Capital Region Sustainable Communities
Focusing on development conflicts obscures the existing common ground about how we should grow.
Dave Cieslewicz asked seven probing questions about the future of the Madison region in his article "What Do We Want to Be?" His first question -- can we govern ourselves regionally? -- in many ways frames the entire article. The remaining six questions pose regional challenges in one way or another. Madison and surrounding communities share transportation, natural resources, culture, housing and labor markets. These regional assets and challenges require regional responses.
As Dave pointed out, Portland, the Twin Cities and European cities use strong regional governance to effectively manage growth. Effective regional responses do not, however, require regional governance. Moreover, regardless of one's opinion on regional governance, it is hard to imagine the state granting regions such authority and establishing another layer of government. Luckily, in places like Salt Lake City, Kansas City and Sacramento, collaboration and cooperation have successfully fostered regional initiatives such as transit, land preservation and efficient growth.
A similar collaborative initiative is underway in the Madison region. Capital Region Sustainable Communities (CRSC) brings together representatives from 33 (and growing) governments, businesses, higher education and nonprofit environmental, social and housing organizations. Formed about a year ago with funding from a three-year federal Sustainable Communities Regional Planning Grant, CRSC works to identify the region's shared vision and goals, advance a regional agenda, and measure our progress. The Capital Area Regional Planning Commission (CARPC) applied for and secured the grant, and serves as the lead agency.
Focusing on development conflicts obscures the existing common ground about how we should grow. The collective comprehensive and regional plan goals (over a thousand!) reveal regional alignment on preserving agriculture, protecting natural resources, providing a full range of housing and transportation choices, achieving effective intergovernmental collaboration, making efficient use of infrastructure, and strengthening and diversifying our economic base. CRSC seeks to build on and broaden this alignment in local plans and practices around shared regional goals with measurable outcomes. CRSC also works to meet regional challenges through activities that seek to:
- Connect the region through high-capacity transit corridors.
CRSC will study the potential of Bus Rapid Transit (BRT, a "rail-like" form of bus service) along the major east, west, north and south corridors that connect residents to downtown Madison and regional employment and activity centers. Since high-capacity transit should go hand in hand with more compact, mixed, walkable and bikable development along the corridors, CRSC will commission a market study to estimate the demand for such "transit-oriented development" along the corridors; and staff from CRSC members are evaluating the infill and redevelopment potential along the corridors. UW students, volunteer architects and planners are helping create visions and designs for revitalized, high-capacity transit corridors.
- Protect and enhance natural resources and agriculture through cooperative planning for efficient and sound development.
CARPC is facilitating cooperative Future Urban Development Area (FUDA) planning in the region. FUDA planning presents communities with options for growth, such as compact versus dispersed, and estimates of the long-term impacts (environmental, economic, travel) for each. Communities can chose the growth option most aligned with their values and goals. The resulting FUDA can be implemented through updates to comprehensive and regional plans.
- Promote equitable development.
Dave cites education as a glaring example of how access to opportunities in the region is unequal. Such inequities, between races, age groups, gender, urban and rural residents, physical and mental ability, and income not only hurt those with reduced access, they threaten the prosperity and sustainability of the entire region. For example, the Unites States will be a majority people-of-color nation by 2042, and Dane County will be nearly half people of color by 2040, based on demographic trends. Our prosperity depends on equitable access to opportunity, and equitable development where benefits are widely shared. Several CRSC member organizations represent these often underrepresented communities, and work with government, business and environmental and housing groups to increase participation in governmental decision-making and promote equitable and sustainable development.
- Demonstrate sustainability through catalytic projects.
CRSC provides critical seed funding for four projects: the Regional Food Hub, a facility to package produce from local growers for large buyers like schools and hospitals; the Madison Sustainability Commerce Center, a green business and education center targeted for the Capital East District; a strategy to demonstrate maintaining 100% of pre-development runoff within the planned North McGaw neighborhood in Fitchburg; and expanding a farmers' market into a year-round grocery in a south Madison "food desert."
- Cut greenhouse gases and improve air quality.
Rising greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions are changing our climate. Even while we adapt to climate change, we must reduce GHG emissions to avert catastrophic changes. Our region also teeters on the edge of violating EPA air pollution standards for ozone and fine particulates. Even with the good work of the Clean Air Coalition, continued growth threatens to push us over the EPA threshold. Yet local comprehensive and most regional plans are silent on climate change and air pollution. CRSC will prepare GHG emission and air quality recommendations for local and regional adoption.
We are excited about the opportunities of CRSC and the collaborative approach it offers. We invite all to visit our website and blog to learn more, and to look for our educational forums and conferences.
Larry Palm is the chair of the Capital Area Regional Planning Commission, lead agency for Capital Region Sustainable Communities. "Citizen" is an opinion series that presents the views of the author. If you would like to reply, please comment or consider submitting an op-ed in response.