Issues & AdvocacyIssues & Advocacy
AIA Government & Community Relations News: Week of February 6, 2012
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Last week, the Center for Communities by Design collaborated with several partners to conduct a two-hour workshop at the New Partners for Smart Growth Conference. The workshop, “Facing the Critics: Tools and Trainings to Successfully Counter Smart Growth Opponents,” showed the rising interest in this issue, which was demonstrated by the overflow crowd who turned out for the session. Over 120 participants attended the session, including federal, state, and local public officials from across the country.
The workshop focused on delivering information about a range of process tools and messaging to bring communities together around smart growth work. The session also provided training on how to deflect attacks, pivot back to your message, organize a strong partnership, establish positive meeting dynamics, and resolve conflicts with opponents. The format for the workshop included large group training and detailed work in small groups on a variety of techniques and cases.
“Facing the Critics” was motivated by much of what has been happening during the past two years across the country, as a steady trend toward the overt politicization of smart growth has impacted planning processes. Organized and aggressive opponents to smart growth have disrupted meetings, defeated projects, and re-written master plans across the country. While some of the opposition to projects has been based on conspiracy theories attached to the UN’s Agenda 21, a more potent criticism of the smart growth movement has underscored the dialogue. Opponents have accused smart growth leaders of waging an elitist, top-down campaign on community design. As a result, those working in the field have an obligation to reclaim the original character of the movement as a citizen-led, participatory process.
Architects have a leadership role to play in this dialogue. The Regional and Urban Design Assistance Team (R/UDAT) program, the AIA’s flagship initiative on community design, will celebrate its 45th anniversary this year. David Lewis, FAIA, and Peter Batchelor, FAIA, captured the spirit of R/UDAT in their seminal book on the program, Urban Design in Action. As they wrote, R/UDAT teams “realized that citizens wanted to help shape their own destinies, to participate in the formulation of policies whose implementation would result in a new sense of community.” That sentiment has never been more accurate.
The discipline of urban planning is rapidly reaching toward a powerful nexus of public health, sustainability, collective responsibility – and architecture. While progress may take halting strides at the national level, citizen architects across the country are leading change at the grassroots level.
A key player on the national stage is Bill Roschen, FAIA, LEED AP BD+C, who is a founding Principal at Roschen Van Cleve Architects and heads the L.A. City Planning Commission. Roschen has been championing the Commission’s long-term focus on public health and collective responsibility for seven years. Five years ago he assumed and continues to hold his role as the Commission’s President – the first architect to do so in 90 years.
In January 2012, Los Angeles County supervisors approved the Healthy Design Ordinance that builds on the efforts of architects such as Roschen, the County Department of Public Health, and others. This legislation mandates that new developments include bicycle parking and create wider sidewalks with better shade coverage. It also requires more research and design on making the county friendlier to bicyclists and pedestrians. The ordinance is the first initiative to address a healthier-built environment at the county-wide level and is a key stepping stone to an ambitious vision for the region.
The City of Los Angeles is the first large municipality to incorporate a health element as part of the City’s General Plan Framework (the L.A. City Planning Commission is working to obtain funding for this effort from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention). Also complementing the ordinance is Streets for People (S4P), an initiative of the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health and the L.A. City Planning Commission, working closely with a broad coalition of stakeholders. S4P will help to develop a replicable model for tackling the entire set of policy elements – such as bike paths, public parks, nutrition, and equitable healthcare access. Eventually, the templates for processes such as permitting may be used for 30-40 projects per year by L.A.’s 91 neighborhood councils, business councils, and others.
While the economy continues its slow recovery, local governments like Los Angeles are taking advantage of architects’ expertise to tap sound business opportunities for designing healthy and vibrant communities. In L.A. City, over 60% of land is used for streets and parking lots. The cost of a single parking stall can reach $40,000-50,000; the impact of related infrastructure on the cost of housing can amount to $120,000-150,000 per unit. The L.A. County ordinance is a step toward making housing more affordable and decreasing the costs of repairing the transportation network. “The architects involved in these efforts understand the building costs involved,” Roschen says. “And they understand the building forms required to eliminate them.” As Los Angeles develops its Transit Oriented Districts, the ordinance creates the necessary connective tissue for designing a livable, affordable city.
Having collaborated with architects on similar public policy efforts, Roschen has gained a clear perspective on the unique skills that architects use to serve their communities. “Architects bring creativity and innovation to policy and design that can make zoning a powerful tool for change. They easily envision how the built environment can be conceived to address a number of problems simultaneously.” For instance, the idea for Health Elements themselves was born three years ago, when the Commission used creative zoning to promote healthier food choices.
Architects also effectively share the narrative of their vision to help communities understand and engage in the process of fiscally sound urban planning. Each of the Los Angeles’ neighborhood councils is involved as land use advisors and has a budget of $40,000 in discretionary funds. Architects like Roschen actively participate in the discussion, and the councils can now consider completing a park project in months instead of years – with thousands of dollars, not millions, through innovative policies such as S4P.
