Archive for the ‘ City Planning ’ Category

Money Available for Climate Showcase Communities Grants

Here is another excellent opportunity for you to take your community to the next level of sustainability.  The EPA recently announced that it will be awarding up to $10 million for Climate Showcase Communities Grants.  These local government grants are targeted for implementing climate change initiatives.

 The types of activities that the EPA will fund include solid waste management; energy performance in municipal operations; land use, transportation or community master planning; reduction of vehicle miles travelled; energy performance in residential, commercial, agricultural, aqua cultural or industrial buildings; use or supply of green power products and renewables; natural resource management; removal of barriers for greenhouse gas (GHG)management; heat island management; and other innovative GHG reduction activities.

 The goals of the program are several.  First, the EPA is funding local government projects that reduce GHG emissions and can be replicated elsewhere.  Second, the GHG reductions must be permanent.  Third, projects should foster collaborative partnerships and emphasize the benefits of climate action.  Finally, the benefits of the projects must be showcased.

 This is the second offering of the Climate Showcase Communities Grants, following up on a successful initial program that awarded grants to 25 local governments across the United States.  Round two is funded at $10 million.  The EPA anticipates awarding grants to 20-30 communities, in amounts ranging from $100,000 to $500,000. 

 Local governments must provide a 50% match to the grants.  That means that if you request a $100,000 grant, you must provide a match of $50,000.  The match can be cash or in-kind services, such as staff time or equipment.

 This is a highly competitive grant program.  In round one, there were 444 applications.  Twenty-five were funded.  Here are some tips to make your application stand out.

  •  Read the RFP carefully.  It is located at  Make sure your strategy addresses its requirements.  This is an implementation grant, not a planning grant, although a plan that will be implemented within the three year program requirement may be considered.
  • Show clearly how you are going to measure your GHG reductions.
  • Plan to showcase your project.  Come up with innovative ways to publicize your project.  Consider using social media, incorporating photos and videos.
  • Design a project that can and will be replicated.  Consider preparing a guidebook and lessons learned documents.
  • Be creative to make your project stand out.  Consider innovative ways to use existing technology, target an under-represented sector of the population or establish new partnerships.
  • Innovate, innovate, and innovate some more.

 The EPA will want to see how your project fits into a broader framework, such as a sustainability or climate change plan.  If your community doesn’t have a plan, now is the time to prepare one—and be prepared in case there is a round three of Climate Communities Grants. 

As is now standard, all applications must be submitted through .  If you haven’t registered on that site, do it now because it can take 7­-10 days for new accounts to be processed.  Applications for Climate Community grants are due on July 26.  Get innovative, get creative and get your application submitted.

Two Things You Must Know About Sustainablity Funding

Two Things You Must Know about Sustainablity Funding Right Now

 Two important federal funding opportunities are available that require action right now.  You are undoubtedly aware that the American Power Act was introduced in the Senate on May 12.  Here are a few of the key provisions of the Act—and a notable omission. 

  • Targets have been set for the reduction of Green House Gas emissions.   By 2020, GHG emissions will be reduced from 2005 levels by 17%.  GHG emissions will be reduced by 83% by 2050.
  • A federal cap and trade program is not established, unlike the House version of the bill.
  • Annual funding in the amount of $7 billion is allocated for smart growth, natural gas vehicles and raising fuel economy standards.
  • Loan guarantees are provided to encourage nuclear power plants. 

Here’s the notable omission:  local governments.  In general, funding would be channeled to state governments.  That means programs such as the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grants (EECBG) would cease to exist.   The action to be taken?  Local government elected officials should contact their senators and press for modification of the Act. 

The prospects for the legislation are uncertain.  It may not be heard or acted on this year.  For more information, go to

TIGER II is an assured funding opportunity.  No, this has nothing to do with a world famous golfer by the same name.  The acronym stands for Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery; this is the second version of the program. 

Eligible funding activities include public transportation projects, highway and bridge projects, passenger and freight rail projects and port infrastructure improvements.  Of the $600 million available, $35 million has been set aside for transportation planning, which can be used for updating zoning codes and planning transportation corridors or regional transportation systems. 

