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“Planning for Sustainable Regions: What Would Ike Say?”

David Warm / May 19 2011

For Release Friday, May 20, 2011

David WarmFor the first time, the federal government is investing in efforts to comprehensively plan for the development of regions. HUD’s Sustainable Communities Initiative, a partnership with EPA and DOT, supports metropolitan and multi-jurisdictional plans to integrate housing, land use, economic and workforce development, transportation, and infrastructure investments. Greater Kansas City is one of 45 regions participating in this new experiment to advance the health of America’s regions.

Planning has always been integral to American success. Great national plans, from canals to westward expansion to national parks, set the milestones of our shared history. So what would Dwight Eisenhower, the father of America’ most well-known and well-implemented plan–the interstate highway system–say about HUD’s effort to help America’s regions plan for sustainable growth and development? It’s hard to know for sure, but his rich repository of Presidential quotes sheds light on what makes this federal effort so promising.

In his 1959 State of the Union Address, Eisenhower was clear: “If progress is to be steady we must have long-term guides extending far ahead.” When it comes to American regions, we have precious few long-term guides. We have regional transportation plans, and to a lesser extent, plans for other regional systems, but these tend to be disconnected, incomplete and ill-equipped to guide American regions into an era of relentless global competition.

Yet according to the Brookings Institution, the largest 100 metropolitan areas in the country are home to about two-thirds of the U.S. population and generate 74 percent of our GDP. Coherent regional strategies are critical to national success and to leveraging federal investments in housing, transportation and human services. In metropolitan areas like Kansas City, which spans two states, nine counties and 120 cities, local plans are important, but not enough. We must also come together around common regional strategies to create the capacity to contribute to the national economy.

President Eisenhower also said, “Plans are nothing; planning is everything.” HUD’s Sustainable Communities program embraces this principle. It recognizes that change is not made in the plan itself, but in the process of planning– engaging people and communities to develop and pursue authentic, shared visions and strategies. HUD’s program emphasizes the formation of broad, multi-sector partnerships and engaging traditionally disconnected residents to regional processes.

The Kansas City region’ vision fosters vibrant, green and connected centers and corridors that support reinvestment in existing places and sensible expansion into new areas. This framework emerged from an extensive visioning process that began with assembling the common goals of dozens of local comprehensive plans and ultimately engaged some 80,000 residents. HUD is now enabling our region to pursue the vision we created for ourselves.

Eisenhower understood the limits of the federal role, remarking that “Farming looks mighty easy when your plow is a pencil and you’re a thousand miles from the corn field.” HUD recognizes that regional planning cannot be done from the beltway. Instead of prescribing how plans must be developed, HUD supports solutions that are home grown. In Kansas City, HUD supports some 60 public and private partners working to implement our shared vision.

Implementation is central to the HUD program. As Eisenhower observed, “Unless we progress, we regress.” The HUD program does not emphasize planning for its own sake, but planning that moves regions toward action. In Kansas City, HUD is investing in efforts to create and adopt policies and tools to enable developers, local governments and consumers to make decisions that foster a more sustainable region.

Our region has strong physical, economic and civic assets, built on the plans of the past. But as Eisenhower said, “The world moves, and ideas that were once good are not always good.” HUD is helping us craft and commit to new ideas–new transportation, housing and employment options, with a particular focus on equitable access to opportunity. These ideas respect what is right with our region and enhance our ability to thrive in a new era characterized by an increasingly complex demographic profile, higher energy and building costs, daunting environmental challenges, and constrained public resources. We can’t simply care about our future, we must act on it, or as Eisenhower said, “As our heart summons our strength, our wisdom must direct it.”

Sixty years later, it is hard to surmise how President Eisenhower would view regional planning for sustainable regions. It seems, however, that HUD has embraced his practical and progressive approach to leadership and that its approach to this new planning initiative holds great promise for empowering American regions to live up to their full potential.

It is true that Ike also said, “All generalizations are inaccurate, including this one.” But when it comes to planning for sustainable regions, I like Ike.

David Warm is Executive Director of the Mid-America Regional Council, headquartered in Kansas City, Missouri. columns are not copyrighted and may be reproduced in print or electronically; please show authorship, credit and send an electronic copy of usage to


  1. Linda Guthrie
    Posted May 20, 2011 at 12:11 pm | Permalink

    I’m impressed. Having been wrapped up in (and a little warped by) my own community’s efforts to become designated a Green Community in Massachusetts, therefore eligible for significant grant opportunities, I totally missed the HUD Sustainable Communities initiative. There’s a progressive developer in my town who’s restored brown fields and renovated tannery buildings into a creatively distinctive downtown mall-type shopping district with roofs totally covered in solar panels. He bales all the retail cardboard, tried melting this winter’s snow with heliostats and now he’s cleaning up another brownfield to become a residential rental sustainable community, complete with composting toilets. Negotiating with city water and sewer departments could be challenging as nothing like this has ever been done before in this community. I hope the HUD initiative has info that will supportive/assist his efforts in getting the city services departments on his side. He is determined to do it differently.

  2. Bert Berkley
    Posted May 20, 2011 at 2:31 pm | Permalink

    To David Warm, Your evaluation is an excellent introduction and insight to what HUD is doing. Thank you for educating me. You continue to do outstanding work, and are a great credit to this coimmunity.
    Warmest regards, Bert

  3. Posted May 22, 2011 at 5:31 am | Permalink

    David, thank you for your thoughtful essay. HUD has had its difficulties throughout the years, including the current mess with the HOME program, but this sounds promising. By the way, you didn’t mention that Eisenhower was a neighbor, growing up in Abeline Kansas.