Crossing the Pond: Pooling Knowledge and Resources for Sustainable, Livable Communities

It’s encouraging when the topics of livability and sustainability begin to crop up in governmental policy and programmatic goals. After all, these concepts mean different things to different people and, as such, can be challenging goals to quantify and budget. It's even more encouraging when such an effort goes global.

Recently, in a unique effort to promote more sustainable and livable communities, the US Department of Housing & Urban Development (HUD) signed a joint Declaration of Intent with Germany's Ministry of Transport, Building, and Urban Development (BMVBS). The ultimate goal is to develop a shared framework for improving urban sustainability and livability; to this end, the two entities would essentially exchange sustainability expert information, research, and consultants. In addition, the effort hopes to host bilateral conferences and meetings while sponsoring joint research studies.

According to representatives from HUD and BMVBS, the focus of the effort is on fostering sustainable development in cities, which is where a majority of the population lives in both the United States and Germany (among others). While many EU nations already place great emphasis on sustainability, the partnership with Germany is a good choice. The declaration asserts that there is “a common vision [for building] a better, more sustainable and livable tomorrow.”

Together in the Declaration, HUD and the German ministry identified ways in which the new partnership will play out:

a. Analysis of integrated urban and regional policies relevant to the development and redevelopment of cities, metropolitan communities, and rural areas.

b. Ways to foster the design and development of sustainable communities through integrated and inter-governmental partnerships in a federal system, with particular attention to transit- oriented development planning and finance.

c. Urban economic development and public–private sector investment partnerships, particularly involving sustainability, green retrofit, and the revitalization of "cities in transition through large-scale changes in their employment base."

d. Public-private partnership comparisons, especially the varying degrees and methods of using private corporate and philanthropic investment with public partners at all levels of government for revitalization and sustainability.

e. Urban land use, including green-space planning, urban farming, temporary greening, and brownfield rehabilitation. This component may include attention to the quality of public spaces, urban man-made landscapes, and architecture.

f. Construction technology and the development of building codes for safer, more affordable housing, with particular regard to residential energy efficiency, urban energy use, and solar, wind, and geothermal advances.

g. Housing finance policy, including both homeownership and rental programs, and government monitoring of mortgage capital markets.

h. The design, development, and administration of housing rent subsidy programs.

i. Other national policy and research issues in housing and community development and related issues, as determined by the two governments.

Although both countries already have similar sustainability and livability efforts—the United States has spearheaded livability efforts through the Federal Partnership for Sustainable Communities and Germany (with other European Union nations) adopted the Leipzig Charter back in 2007—the new partnership will hopefully encourage more sharing of best-practice ideals across the pond. With a common set of goals and program recommendations, it makes sense to pool resources and share respective expertise rather than reinvent the wheel. The United States has been referencing European public spaces, energy goals, and transit systems as an ideal model for years. Yet, numerous strides in sustainability from a technical perspective have helped the U.S. keep up with Germany, which has been setting the bar high for sustainability with its exceptional alternative transportation, historic town centers, and renewable energy initiatives. With this dual framework, Germany and the United States stand to learn a lot from each other in terms of livability; the fact that they've finally made it official speaks volumes.