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Better, Stronger, Faster: Inside the New Revolution in Transit Planning

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Better, Stronger, Faster: Inside the New Revolution in Transit Planning

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This is an adaptation of the material I presented at the US Department of Transportation's Data Palooza event, part the Geospatial Transportation Mapping Association’s Annual Meeting in Arlington, Virginia.  GTFS is the de facto open data standard for transit analyses. Carless in North Tampa

The year was 2004.  I was an undergraduate student at the University of South Florida in Tampa, attending classes full time and working 30 to 35 hours per week.  With rent, food, and transportation, I was just making ends meet.  So I made a bold decision: I gave up my car.  I determined to walk or ride my bike for short trips; and for my regional travel needs, there was always the bus….

Well, sort of.

Bruce B Downs Boulevard at Fletcher Avenue. I walked this intersection fairly regularly while living as a carless student near the University of South Florida. (Google Streetview screenshot)

At the time, there was no Google Transit or any other trip-planning application.  Plotting my bus trips involved staring at a tangle of lines on a map and poring over schedules, and in many cases it was often quite difficult to work out how to get from A to B using the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit (HART) system.  In many cases, trips were impossible or at least felt impossible.

And so it was difficult to meet my travel needs – I often had to bum a ride or just miss out on things. Of course, some of that was to be expected, but I often complained that surely, in a metro of 2.5 million people, I should be able to count on transit to get me and my fellow citizens to more places.  In all my ranting on this subject, I never had any quantitative means for articulating the poverty of my circumstances as a transit-dependent person.

The maps and schedules available on the HART website look much the same as they did 10 years ago, but the agency has used open data products like GTFS to change the way patrons plan trips (HART website).

The Information is Flowing, Even if the Buses Aren’t

Fast forward to today – things look different.  Oh, sure, the trips I could make by transit from my former home adjacent to that sprawling campus set in the auto-oriented wilderness of Tampa's northside neighborhoods are probably not vastly improved, but the information about that setting is.

In the first place, HART now offers a Google Transit trip planning application that makes transit trip-making more intelligible than ever before.  Moreover, they openly share the GTFS files that power the application and inform several emerging data products that essentially analyze the maps and timetables to describe the characteristics of transit service in a particular place in ways that were previously unknowable.

One such data product is the US Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Access to Jobs and Workers Via Transit dataset (AVT).  This dataset is a supplement to the Smart Location Database and is built upon the same data, providing the same level of geographic resolution (census block groups – sometimes referred to as the ‘neighborhood’ scale).  The AVT provides information about how much activity of a given type (jobs, population, housing, low income residents, and low or medium income residents) are reachable by transit from a given place.  These values are then compared to regional totals to articulate what share of a region’s activity is reachable from a specific location within that region by transit.

GTFS data can be extended beyond trip planning applications to create value-added data products that provide at-a-glance analysis.  This example comes from EPA’s “Access to Jobs and Workers via Transit” dataset (AVT screenshot).

The AVT map above provides a lot of information about the place I lived when I took the plunge into the autoless lifestyle.  For example, it tells me that I could only reach about seven percent of the jobs in the Tampa bay region by bus (another layer tells me I could reach about six percent of the area’s population).  Given that I worked across town and had friends in all corners of the city, it was bound to be difficult for me to make this adjustment.

Then I thought, maybe I just lived in a particularly inaccessible area? Sadly, that was not the case. The average value for the entire Tampa-St Petersburg-Clearwater region is about eight percent for jobs (and just four percent for population), so my conditions were pretty close to the mean.

What about my complaint that, for a region of its size, transit in Tampa was underperforming?  I queried the AVT and found that of the 25 CBSAs having populations over two million and sharing at least some GTFS data, Tampa-St Pete ranked 21st in average access to population, 18th in average share of population accessible by transit, 22nd in average access to jobs, and 16th in average share of jobs accessible by transit.   As I thought, Tampa is on the low end of transit accessibility for a region its size.

Tampa’s ranking among 25 CBSAs having populations of 2 million or greater and sharing some GTFS data.

A Few Notes on Interpretation

Despite the statistics cited above, there are some reasons to withhold judgment for the region. The metro level data available in the AVT are difficult to compare across regions due to certain elements of its construction, listed below:

Travel time radius is constant, metro size is variable

In the AVT, activities are considered ‘accessible’ if they are within 45 minutes travel time from the origin.  In a small region, that radius is probably enough to get to a large proportion of the region’s activities, but in a larger area, the urban fabric is just too extensive for a 45 minute trip to cover much of that area.  So we have to take care in interpreting these values, especially looking across different metros areas.