The TIGER dollars are extremely competitive.  The first round was funded at $1.5 billion and received 1400 applications that totaled well over $60 billion.  TIGER II is funded at $600 million so competition will be even tougher. 

Here a few tips to make your application more competitive, based on projects that received funding in the first round and on comments from a recent webinar featuring Robert Mariner, Senior Policy Analyst with the office of the DOT Secretary.  While TIGER II is not funded through the Economic Recovery Act, job creation is important.  Projects in the $15-40 million dollar range will be more competitive, as DOT is looking to fund 18-20 projects nationwide.  DOT is also looking to fund a mixture of modal types, although there is no set formula.  Significant long term outcomes weigh heavily in the selection process.  A thorough cost-benefit analysis is critical to success.  Matching non-federal dollars make applications more competitive.  Finally, funds must be obligated by 12/2012, so the further along in the design and environmental review process that applicants are, the more competitive they will be. 

The action to be taken?  Pre-applications are due July 16 and must be made through  It can take 2-4 weeks to be approved to apply, so it is time to get started on the application process.  For more information, go to .

Learning From Plantations

Oak Alley Plantation

Learning from Plantations:  Transportation, Innovation and Sustainability

Nine city planners.  Three vehicles.  Twenty-two pieces of luggage.  

We are off on the adventure of our traditional post-conference trip.  After 4 ½ days at the annual American Planning Association conference in New Orleans, we’ll tour Louisiana plantations and soak up the Old South.  What surprised us was how many of the principles of operating a successful plantation would provide useful planning principles for right now. 

Laura Plantation is our first stop, built in 1805 in the traditional Creole style.  The photo below shows that Laura was built above a raised basement, which was used for storage.  Second floor living and business quarters were elevated to avoid the inevitable flooding from the nearby Mississippi River. 

Laura Plantation

Our second stop is the nearby Oak Alley Plantation, shown at the top of this page.  With its majestic alley of 300 year old oak trees and its colonnade of 28 massive Doric Columns, Oak Alley is the archetypical plantation of movies. It has, in fact, been featured in Interview with the Vampire and Hush, Hush, Sweet Charlotte, among others. 

The third stop on our plantation tour was Oakley Plantation.  Oakley was founded in 1906, when Louisiana was part of Spanish West Florida.  The founders were wealthy enough to hire tutors for their children.  John James Audubon stayed at Oakley for 3 ½ months and painted 32 of his Birds of America series while he was there. 

After our plantation visits and over a glass of wine, we talked about the planning lessons we had learned during our tour.  We agreed on three principles:  transportation, innovation and sustainability.  Here’s more detail on what we learned. 

 Transportation.  All the plantations were platted in a rectangular form—long and narrow—and had frontage on the Mississippi River.  The Mississippi was the prime route for shipping and receiving goods.  A five foot dike provided some protection from flooding.  The River Road ran parallel to the Mississippi and was used for local traffic. 

Innovation.  Each plantation was a self contained unit, with gardens, livestock and a metal/blacksmith shop.  The workers of the plantation, were of course, slaves.* The skilled slaves invented tools and machinery to make the plantation function more efficiently.  They constructed the plantation houses and created beautiful, decorative cornices and ceiling decorations out of local materials:  Mississippi River mud and horsehair.  An Oak Alley slave is credited with propagating the paper shell pecan tree, which simplified harvesting the pecans.  It is a true testament to human nature, that, in the midst of inhumane living conditions, the slaves were able to draw on their creativity. 

Sustainability.  The plantation homes were designed to work with the humid south Louisiana climate and the Mississippi River floods.  The first floors were elevated.  Interior and exterior walls were 18 inches thick and made of brick to provide insulation.  Houses were surrounded by verandas and trees to provide shade.  Doors and windows were lined up parallel, from the front of the house to the back, to take advantage of breezes by using cross ventilation.  All the plantation homes were built facing the Mississippi River, not just to take advantage of the view, but to catch the breezes coming across the water.  

Water conservation was an essential part of plantation life.  Rain catchment barrels and cisterns were critical.  And to further conserve water, the plantation families bathed only once a week! 

