Monthly Archives: June 2012

Why Don’t More Cities Act Like Philadelphia?

Managing stormwater is tricky business in urban areas, where paved roads, rooftops, and parking lots keep water above ground rather than letting it soak naturally into soils, grasses, and other vegetation. Rain and snow runoff must be caught, channeled, and eventually discarded in “gray” infrastructure, such as curbs, gutters, storm drains, and sewers. All this effort and expense seems so unnecessary, when there are green ways to capture and use the water rather than funnel it away.

Photo credit: Marissa Huber

But gray infrastructure has been the standard for so long that policy and engineering practice have created tremendous inertia to maintain the status quo. How can it be overcome? Sarah Madden (MCP ’10) took a hard look at the development of Philadelphia’s “Green City, Clean Water” plan to answer this question. She found that a combination of changes in federal policies and the efforts of a determined policy entrepreneur who worked steadily over nearly two decades came together to create the right conditions for the plan to take shape. The lessons Sarah draws from the case study are worth considering for other large cities or even smaller municipalities struggling to find ways to make green infrastructure more palatable in their context. See Sarah’s full thesis,“Choosing Green Over Gray: Philadelphia’s Innovative Stormwater Infrastructure Plan”.

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Do Community Benefits Agreements Produce Sustainable Results?

Large-scale real estate development in low-income neighborhoods is a major source of municipal-level conflict in the United States. One way developers and communities have tried to resolve these conflicts is through negotiating Community Benefits Agreements (CBAs). In theory, these agreements are a great idea, but Rebecca Economos (MCP ’11) looked at five New York City-based case studies and found troubling results. She claims the ad-hoc nature of the negotiations leads to confusion and wildly different outcomes for different communities. Rebecca presents a new model for benefits negotiations that includes six key components: 1) Community inclusion in the RFP or project visioning process; 2) Establishment of formal exactions; 3) Community representation; 4) Community impact analysis; 5) Fiscal accountability; 6) Structured implementation.

Photo credit: Eric Beato

Economos claims that, based on her research, if this model were formalized and implemented, it would address the majority of the concerns raised by the stakeholders she studied. Read more in her thesis, “Rethinking Community Benefits Agreements.”

How to Convert Brownfields to Green Energy Projects, and Do It Right

Bjorn Jensen (MCP ’10) came to some important conclusions when he looked at four brownfied-to-renewable energy projects. Three of these projects were successful, he says, despite the fact that they had significant (and typical) challenges, such as cleanup costs, liability risks, uncertainty, technical and legal complexity, and the need to coordinate multiple stakeholders. He found that these barriers were overcome through strong partnerships characterized by full cooperation among developers, property owners, regulators,
and local officials. Most importantly, these partnerships were driven by political and public support, which came from an expectation that brownfield-to-renewable energy projects would improve the city’s image and stimulate development of the local clean energy industry locally.

Photo credit: Josh Mogerman

Jensen suggests that locating renewable energy facilities on contaminated lands is a possible solution to the siting controversies faced by new renewable energy facilities, and by wind farms especially. Jensen concludes with recommendations for local, state, and federal actions to encourage and facilitate brownfields-to-renewable energy projects, specifically emphasizing a “carve-out” strategy to use the cleanest parts of brownfields for new energy projects.

For more information, read Jensen’s thesis, “Brownfields to green energy: redeveloping contaminated lands with large-scale renewable energy facilities.

What Are the Risks and Opportunities of Regional Planning?

Photo credit: Abby Ladybug

Many of the ills facing metropolitan areas, such as traffic congestion, strained public infrastructure, and regional inequality, are caused, in large part, by the negative impacts one community faces because of the decisions of another. For example, as a town far outside the urban core develops more housing, it may create more traffic for communities further in as commuters shuttle through to centers of employment or education. Without effective mechanisms for both horizontal (e.g. city to city) and vertical (e.g. city to nation) coordination of planning and governance, the metropolitan region can face a “tragedy of the commons,” where the prosperity and quality of life declines for the region as a whole.

In an effort to support the growth and development of a high-quality metropolitan region, the Boston Metropolitan Regional Planning Commission’s (MAPC) MetroFuture regional planning process engaged over 4,000 of the area’s residents between 2002 and 2009 and produced a new vision and action plan for the region.

Evan Thomas Paul (MCP ’11) looks at the strengths and weaknesses of the effort and concludes that the process can serve as a model for other regions, while cautioning against some of the political, financial, and citizen burnout challenges of the process.

You can learn more about this topic by reading Evan’s full thesis “Projections, Politics, and Practice in Regional Planning: A Case Study of MetroFuture.”