In some places, transit serves multiple CBSAs

According to the AVT, from my current home in Durham, NC, I can reach about 23 percent of the jobs in the Durham-Chapel Hill CBSA.  However, that number includes employment in the adjacent Raleigh CBSA.  This is because these regions are linked by Triangle Transit’s express bus service.  So the numerator for my home block group isn’t consistent with the denominator, and this is something to bear in mind when working in an area that abuts another region having overlapping transit service.

GTFS data is not universally available

Finally, not every agency is using GTFS, and a large number of those that do use it are not sharing that information on the GTFS data exchange.  If the data was not being shared at the time the SLD and AVT were being developed, the accessibility attributes of a region will be incomplete.

Applications

The point of this post is not to disparage the regional transit providers in Tampa, but to walk through some of the analytical possibilities available through the AVT as well as issue some basic warnings about what to watch for when using that data.  It was neat for me to look at these numbers and relate them to my own experiences, past and present.  Of course, the data can do more than support my anecdotes.

The AVT can help planners and researchers compare places within a given region in terms of the amount of activity (of a given type) that transit can reach from each block group origin. Here’s a comparison of two places in Sacramento that I would otherwise know nothing about (AVT screenshot).

When used properly, the AVT allows us to directly compare the transit accessibility characteristics of various locations in the same region at a glance.  For the reasons noted above, it’s difficult to compare across regions, though it may be possible and useful in some cases.  Beyond this, one of the most exciting prospects for the AVT is analyzing how accessibility characteristics influence travel behaviors and/or land development trends in a region, teasing out new relationships that can help us better understand the value of effective transit service.

Looking Forward

Documentation for the AVT is available here.  In a follow up post I hope to describe some of the other datasets, tools and reports that are leveraging GTFS data to introduce entirely new ways to articulate what transit accomplishes in our communities and how it is performing.

–Alex Bell, Cities That Work Blog

[For regular news and updates, be sure to follow Renaissance on Twitter @CitiesThatWork]

 

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A Word is Worth a Thousand Images

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A Word is Worth a Thousand Images

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One of the challenges of the planning industry is that we have tons of acronyms that we practitioners toss around in casual conversation that tend to either confuse or turn off the casual, otherwise-interested observer.  By the way, a good team-building event at your next agency or corporate function is to require everyone to donate $5 into a kitty every time they use an acronym without stating its components words ASAP (as soon as possible). You’ll learn a lot about your patterns of speech and be able to enjoy a pretty nice happy hour at your local watering hole with the proceeds. It seems to me that we’re at risk of developing the same dangerous pattern with the words we are now using to describe state-of-the-practice planning.  At least those acronyms usually stand for something quite specific.  In contrast, the adjectives we sometimes use casually and interchangeably are beginning to sound like the “new and improved” labels printed in brightly colored Starbursts vying for attention on your grocery store shelves.

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The challenge we face isn’t really new; words have always been evolving to suit the common vernacular.  This how “inflammable” came to mean “flammable” and “literally” came to mean “figuratively” (and when I learned that fact, I was like, literally beside myself…).  What can we do to be more precise in our communications?  Well first, to paraphrase Yogi Berra:  Use your words carefully; someone might actually be reading or listening.  Second, don’t be afraid to do a little research; sources like Google, Wikipedia, and the old Merriam-Webster can really be your friend.  Even just quickly checking the Google hit counts on something like flammable (five million) versus inflammable (less than one million) can help you spot trends these days.

Seeking Sustainability

Sustainability is one of the terms that fascinates me the most.  I’ve been fortunate to be associated with a team of really good planners putting together an Informational Report for the Institute of Transportation Engineers on the state-of-the-practice in thinking about Sustainable Transportation systems.  The transportation planning and engineering industry has latched on to this important and valuable concept, originated by the Brundtland Commission in 1987, that we should be creating development and infrastructure that meets the needs of the current generation while allowing future generations to meet their needs as well.  The primary concept is that the three pillars of sustainability, economy, ecology, and social equity (some prefer the equally alliterative “people, planet, profit”) are often found in tension with each other and need to be balanced.  For instance, in the US, we’re not consuming vehicle-miles of travel at the rate we did five years ago; this is a good thing for the environment, but the challenge is how we can sustain that improvement while returning to a healthy economy where those who want jobs can find them.

