Region Forward Blog

The Morning Measure: Just following orders?

May 3, 2011


Despite the market demand for transit-oriented mixed-use development and the multiple studies that prove that location decisions have the greatest impact on a building’s environmental footprint Congress and certain federal agencies appear to be disregarding those significant pieces of information.

Last week Lydia DePillis of the City Paper’s Housing Complex gave a scathing critique of Congressional proposals to essentially nullify a key part of President Obama’s 2009 Executive Order requiring federal buildings do their part to reduce greenhouse gases. Importantly in addition to greening existing buildings and setting energy efficiency standards for future construction the order also focuses on the transportation-related greenhouse gases that would be caused by location choices. In short the order says agencies should locate near transit and not in far-flung locations only accessible by automobiles. In a very short-sighted way (a common problem for this Congress) the House is claiming that rents in transit-oriented activity centers are just too expensive. This is an incredibly myopic position which if put into practice will exacerbate our region’s already notorious traffic congestion worsen air pollution and increase greenhouse gas emissions.

However there are some local voices of reason. As DePillis noted in her piece Arlington Board Member Jay Fisette while participating in a NCPC event on the role of the federal government in metro Washington’s built environment rebutted this misguided logic that focuses only on a portion of the overall costs that location decisions incur. “It’s a great executive order. It’s just somebody has to do it” said Fisette. “What is sprawl? Sprawl is following a cheaper piece of land. Are we going to rely on the private sector to change that philosophy and pull this country in the right direction? If the federal government can’t look long term and look at the overall total cost not just the land cost then who can?”

Unfortunately illogical sprawl promotion appears to be contagious. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) of all agencies is moving its Region 7 headquarters from a downtown site accessible via transit to a rural area 20 miles from downtown which is you guessed it only accessible by car. Perhaps Congress shouldn’t bother attacking the Executive Order agencies appear to be ignoring it themselves.

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