Sustainable DC Hopes to Build “the Most Livable City in the U.S.”

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[By Paul Goddin for Mobility Lab, published on May 3, 2013].

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To call Washington D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray’s Sustainable DC plan ambitious might be an understatement.

Piggybacking on predecessor Adrian Fenty’s accomplishments in making the Nation’s Capital one of the most bicycle-friendly cities in the U.S., Gray has gone several steps further with Sustainable DC – a 20-year plan to make it the “healthiest, greenest, most livable city in the U.S.”

But while Fenty’s installation of bicycle lanes around the city was viewed by many as a symptom of a disconnect between his mayorship and the economic problems of his electorate, Gray is framing Sustainable DC as a pro-business strategy. Planning Director Harriet Tregoning has said at several events promoting Sustainable DC that it is not an environmental initiative, but rather an economic one.

Tregoning says four challenges were the impetus for the District’s plan:Tregoning’s rationale – and it is a sound one – is that making the District sustainable is inexpensive because it’s largely about using resources more efficiently. Further, Sustainable DC should create green jobs, with the acknowledgement that DC’s unemployment rate, currently at 8.5 percent, remains persistent.

  • Jobs and the economy (more “low barrier to entry” jobs, for example)
  • Health and wellness
  • Equity and diversity, and
  • Climate and the environment.

The plan notes that the solutions lie within the areas of the built environment, energy, food, nature, transportation, waste, and water.

Regarding the economy, Sustainable DC’s targets for 2032 include:

  • Develop three times as many small, District-based businesses
  • Cut citywide unemployment by 50 percent, and
  • Increase by five times the number of jobs providing green goods and services.

Harriet-TregoningRegarding housing, affordability of homes and apartments in the District remains a problem, although Tregoning (right) is quick to point out that D.C. currently provides 42 percent of the metro area’s affordable housing despite encompassing only 10 percent of the region’s population. One method the District is using to address its affordable housing situation is by permitting construction of the city’s first 330-square foot micro-units.

The biggest controversy regarding the Sustainable DC plan, it seems, revolves around transportation issues. The plan’s primary transportation target for 2032 is to reduce commuter trips made by car or taxi to 25 percent of all trips, thereby increasing use of commuting by public transit, walking, and biking to 75 percent of all trips.

Some consumers have complained that the District’s Sustainable DC initiative is tantamount to a war on automobiles. Tregoning counters that, while the city does intend to change consumer behavior in the aggregate, no single individual’s behavior is being forced to change at all. Tregoning further points out that since commutes by transit, walking, and biking currently amount to 50 percent of all such trips, the 75 percent target is a realistic one.

Such city goals appear to be fairly rare. Beyond that, it is telling just how aggressive D.C.’s goal is when compared to the vision of transportation poster-child Portland. That Oregon city’s goal is for “70 percent of commuters to take transit, bike, walk, telecommute, or carpool in the next two decades.”

What other cities have aggressive commuter targets? Please let us know in the comments below.

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