In October, the Metropolitan Area Planning Council (MAPC) received a $4 million federal grant to advance smart growth principles that “promote development while protecting the environment, encouraging social and economic equity, and conserving energy and water resources.” The grant is part of the $100,000,000 Sustainable Communities Regional Planning Grant Program that is run by HUD in collaboration with the EPA and U.S. DOT with the goal of empowering regional planning efforts that promote sustainable zoning and land use.
The MAPC, an organization representing 101 communities within Metro Boston, will use the HUD grant to fund its new regional development plan MetroFuture, which is designed to promote smart growth through compact development, focused economic growth, and coordinated transportation alternatives. This plan was designed by the MAPC with the assistance of over 5,000 residents and organizations through public surveys, workshops, and meetings. After more than 5 years of development, MetroFuture was adopted by the MAPC in 2008 to replace its previous regional plan, MetroPlan.
To oversee the HUD grant, the MAPC established the Metro Boston Consortium for Sustainable Communities, which is a group comprised of state agencies, advocacy and business organizations, academic institutions and 55 municipalities within Metro Boston. As a consortium member, the Northeastern Dukakis Center for Urban and Regional Policy is helping to develop tools and indicators to implement MetroFuture and measure its success. In particular, Northeastern Professor Barry Bluestone is working to develop the regional housing plan, while Professor Stephanie Pollack is developing transportation performance metrics.
Professor Pollack explains that MetroFuture’s major challenge is encouraging towns to plan together to institute a regional plan. The consortium’s objective is to build partnerships between towns, universities, and professionals across Metro Boston to overcome this challenge. Professor Pollack explains that incentives for towns to collaborate will include technical assistance, education on sustainable planning, and meeting places to start collaboration. The $4 million grant has provided momentum to start creating the tools and collaboration necessary to implement MetroFuture.
One of MetroFuture’s primary strategies will be to improve Metro Boston’s transportation system by increasing transit options and focusing more on bikes and walking. The MAPC sees an excessive focus on auto-oriented projects like the Big Dig. This smart growth approach will increase mobility, decrease GHG emissions and congestion, and create better health outcomes.
MetroFuture’s sustainable transportation plan marks a shift from focusing on moving people from point A to point B to providing people access to what they need (a shift in focus from mobility to accessibility). Currently, the consortium is creating indicators to measure whether accessibility improves following MetroFuture’s implementation. One simple example of measuring accessibility is Walkscore.com, which enables users to calculate an address’s “walkability” along with its accessibility to public transportation through transit-score. Professor Pollack explained that the consortium will work to complete the indicators over the next year, and then start implementing MetroFuture’s plan over the next two to three years. MetroFuture has an overall goal “to better the lives of the people who live and work in Metropolitan Boston between now and 2030.”