The plantation homes were built to work with nature.  With the invention of air conditioning and value engineering, we have forgotten about the simple principles that make for affordable living, not just affordable housing. 

*Most of the plantation tours included tours of the slave quarters and explained the duties of the slaves.  Oak Alley, however, did the best job of addressing the injustice of slavery, has a monument to slaves and highlighted the innovations made by slaves.
April 19th, 2010  in City Planning, Management 1 Comment »

Get Ready to Play…Name that Skyline!

 Skyline Contest:  So You Think You Know Cities? 

Here are skylines from 10 US cities.  How many can you identify?


Send your answer to .  The winner will receive a Borders gift card.  In case of ties, the gift card will be awarded to the first correct response.   




Picture #1

Picture #2

Picture #3

Picture #4

Picture #5

Picture #6

Picture #7

Picture #8








Picture #9

Picture #10

Can’t Figure Them Out? 
Check back for hints. 







March 29th, 2010  in City Planning No Comments »

Journey Across America: Day Two

Journey Across America:  Day Two

Ooh.  Ah.  Beautiful.  Stunning.  Spectacular.  It’s another day of superlatives, from the time we leave our hotel room in Page, Arizona until the darkness descends on us in Albuquerque.  It’s also a Tony Hillerman day.  We’ll be driving the Four Corners area that he featured so vividly in his novels.  I can’t wait to see Monument Valley and Shiprock, two places on my “bucket list”, thanks to Hillerman.

The Glen Canyon Dam and Bridge were stop number one.  Glen Canyon Bridge is definitely the most beautiful bridge by a dam site, but will soon be outdone by the bridge over the Colorado River at Hoover Dam.  We looked north from the bridge into Lake Powell, named for the famous one-armed explorer John Powell. 

It’s also a day of travelling two-lane roads.  We spend the time on the drive to Monument Valley, “oohing and aahing” about the scenery, stopping to take pictures.  When Monument Valley arrives on the horizon, we know we are in for a visual treat.  As we get closer, we can identify the famous Two Mitten Buttes.  To their northwest is Sentinel Mesa, standing guard over the valley. 

We stop at the Monument Valley Navaho Nation Visitor Center.  The indigenous materials and design of the visitor center blend seamlessly into the majestic scenery of Monument Valley.  The Navaho Nation voted in the 1960’s to construct the visitor center to stop encroaching commercialism.  In one of life’s ironies, across the road from the visitor center, a billboard mars the magnificent vista.

Four Corners National Monument, the only point in the United States common to four state corners–Arizona, Utah, New Mexico and Colorado—is next on our loose itinerary.  We drive through each of the four states on our way to the monument.  To our surprise and disappointment, it is gated and closed for remodeling.  There’s no chance to take pictures while standing in four states.  We console ourselves by deciding that we are surely looking at all four states at the same time.

As we leave Four Corners, the colors of the desert change to ochre and gray.  The mighty Shiprock comes into view, surrounded by rolling hills and sagebrush.  It dominates the bleak landscape, its grandeur in sharp contrast to its surroundings.

 We drive through the high plains of New Mexico, eagerly awaiting the dramatic vistas that will return as we approach Albuquerque.  The Sandia Mountains that flank Alburquerque appear on the horizon.  We’re grateful for their beauty and for the end of the day’s journey.

For photos of day one and two of the journey, go to

March 23rd, 2010  in City Planning 3 Comments »

Journey to Excellence: Journey Across America


Here we are, two city planner type people, on a journey across America.  We’re heading from Henderson, Nevada to Clearwater, Florida and will be doing some wandering about along the way.  We’ll start out by spending time in the Southwest, driving the backroads and seeing the awesome beauty that characterizes the Southwest.

Day One:  We start off by taking the Northshore Road along Lake Mead, instead of heading right to the Interstate.  It takes us about an extra 15 minutes to head north, but it is worth it. 