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While on the Montgomery County Planning Board, Wendy Perdue noted in one worksession that terms can be misleading, “It occurs to me that throughout our history we’ve demonstrated that income inequality is pretty darn sustainable; but that doesn’t mean we should support it.”  So the goal of sustainability is not to perpetuate the past of least resistance, but instead to seek solutions that improve social, economic, and environmental outcomes on an inter-generational timescale.  Several analysis systems, ranging from tools like INVEST or Greenroads for highways to ENVISION for all infrastructure are now available to help qualify the definitions agencies and firms can apply to sustainable projects.

Thinking Globally and Acting Locally

The same concern that sustainability should be equated with the path of least resistance has real global implications as well.  Pedro Ortiz of the World Bank was on my ITE meeting panel on sustainable solutions in Hershey, Pennsylvania, this week.  Pedro has noted that as we move towards accommodating two billion more urban residents worldwide in the next 20 years, we frankly should be constructing 10 new Manhattan blocks every day to accommodate that growth.  However, due to resource and governance limitations, we’re not building high quality compact development, but rather are allowing new slums to expand organically across the landscape.  Part of the key in the developing world is to bring the land use to where the rail infrastructure already exists.  The same concept can be applied to thinking about North American metropolitan areas to conceive of alternative urban topologies such as how Washington and Baltimore might be organized differently if the primary connective tissue were along freight rail lines.

Source: PedroBOrtiz.com

Scenario planning today is often applied in one of two formats: either as tinkering around the edges with land use that would require some potentially challenging yet feasible policy changes or, alternatively, as considering a reaction to an exogenous variable such as sea-level rise or energy crises.  Pedro’s maps suggest a potential future that might be a blend of the two types of scenario planning; not a formal proposal, but an intriguing “what if?”

The Only Constant is Change

One of the frequent lamentations in our ITE Sustainability Task Force has been that one thing that definitely appears sustainable is debate about what sustainability means.   This, to me, is part of what makes the concept exciting; there’s no textbook or cookbook answer.  Even the developers of the rigorous sustainability ratings and certification systems note that their processes are always evolving as we get better data, improve analytic connections, and learn more about our social, cultural, and natural environment.  This one word, sustainability, has generated dozens of rating systems and influenced many more creative ideas for how we might move smarter.  What’s yours?

–Dan Hardy, Cities That Work Blog

 

 

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Sports and Sustainability?

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Sports and Sustainability?

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What do Rays, Lightning, and a Storm all have in common? (I know, I know, this sounds like a joke setup you’d hear at your corner bar…just go with it.) Well, if you guessed that they are all sports teams in Tampa Bay, you would be correct. Additionally, all of these sports teams are avid stewards of our environment and are striving to make the world a little bit more sustainable each day. In honor of the 44th Annual Earth Day Celebration, held on April 22, 2014, I thought it would be nice to highlight some of the ways in which sports teams in Tampa Bay are trying to preserve our precious environment and resources. Each of the sports teams mentioned is a member of the Sustainable Business Coalition of Tampa Bay, Inc.

HooRAY for Sustainability

The Tampa Bay Rays are a major league baseball team and play at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Florida. They have worked hard over the last few years to commit themselves to sustainability through various changes in their business operations. There are three main areas of sustainability in which the team is focused: In the Office, At Spring Training, and On the Field/In the Stands.

In the Office, similar to other office models, the Rays focus their efforts on recycling and green materials. Office employees were given on-line training to educate them about the importance of recycling everything from plastic bottles to aluminum cans. Additionally, all utensils and cleaning supplies used in the Rays’ office are eco-friendly.

At the Rays' Spring Training Facility, the Rays have a 2,000 square foot education green roof available to teach the public about responsible stormwater management practices. Additionally, the facility has a recycling center for materials such as metal and wood.

On the Field/In the Stands, the Rays encourage alternative transportation modes and more recycling. Bicycle racks are available throughout the area outside of the stadium and people who carpool with at least four people get to park for free! During the 2008 season, 29% of cars had four or more passengers. Typically, it cost $10.00 to park, so why not try carpooling next time you’re at a Rays game and put that money towards some good ole ballpark food and beverages. Additionally, fans are encouraged to recycle throughout the game and are reminded by signage, video promos, and “clean-up hitters.”

