On September 26, the White House announced more than $80 million in new federal investment for their Smart Cities Initiative — adding 50% more funding to its year-old program to encourage innovation in communities across the country.
On the same day, they also released a Housing Development Toolkit, a series of recommendations to deal with the crisis caused by the combination of rising rents and stagnant incomes. One of the recommendations? Building housing that "optimizes transportation system use, reduces commute times, and increases use of public transit, biking, and walking."
Why is this important? After all, the White House doesn't have the ability to override housing development laws on a local level. Well, there are a few reasons.
First, the Department of Transportation will be taking new housing development methods into consideration when awarding grants for new transit projects. If you want that light-rail system in place, you're going to have to consider eliminating your parking minimums.
On that note: Second, the policy recommendations place an emphasis on something we've realized for a while: parking requirements are terrible. Not only does parking cost anywhere from $5,000 to $60,000 per space, making housing construction far more expensive than it needs to be, but this then drives up the rent for everyone — regardless of whether you own a car.
And third, these recommendations center around the fundamental idea that we need to increase use of public transit, biking, and walking. For many commuters who live farther away from work in order to afford housing, the only reasonable option becomes driving... not exactly the sustainable future we're looking for.
Which brings us back to the Smart Cities Initiative: Giving cities the money to make these recommendations a reality. More than $15 million of the new funding is allocated specifically to new grants for the future of urban transportation in the participating cities and communities.
Another part of the initiative? The Urban Innovation Council, a combination of cities, startups, and corporations dedicated to building smarter cities. Key members include Arlington County, VA; Montgomery County, MD; Uber, Vornado, and, yes, TransitScreen.
The bottom line? Policy recommendations are great, and go a long way to changing attitudes over time. But the funding to make these recommendations a reality is even better.