Beyond lending expertise, experienced practitioners like Roschen design innovative structures that help local governments take advantage of the critical connection between architecture and urban policy. In their seminar at Woodbury University, Roschen and his colleague Christi Van Cleve, AIA, a principal at Roschen Van Cleve Architects, help improve students’ understanding of governance models and give them the confidence, skills, and networking connections needed to make a positive impact in policy-related roles. The class is the first of its kind in the U.S. in teaching public policy specifically to architecture students.
Progress can come slowly, but all of it is made by individuals who commit their vision and skills to change their communities for themselves and the generations to come. Architects across the U.S. are reaching out to local governments, and the latter are not waiting to use architects’ expertise in implementing innovative, fiscally sound policies.
Members of the bipartisan, House-Senate committee tasked with negotiating a final version of a year-long payroll tax cut agreed early in the negotiating process that a deal had to be struck before the end of this month, when a short-term extension that passed in December will expire. However, since talks are stalled over numerous points of contention, the odds of a deal happening before the extension expires are slim.
First enacted in 2010, the Social Security tax was cut to 4.2 percent from the original rate of 6.2 percent. The tax cut benefits over 160 million workers and saves approximately $1,000 per household each year. The two-month extension passed in December also extended the federal benefits of those who have experienced long-term unemployment, and maintained current payroll processing structure so that small businesses would not have to upgrade their accounting systems.
Lawmakers are at odds over nearly every element of the potential deal from how long unemployment benefits should last to whether illegal immigrants should be able to claim refundable child tax credits. In fact, talks have not even begun over how to pay for the estimated $160 billion year-long extension, which is likely the most contentious point of all.
Additionally, Republicans said they wanted to include certain measures, including one blocking environmental regulations for commercial boilers and another requiring the construction of an oil pipeline from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico, which the Obama administration has blocked.
Politically, this debate couldn’t have come at a worse time for both sides of the aisle. Neither side wants to be blamed for allowing taxes to go up on the middle class and ending unemployment benefits for the jobless, particularly in an election year. However, with Senate Democrats already offering “back up” legislation, set to be introduced if the payroll tax conference fails to agree on a deal, it is unclear whether there will be any room for agreement on any of the issues.
One thing is clear: Congress, already at historic lows in popularity, will face mounting criticism if negotiations continue to stall. While Democrats blame Republicans for refusing to pass tax breaks for the middle class, and Republicans blame Democrats for passing bad policy that would jeopardize Social Security and add to the deficit, the rest of America waits for a resolution.
A debate over a proposed building code change reached new heights last week in Hilo, HI. Police were called to the Hawaii County administrative building on February 1 after protestors disrupted a County Council meeting, where protestors objected to county adoption of the statewide building code. However, code proponents, including local AIA members, prevailed. The bill passed and is awaiting the mayor’s signature.
The County Council was discussing adoption of the 2006 IBC, with permission for local amendments. Due to unique conditions in Hawaii that are not as relevant on the mainland, AIA Hawaii members have been active advocates on codes issues to ensure appropriate local amendments are included, while also protecting the public’s health, safety, and welfare. Shaun Roth, AIA, president of the AIA Hawaii Island Section, performed rounds of extensive review of the proposed amendments and repeated testimony from the Section aimed at strengthening the proposed codes changes.
Despite the protestors interruption (video available here), this is a crucial step forward. While additional work needs to be done, Roth noted that the adoption of the 2006 IBC will bring Hawaii County more in line with modern codes. However, the consistency of codes throughout the state as envisioned by the 2007 passage of Act 82 and the creation of the State Building Code Council remains an elusive goal.
Rep. Russ Carnahan (D-MO), the Chair of the Congressional High Performance Buildings Caucus, will offer an amendment on the U.S. House floor as early as Monday to promote the use of life cycle cost assessments in the federal government.
Carnahan will offer the amendment during debate over H.R. 1734, the Civilian Property Realignment Act, legislation to establish a BRAC-like commission (the commission that looked at defense base closures and realignment in 2005) to recommend underused federally owned facilities for sale to the private market. The Carnahan amendment would add a provision to require the General Services Administration (GSA) to ensure that life-cycle costs are considered in the design, construction, and retrofit of larger building projects, helping the GSA maximize taxpayers’ investments in these buildings.
The amendment is based on a provision in Carnahan’s H.R. 3371, the High Performance Federal Buildings Act, which the AIA supports. According to the AIA Guide to Building Life Cycle Assessment in Practice, “The greatest incentive [of life cycle assessment (LCA)] is the ability of an architect to show the client that the use of LCA will … help significantly in increasing long-term paybacks by better decision making.”
The House will debate H.R. 1734 as early as today. To ask your member of Congress to support the Carnahan amendment, please click here.
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