Greening the Forum

The Tampa Bay Lighting, part of the National Hockey League, and the Tampa Bay Storm, part of the Arena Football League, both play at the Tampa Bay Times Forum. These teams, like the Rays, have devoted themselves to sustainability. The Tampa Bay Times Forum is focused mainly on recycling efforts and environmentally conscious building transformations. The facility, on average, creates about 3,800 pounds of waste a day. That’s around 1,387,000 pounds annually! To put that in perspective, that is equal to about 146 adult elephants. The good news is that the facility is able to recycle roughly 26% of materials and many of the commodities recycled create revenue for the Forum.

During the facility’s 2011 renovations to become more sustainable, the Forum was able to recycle about 68% of its building materials. New green initiatives, such as a recycle compactor, touchless faucets, and energy efficient light fixtures, have allowed the Forum to reduce its electricity costs by around 12% and natural gas usage costs by around 20%.

So remember, while Earth Day is only one day a year, being an environmental steward is a year-round job. Take the time to check out sustainability efforts at some of your favorite sports teams facilities and if you see anything interesting let me know!

–Amanda Douglas, Cities That Work Blog

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The Happy City Movement

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The Happy City Movement

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pharrell-happy224 Hours of Happy

By now, most people have seen, or at least heard about, Pharrell Williams’ 24-hour "Happy" music video, one of the many examples of planning’s presence in popular culture. The video loops his popular song “Happy” with a 24-hour video set in Los Angeles, showing all different types of people in various urban environments of L.A., happily dancing, skipping, jigging, moonwalking, etc. through residential neighborhoods, downtown streets, a train station, or while riding a bus. The common thread among them all is that they are all so clearly HAPPY while experiencing different aspects of their urban environments. The video has of course spawned copycat videos from cities all over the world showing that they too are happy, such as this one set in Washington, D.C.

I’m sure Pharrell was not intending to showcase urban planning, but regardless, the impact of the urban environment on our moods is prevalent throughout the whole 24-hour video (and no I have not watched all 24 hours). Our urban environments greatly impact our happiness levels, most of the time without us consciously knowing that we are so affected by our surroundings. Perhaps on a subconscious level we all know what a “happy” city is, or is not. Would we prefer to walk down a wide highway with cars zooming past and surrounded by a concrete desert of parking lots or would we rather walk down an urban street shared by cars, transit, bicyclists, and pedestrians with landscaping and storefronts? What really makes a “happy city” and how can we ensure our decision-makers are making the right choices that will create and support this goal?

Happy City

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Journalist and urbanist Charles Montgomery set out to answer this question in his book Happy City: Transforming Our Lives Through Urban Design published in November 2013. His goal was to determine whether urban policy and design impact our overall well-being. He studied this by bridging urban design with the emerging science of happiness. He traveled to cities all over the world to discover what makes a city happy (and what does not). It is not just in how the city is designed but also in how we use the city. How we get around the city, how we interact with others, where we choose to live, all have an impact on our happiness levels. The result of his study is a six-part recipe for urban happiness – challenging cities to promote joy, health, freedom, resilience, equity, and social connections. “The happy city, the green city, and the low-carbon city are the same place, and we can all help build it.”

To find out more, check out his blog and Happy City Lab here.

–Alana Brasier, Cities That Work Blog

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Take Me Way Out to the Ballgame

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Take Me Way Out to the Ballgame

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Pic1 Ah, spring, when a young man’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of glove.  And bat, and ball.  And a place to get together with thirty or forty thousand of your closest friends and root, root, root for the home team.  But where should that place be?  And how does that choice, and its ripple effects on other land use and transportation system elements, affect the sustainability of a community or a region?

The Good Old Days Are Now

Source: http://tigger.uic.edu/depts/ahaa/imagebase/chimaps/Chgo1900.gif

The best cities seem to be those that have a mix of public and private sector investments, and while there’s plenty of room for debate about the wisdom of subsidizing private sector entertainment, there’s definitely a historic synergy between an urban ballpark and its environs. The oldest two surviving examples, venerable Wrigley Field and Fenway Park, were transit accessibile from the get-go, but that was practically a necessity in those days to connect them to the rest of their cities.  On Wrigley Field’s (then Weeghman Park) opening day, Chicago Tribune columnist Ring Lardner, noting the park’s location just south of the end of the line at Wilson, wrote wryly that “many of our citizens will today visit the North Side for the first time”.  And Fenway Park, while closer to town, was built on drained swampland (the fabled fens; seems the practice of naming something new for what’s no longer there anymore is also a long standing practice).

