November 25, 2013

Big Improvements in Little Rock

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This Monday and Tuesday, I spent time with Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Deputy Secretary Maurice Jones, U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Deputy Secretary Krysta Harden, and Department of Transportation (DOT) Acting Assistant Secretary for Transportation Policy Beth Osborne touring ongoing redevelopment efforts in Little Rock, Arkansas. Through the HUD-DOT-EPA Partnership for Sustainable Communities, each of our agencies has invested in Little Rock. Our tour gave us the chance to see how these investments are making a real difference.

Little Rock philanthropist Anita Davis discusses her efforts to revitalize the downtown with senior officials and staff from EPA, HUD, DOT, and USDA. Photo courtesy of the city of Little Rock.

In 2011, our Greening America’s Capitals program provided support to help the city envision improvements to the Main Street corridor downtown. With additional support from Clean Water Act funds, the city starting putting in place some of the green infrastructure improvement ideas born from that workshop.

From better stormwater management to rain gardens and rain barrels, from more trees to green roofs and permeable pavement, green infrastructure is a cost-effective way to better manage our cities’ precious water resources. By revitalizing key blocks of Little Rock’s historic corridor, these investments create a more attractive and inviting downtown. And through our Brownfields program, EPA is investing in Little Rock by helping clean up and redevelop historic buildings in the area.

Our partners at HUD and DOT have invested in housing and transportation in Little Rock in ways that benefit public health and the environment as well. For example, investments from HUD helped create more affordable housing downtown and a blueprint for sustainable economic growth in Central Arkansas through 2040.

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DOT investments helped construct the Little Rock/North Little Rock Arkansas River Trail System, a walking and bicycling path on the Big Dam Bridge, and safety improvements to a complicated traffic intersection in North Little Rock. And these Partnership investments have been a force multiplier—attracting millions of dollars in other public and private investments.

We know that where we build houses and roads has implications for the quality of our environment. Fulfilling our collective agency missions to support affordable housing, better transportation, and a clean and healthy environment are goals that are intertwined.  Since 2009, the Partnership has worked to pool our resources and align our investments in more than 700 cities and towns nationwide.

At a roundtable with local officials and community members on November 19, we heard from rural Arkansans about their efforts to improve their communities and how we can help them best. This was very instructive and EPA, HUD, DOT, and USDA began working together immediately after the roundtable to see how we can meet their needs.

As the Mayor of Little Rock, Mark Stodola, said of the changes he’s seen in Little Rock, “This is really cool.  This is what smart growth is really about.  This is what quality of life is all about.” I couldn’t agree more. I’m proud to be part of this effort, and delighted to see the difference we are making in Little Rock and many other communities across the country.

Bob Perciasepe is the Deputy Administrator at the Environmental Protection Agency

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