Sustainable Housing and Community’s latest publication: Helping Communities Realize a More Prosperous Future.  This report chronicles the phenomenal work of the Sustainable Communities grantees over the past three years to chart a course for their communities that will lead to a better future for the children and grandchildren in cities, regions and rural communities, covering nearly half of the nation’s population.  One measure of the success of this work are the new partnerships that have been created: 195 cities and counties, 209 government agencies, 52 academic institutions and 239 non-profits, community groups and business partners working collaboratively, sometimes for the first time.  Driven by local issues and needs, these teams are prioritizing transportation and infrastructure investments, identifying new business sectors,   modernizing zoning and building codes and making sure that every public dollar is used wisely to stimulate economic recovery.  In Helping Communities Realize a More Prosperous Future, we’ve presented their work by five themes:

  • Creating Thriving Economies
  • Ensuring Affordability and Choice
  • Leveraging Resources and Reducing Red Tape
  • Supporting More Resilient Communities
  • Promoting Healthy and Livable Communities for All

The Sustainable Community Plans are well underway, but there’s much more to do to ensure that the visions put forth by these communities are realized.  Our task now, at the federal level, is to find efficient ways to support implementation and ensure that the federal government remains a strong partner.  There’s a lot at stake.  The potential of these plans is significant: Creating at least 450,000 new permanent jobs in the next 10 years in downtowns, suburbs and small towns; building new roads and transit service to connect jobs and housing, while saving $40 billion over 20 years based on efficient  infrastructure planning; and, perhaps most importantly saving families over $8.5 billion a year in gas costs once these plans are implemented.  That’s real progress, and a legacy that will help our children and grandchildren have a fighting chance.

Walking into the renovated Carnegie Library after hearing the Isiserettes, I was again struck by the incredible diversity of people gathering to play a role in civic decision-making – young and old, residents of every neighborhood and town in the region, business and community leaders – over 300 people debating how to make the Greater Des Moines Region a great place to live for the next generation.  To me, that’s what democracy is all about and that’s why sustainable communities is key to charting a prosperous future for everyone.

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