Ebbets Field, although smack in the geographic center of Brooklyn, was also at the periphery of the borough’s developed area when it was built and included the site of a garbage dump called Pigtown.  And the fact that the local club was known as the (Trolley) Dodgers demonstrates that today’s concern for safe, multimodal, complete streets is really also nothing new.   (Amazing how transportation infiltrates sports names:  Trailblazers, Spurs, Mariners, Pistons, Flyers, Jets, Supersonics, and arguably the Pacers and Colts as well just among the big four major leagues.)

Source: http://chibdm.tumblr.com/post/23096720752/trolley-passing-by-ebbets-field-in-brooklyn-new

The Dodgers’ move from Ebbets Field to Los Angeles in 1958 was a symbol of the transportation revolution engendered by the jet age, shattering the outer limits that had been marked by that famous southwestern outpost called Saint Louis.  The new Dodger Stadium also marked the beginning of the movement of stadiums from downtown (or at least arguably urban) neighborhoods to sprawling complexes where the parking and noise associated with special events wouldn’t be thought of as so annoying to the neighbors.

But times change. Los Angeles is now known less as the kingdom of sprawl and more for its high population density (even when considering population-weighted density as opposed to average metro area density).  And Dodger Stadium is now part of baseball’s old guard; the third oldest Major League Baseball (MLB) park after Fenway and Wrigley.

Not all the cookie-cutter stadiums of the ‘60s and ‘70s were out in the ‘burbs, but even those with an in-town address like Fulton County, Veterans, and Riverfront, really only boasted a skyline view – and that was only from the parking lot or the topmost row. Then the pendulum swung back to retro stadiums with a placemaking element beginning with Camden Yards in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor.  Many of the new stadiums are built adjacent to their predecessors, but are nonetheless viewed as a redevelopment anchor.  But Coors Field, AT&T Field, Target Field, Petco Park, and Nationals Park are all examples where baseball was introduced within an urban fabric in or near the city center.  And hopefully the linkage between baseball and transportation planning has been strengthened by the relocation of the United States Department of Transportation to their New Jersey Avenue headquarters a couple blocks to the east of the Nats’ ballpark.

Do You Have to Park at the Park?

Our oldest ballparks are still located along their legacy transit lines.  For the newer parks, it’s a pretty mixed bag.  Not surprisingly, if you want to attract fans to use transit, it helps to be centrally located in a major metro area.  In 2007, Dan Boyle and Tom Larsen examined transit access and use at the 30 MLB parks.    At that time, the championship went to the brand new Nationals (36 percent), with strong showing from other teams in centrally-located homes, including the Yankees and Mets (both at 27 percent), the Cubs, Red Sox, A’s and Giants (all at or above 20 percent), and the Cards, Jays, Padres and Twins (above 14 percent).  About a third (12 out of 30) of the teams have less than 1 percent transit mode share.

Brave Consequences

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But being near downtown and near transit may not be enough.  In Atlanta, the decision of the Braves to abandon their second stadium near downtown since moving from Milwaukee fifty years ago has generated a wide range of reactions; with even commentators sympathetic to the business decisions faced by team ownership lamenting the abandonment of a central location and the apparent public/private consensus that a stadium lifespan may now be considered only 20 years long.  In this case, a big question for Atlanta is whether or not the departure of the Braves will create a revitalization opportunity in the Summerhill neighborhood that the stadium site (and its demand for parking) never catalyzed.

One of the Braves’ stated reasons for the move is to get closer to their suburban fan base, indicated by a dot map of season ticket holders.  This map has served as an interesting Rorschach test; one can arguably suggest that the new stadium site would reduce total vehicle miles of travel, which is a key goal of balancing land use and transportation.  But it raises the interesting question of whether an improved geographic match between a product and its customer base is better for society when fiscal and social considerations are included.

Rebalancing the Books

Switching from backstops to backboards, major league sports are also moving the ball forward regarding the evolution of transportation and land use planning in California.  The amendment to the California Environmental Quality  Act (CEQA) implemented by SB 743 allows jurisdictions to rethink the definition of transportation impact in transit-oriented or infill development.  SB 743 was passed with the intent of streamlining the development of a new downtown arena for the Sacramento Kings.  In this case, an analysis of the Kings’ fan base indicating that the new downtown site would result in a 20 percent reduction in Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT) was a key element in helping win public support.

