Asheville's River Arts District.
Asheville's River Arts District.

When the U.S. Department of Transportation announced the latest round of TIGER grant awards, the City of  Asheville, N.C. was among the 72 recipients of nearly $600 million invested in 46 states and the District of Columbia. The City earned a $14.6 million award covering half the cost to implement key pieces of its East of the Riverway multimodal plan (home to the eclectic River Arts District and the New Belgium brewery) designed to link lower income residents to jobs, enable access to fresh foods and improve public health.

Asheville's TIGER award embodies the spirit of performance-based, outcome-driven planning articulated in our uber-competitive MAP-21 transportation funding era. Now in its sixth year, TIGER is helping states and local governments address critical infrastructure needs based on sound planning principles to aid economic recovery. But it represents a growing change in how we fund projects and programs. We are increasingly moving from entitlements or program set-asides to competitive awards.  The former is more certain, but the latter may be more effective at achieving better outcomes. With MAP-21 expiring on October 1, there are many Rumsfeldian knowns and unknowns that will shape its replacement in the coming weeks and months.

TIGER is just one component of the Smart Growth Partnership. Along with HUD's Sustainable Communities initiative, US EPA's Smart Growth Technical Assistance Program and its Brownfields Program, also award competitive grants. States and the federal government are facing major long-term funding challenges amid competing and constantly shifting priorities in a prolonged election cycle, making the next several years a real thrill ride. There are myriad formula-based and discretionary programs at the federal level that face changes in policy and funding levels that will affect community design, economic development and other matters of importance to planners. Similarly, states across the nation continue to pass laws and budgets that directly affect the work of planners in numerous ways, both good and ill. And it all can move surprisingly fast or maddeningly slow.

Policy and Advocacy on Behalf of Sound Planning

American Planning Association members have a great opportunity to influence those debates and outcomes through APA's Legislative and Policy Program. As we approach our fall Policy and Advocacy Conference in Washington, D.C. this September 28-30, here are a few things you should know about how we're working to strengthen APA as a more effective and highly valued leader in policy and advocacy at the federal and state levels. As chair of APA's Legislative and Policy Committee, I am working with excellent APA leaders and staff to accomplish the following:

 1. A relevant and instructive policy and advocacy conference.

Well-timed with last week's TIGER announcement, the new 2014 Policy and Advocacy Conference features a TIGER workshop, remarks from USDOT Secretary Anthony Foxx, and sessions on both the pending reauthorization of MAP-21 and the future of federal transportation funding. Congressman John Delaney will also talk about his bipartisan proposal for infrastructure funding called the Partnership to Build America Act. Planners' Day on Capitol Hill will offer a chance to talk about local transportation priorities with congressional offices and urge continued funding for TIGER.

If you're able to attend this year's conference, the luncheon keynote will be Daniel Alpert, CEO of Westwood Capital and a fellow with both the New America Foundation and Century Foundation. His talk will be on his book on the economy, The Age of Oversupply, and ideas for how good planning can support the economic recovery.  APA is also expanding its state and local focus this year with sessions examining the latest trends in state legislation related to planning and legal trends based on recent state cases. There's also a workshop aimed at planning advocacy strategies for the upcoming state legislative sessions. For those dealing with hazard and climate concerns, the head of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, Michael Boots, will be a keynote speaker. Finally, we are providing new chances this year for attendees to give APA staff their input on both the update of the Sustainability policy guide and 2015 legislative priorities.

2. Better aligning advocacy, communications and research activities.

You can find APA's adopted 2014 Legislative Priorities here. Developing those priorities is one thing, but effective advocacy requires a strong educational effort and comprehensive communications strategy. By better linking APA's overall communications program and its research program with policy and advocacy efforts, we will be better able to convey key messages with the analytical evidence supporting our policy position. We are working on virtual and physical ways to improve the link between advocacy, communicating the value of planning with outcomes through academic and sponsored research, and better engaging the academic community and practicing planners to help reinforce key messages and tell the story through internal and external communications.

3. Expand and broaden organizational partnerships.

It takes all kinds of partnerships to achieve desired outcomes.
It takes all kinds of partnerships to achieve desired outcomes.

This is a critial effort, highlighted recently by joint activities between APA and AARP on issues relating to Aging in Community, affordability and livability.  APA has traditionally worked with a core set of aligned professions to advocate for planning, but we are moving toward expanding those partnerships to reflect the broadening reach and integrated nature of the planning profession. We need to break down the barriers between organizations seeking common objectives, and develop well-coordinated alliances to accomplish policy outcomes we value. There are numerous opportunities to expand our relevance and reach if we share in the ownership of hard work and success.

4. Make better use of chapters, divisions and students to support policy and advocacy efforts.

APA is working to create a strong and respected grassroots-based advocacy program, and that begins with Chapters, Divisions and Students. The Chapter Presidents Council and Divisions Council are engaged in surveys of their members to seek input on key policy issues, emerging trends and opportunities to engage members. Students provide a critical understanding of new approaches and a link to research within the academic community. We have discussed sharpening the focus of Chapters' and Divisions' roles in advocacy to more effectively address state/local and emerging national issues by sharing knowledge, developing best practices guidance and strengthening networks of communication. We can do much more through interactive on-line forums, webinars and sharing of model language and resources. I'd like us to have a goal of a thousand planners in Congressional districts and state capitols across the country, each geared up with new tools and the network to assist in federal and state policy advocacy efforts.

5. Develop case studies and share experiences on key policy issues at the federal or state levels.

Planners have great stories to tell about their communities, particularly in the use of federal programs to advance plans or enable greater economic opportunity. When the former federal Enhancements program was threatened to be eliminated several years ago, APA relied on its members to assemble case studies of how the funds were being used in the Congressional Districts of key House members who were spearheading the legislation, which failed. We adopt our Legislative Priorities and confront shifting sands in Washington, D.C. and state capitols, we should be armed with concise summaries of how planning activities and projects funded through key programs have achieved positive outcomes. What was the return on investment? How did it move the community forward? That's gold in one-on-one conversations with Congressional aides, elected officials or committee staff.

Please join me in helping advance the cause of better planning and outcomes through APA's advocacy efforts. I welcome your ideas and will share with staff.