Few tourists venture beyond the Strip or Hoover Dam to see the exquisiteness of the desert surrounding Las Vegas.  The road along Lake Mead is full of dramatic beauty, with surprise outcroppings of red rock speckling the mountains.  Changes to the desert landscape are subtle, but obvious to me, as I lived fifteen years in the desert.  There is a subtle green cast to the landscape.  The vegetation that has been dormant for years has reappeared because of the plentiful rain this year.  And by plentiful, I mean that it has rained 4 1/2 inches since January 1.  In a few weeks, the wildflowers will explode. 

We pass through the small towns of Moapa Valley and Logandale, arriving at I-15 south of Mesquite, just in time to drive through the Virgin River Gorge.  The Gorge is one of Mother Nature’s optical illusions.  At first sight, it appears to be a solid wall that can’t be penetrated.  We wind through sharp curves, with sheer rock on either side, speeding along.

Our time on I-15 ends quickly, as we exit and head east toward Hurricane, Utah.  The view to the north is the beauty of Zion National Park and later to Vermilion Cliffs National Monument.  For hours, each curve in the road brings more of the spectacular orange, red, yellow and purple colors that make the Southwest so entrancing. 

 The evening destination is Page, Arizona and we opt to take the long way there.  We follow the twisting turns of Arizona Route 89A from Fredonia to Jacob Lake, watching the vegetation  change from the Southwest desert hues to juniper trees and then to alpine forest .   We stop at Jacob Lake Lodge and are surrounded by snow.  A fire is burning in the lodge;  it’s aroma blends with the smell of pine trees and draws us inside.  

The Lodge is charming, but we hurry along so that we can see more of the spectacular scenery before the sun sets.  We descend to the Colorado River and cross it at Navajo Bridge.  As it becomes dark, we wind our way into Page, where we’ll spend the night.

 Taking in all the splendor of the day, I can’t help but be extremely grateful for the visionary people who have created our system of national parks and monuments.  These very special areas of the United States are preserved for all time, for all of us to see.  It’s easy to assume that setting aside millions of acres of incredible landscape was the right thing to do and came about easily.  But I’m convinced that our system came about only because of the vision and persistence of visionaries.  And so the lesson I take away, and pass along, is to dream big, set your vision high and work until you achieve it. 

Tomorrow:  Glen Canyon Dam, Monument Valley and Four Corners…unless we change our plans.

March 22nd, 2010  in City Planning No Comments »

Journey to Excellence: Transit in Tampa

Tampa’s Transit to Change Dramatically

Within the next five years, there will be monumental changes in Tampa, Florida. High speed rail and transit improvements will change the way the city looks and operates. In January, President Obama announced federal funding for high speed rail (HSR) for the Tampa-Orlando corridor. The project is shovel ready, with completion expected by 2015.

What does the arrival of high speed rail mean? Imagine this: You will be able to travel from Disneyworld to downtown Tampa in just 38 minutes…then take a bus rapid transit line out to Clearwater Beach and dip your toes in the warm water in just another 30 minutes. The tourism and economic impacts will be tremendous.

The transit connections that are under construction and in the planning stages will make the Tampa region more livable, attracting new residents and businesses. The first bus rapid transit system is under construction with more to follow. Light rail is in the planning stage. Major improvements will be completed when high speed rail arrives.

Sounds good, you think, but where is the money? In November of 2010, voters will be asked to approve a one cent sales tax increase. Seventy-five percent of the money generated will go toward transit projects, with the remaining 25% dedicated to road improvements. Supporters are optimistic that the increase will pass.

Get ready. The train will be leaving the station.

For more information, click on these links:

March 21st, 2010  in City Planning, Transit 2 Comments »

Journey to Excellence: Excellence in Land Use Planning

A Report on the Rocky Mountain Land Use Institute Conference

Last week, 450 planners, attorneys and real estate developers gathered in Denver for the Rocky Mountain Land Use Institute (RMLUI) conference.  The conference upheld its reputation for presenting thought provoking speakers and cutting edge information. 