Professional sports is big.  It’s big business, big politics, and a big part of regional pride.  The big issues associated with developing a sports venue aren’t really new, although the details keep evolving.  In fifty years, we’ll have a new perspective on baseball in Atlanta and basketball in Sacramento.  What do you think we’ll be thinking then?

–Dan Hardy, Cities That Work Blog

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New Resources for Local Foods Plannin

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New Resources for Local Foods Plannin

Later this month the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Appalachian Regional Commission, and U.S. Department of Agriculture will be kicking off a round of technical assistance to help small towns improve their residents’ access to locally-produced food. This effort includes the communities of Corbin, KY (of Kentucky Fried Chicken fame); Aberdeen, MS; Pikeville, TN; and Anniston, AL. Some of these communities are looking to launch a local food hub that makes it easier for institutions to purchase large quantities of produce from local growers, while others are looking to launch a farmers market or start community gardens in areas with poor access to grocery supermarkets.

Appalachian Harvest Local Food Hub in Duffield, Va. Photo credit of Appalachian Sustainable Development.
Appalachian Harvest Local Food Hub in Duffield, Va. Photo credit of Appalachian Sustainable Development.

These communities are far from alone. The number of farmers markets in the United States has more than doubled during the last 10 years and food is a growing area of interest among planners and elected officials. This interest reflects both a growing demand for local food and its role in supporting good public health and economic development.

2014 Farm Bill

Fortunately, in an era of declining public budgets, Congress has just given local food projects a substantial funding boost. In January Congress adopted a new Farm Bill after several years of debate. The national media attention has focused its coverage largely on farm subsidies and cuts to food stamps. But quietly, the Farm Bill increases financial support for local food systems by nearly 50 percent over the previous 2008 Farm Bill. Below are some of the highlights, with a big assist from the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition:

  • The Farm Bill more than triples funding for the Farmers Market and Local Food Promotion Program (From $33 million in the 2008 Farm Bill to $150 million in the new bill).
  • It quadruples funding for the Value Added Producer Grant Program (From $15 million to $63 million) that helps farmers increase their income through processing (for example, making jams and jellies out of fruit).
  • It more than doubles funding for the National Organic Cost Share Certification program, which helps farmers offset the cost of organic certification.
  • And it creates a new Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentives program that will match SNAP benefits (food stamps) up to a certain dollar amount for purchases of healthy vegetables and fruits.

The increased funding for the Farmers Market and Local Food Promotion Program is especially important to the communities in Appalachia, many of which are working to create local food hubs that will aggregate products from multiple local farms and store, process, and distribute them to local consumers and institutions. It also brings good news for families and people who rely on SNAP benefits by increasing their buying power at farmers markets and even allowing them to use the benefits to participate in a community supported agriculture (CSA) program.

Music at the Whitley County Farmers Market in Kentucky. Photo credit: Whitley County Farmers Market
Music at the Whitley County Farmers Market in Kentucky. Photo credit: Whitley County Farmers Market

Breaking Down Silos

While the new Farm Bill provides more resources to support local initiatives around food, planners need to be involved to make sure these efforts realize their full potential for community development. As with transportation and land use planning, food planning has a tendency to exist in a silo, separate from other community efforts to improve transportation, housing, livability, economic development, and the many other areas where planners focus their attention. One key role planners can play is to help communities expand the conversation about how food systems planning and other community goals and objectives can overlap.  By bringing in new voices that represent elected officials, businesses, community development, public health, social services and others, planners can help expand the discussion to integrate food systems planning into broader efforts to improve downtowns and neighborhoods and make them more livable places. Thinking carefully about where to locate local food hubs, markets, and other facilities is a key strategy for doing so. Ideally, the physical placement of these facilities can also support a community’s plans for economic revitalization and the creation of walkable town centers.

Those are just a few of my initial thoughts on the role that planners can and should play in food systems planning. Renaissance Planning Group will be serving as contractors to the U.S. EPA to deliver this technical assistance over the next several months.  I hope to be able to share additional insights and highlight other lessons learned from that work through this blog.

-- Mike Callahan, Cities that Work Blog

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