Creating Livable Communities: Housing and Transit Policy in the 21st Century

March 26, 2009

Good morning Chairman Dodd, Ranking Member Shelby and members of the Committee. I am pleased to appear before you this morning and very much appreciate the invitation.

The purpose of my testimony is to discuss the connection between housing and transportation policy. Specifically, I will share my thoughts on preserving affordable housing in location-efficient areas (such as those around transit stations) and recommendations on the federal government’s role in incentivizing policy coordination to develop livable communities.

This symposium comes at a critical time. As you know, despite the economic downturn, America is still expected to grow by leaps and bounds in sharp contrast to peer countries in Western Europe and parts of Asia. The U.S. surpassed 300 million in population in October 2006 and is projected to gain another 120 million people by 2050—mostly in the 100 largest metropolitan areas. How, where, and in what form that growth will be accommodated has far reaching implications for a range of economic, environmental, and energy concerns.

The top 100 metropolitan areas alone claim only 12 percent of our land mass but harbor more than 65 percent of our population, 74 percent of our most educated citizens, 77 percent of our knowledge economy jobs, and 84 percent of our most recent immigrants. They also generate 75 percent of the nation’s gross domestic product, reinforcing their critical role as engines of the U.S. and global economy. Our national recovery will require metropolitan recovery.

At the root of these agglomerations is the evolution of the American economy into a series of clusters—networks of firms that engage in the production of similar and related products services. And firms within these clusters crave proximity—to pools of qualified workers, to specialized services, to other firms, and to transportation infrastructure that enables the mobility of people and goods.

In other words, density matters tremendously to urban and metropolitan places and is critical to the economic health of our country. However, many places are finding themselves unequipped to deal with the nation’s projected growth and to accommodate truly well-designed density.

Part of the problem is that there is too little integrated decisionmaking that crosses disciplines and joins-up solutions. Too often, policies and rules are narrowly defined, poorly coordinated, and work at cross-purposes. On the federal level, programs dealing with housing, transportation, and energy issues, for example, remain largely divorced from each other, precluding the smartest sort of integrated problem-solving.

The federal government also pays too little attention to systematic measurement, benchmarking, evaluation, and learning what works and what doesn’t at every level of government. The nation’s taxpayers need instead a federal government that will maximize its own performance and that of other levels of government in a transparent and accountable fashion.

The combination of economic distress, a new administration, and a new Congress demands—and makes possible—significant federal reforms. Mr. Chairman, I believe we need to think about reform ideas to confront the immediate economic crisis as well as to provide a solid foundation for national prosperity in the long term. 

Read the full testimony » (PDF)