A few of my favorites from the conference:

Opening keynote speaker Joel Kotkin discussed the future of American cities.  Kotkin is a Distinguished Presidential Fellow in Urban Futures at Chapman University.  Kotkin’s presentation was based on his recently published book, The Next 100 Million—America in 2050.  According to Kotkin:

  • The United States has healthier demographics than most of our competitors.  The US birth rate is growing while the world growth rate is slowing.  Our population growth will inherently lead to economic growth over the long term.
  • It will be interesting to watch the growth rate in China, which slowed drastically due to the one child per household policy.  That policy led to an overwhelming preference for male offspring.   China is approaching a time when there will be 23 million more men of marriageable age than women.  What are all those guys going to do?
  • The most recent Pew survey showed that suburbanites are most satisfied with where they live.  Their reasons?  Safety, security, quiet, privacy, resale value, curb appeal and shared values of home ownership.
  • Here’s an interesting tidbit that might surprise parents with kids ages 13-24 years old.  When asked about their sources of happiness, 76% of those 13-24 year olds said their relationship with their family was their main source of happiness.  Remember that on the days when your teenager is driving you crazy!


“You can’t have your renewable desert until you eat your transmission lines vegetables” was a memorable line delivered by Alex Daue in the keynote session, Renewables Scale Up:  Large Solar & Wind Installations and Transmission Corridors.  The panel at this session provided the latest information on renewable energy, presented recent case law and legislation and offered tips on how to manage renewable energy at the local level.  Panelists included John Anderson from Clean Energy Solutions, Alex Daue with the Wilderness Society, Erica Heller of Clarion Associates and yours truly, Mary Kay Peck of MKPeck Associates.  Here’s a tip from John Anderson -wear your boots if you are touring a solar installation – rattlesnakes love the shade provided by solar panels!

Do environmental regulations drive up the cost of housing?  Dr. Arthur “Chris” Nelson’s  fascinating presentation was based on research of two counties in suburban Washington, DC; one in Virginia and one in Maryland conducted for the US Department of Housing and Urban Development.  Here’s the bottom line:  the cost of environmental regulations have remained substantially constant over the last thirty years, despite the increase in regulations.  You can read the entire study, results and recommendations in Environmental Regulations and Housing Costs, a book that Nelson co-authored with his fellow researchers.

Turn the traditional zoning ordinance inside out and upside down to achieve real sustainability, according to Lane Kendig, Strategic Advisor, Kendig Keast Collaborative.   Make cluster developments, planned unit developments and increased density easily approved, permitted uses.  Quit subjecting sustainable development to more scrutiny and extra processing; make it easier to do than the typical single family home.  In fact, Kendig suggests that it is the traditional single family home subdivision that should be subject to more review and should be a conditional use.    Kendig’s comments made me wonder just how many communities are committed strongly enough to sustainability to adopt his philosophy and turn their zoning ordinance upside down.

The little town that could become energy independent—the dream of Fowler, CO.  Located in southeastern Colorado and home to 1,200, Fowler has obvious wind and solar development potential.  A ranching and farming center, it is within easy reach of feedlots…and manure.  What many would see as a negative, Fowler sees as a positive and the fuel for an anaerobic digestive facility that would produce enough energy to power the entire community.  Wayne Snider, Town Administrator, clearly conveyed Fowler’s vision to be “Community Powered.”

Why should your community develop an energy conservation strategy?  There are two major reasons, according to Chris Duerksen,  Managing Director of Clarion Associates.  First, follow the money.  For the first time in decades, there are federal dollars available for energy and planning strategies.  Second, get out ahead of state and federal regulations.  The USEPA will be regulating greenhouse gas emissions and there is pending federal clean energy and climate change legislation.  More than half the states have either passed legislation or issued executive orders regarding energy conservation.  To learn more about the planner’s role in energy planning, attend the session at the national American Planning Association conference that Duerksen, Sue Schwartz and I will be presenting on Tuesday, April 13 at 9:00 a.m.

So far I have attended 17 out of 19 Rocky Mountain Land Use Institute conferences.  The conferences never fail to exceed my expectations.  Will I be in Denver next spring for the 20th annual conference?  You can count on it!  I’ll be there to learn and to celebrate twenty years of success.

March 16th, 2010  in City Planning No Comments »