Sustainability Champions

Take a look around the nation, and you’ll come across some truly incredible places. They are places that pull you in with their uniqueness, that invite you to stay a little longer, and that you want to have in your own community. At one time, though, these great places were incredibly unreachable; it took a big vision, a big commitment, and a big plan to bring these places to fruition.

Last week, a few of our team members joined some of these other big thinkers from around the country at the HUD 2012 Office of Sustainable Housing and Communities Grantee Convening. This event brought together nearly 400 sustainability champions from across the nation, from those working on specific neighborhood projects to those creating region-wide plans like ours.

We heard about efforts to more easily access healthy food in New Hampshire, about Honolulu’s high-capacity transit corridor, and about the Chicago Community Trust’s grant program to help implement the Go to 2040 plan. Our team had the chance to share some of our experiences as part of a panel on effective approaches to community engagement, and we participated in speed dating with federal agencies, learning about the resources that our region can leverage to implement The Tomorrow Plan.

Des Moines Mayor Frank Cownie discusses community engagement efforts.

The participation of Department of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack in the event, though, is perhaps even more telling of the federal government’s commitment to creating more sustainable communities. This process is not just about a plan; it is about a new way of doing business. In part, that means breaking down the silos between various agencies at all levels. It also means that our region has the opportunity to bring even more great places to fruition. After all, in Secretary Vilsack’s words, “As we embrace sustainability, it unleashes a whole new set of opportunities.”

Bethany Wilcoxon

Bethany Wilcoxon is a transportation planner at the Des Moines Area Metropolitan Planning Organization and is the project manager of The Tomorrow Plan.
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