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HUD   >   State Information   >   Tennessee   >   Stories   >   2013-04-22
Sustainability is a Fair Housing Issue

Public meeting participants are encouraged to add ideas or areas of interest to the map

Recently in Memphis, Tennessee Paul Young, Director of the Memphis Shelby County Office of Sustainability, was a featured speaker at the Second Annual Fair Housing Month Commemoration at the Cecil Humphrey Law School in Memphis on April 12. His talk focused on the Fair Housing and Social Equity concerns that are built into The Mid-South Regional Greenprint and Sustainability Plan. The plan, briefly, aims to establish a unified vision for a region-wide network of greenspace areas, or Greenprint, connected by walkable and bikeable pathways. This effort is funded by a HUD Sustainable Communities Regional Planning Grant in the amount of $2,619,999 that his office applied for and received in late 2011.

The three year planning project is off to a successful start with the development of a consortium of municipalities, individuals, and organizations representing a planning area encompassing four counties in three states (Tennessee, Arkansas and Mississippi). The first few of over twenty public meetings have been held in Memphis and DeSoto County, MS and the fourth consortium meeting was held in West Memphis, AR. The Mid-South consortium is one of the few multi-state efforts in the country, and is especially rare in that it unites two Metropolitan Planning Organizations.

Planning team members work with a community member to locate an area of interest on the map

Young said sustainability and Green amenities impact fair housing in two ways. First, and more obvious, has to do with access to the various transportation amenities. Are bike lanes and rail-to-trails going to be a privilege for the "tight shorts" set? Is "walkability" going to be a value for upscale developments only or looked at a building block for improving existing low-income neighborhoods? The Greenprint process includes a major budget item for a professional outreach team to take this discussion to low income and minority neighborhoods in both urban and rural areas. In addition, the outreach effort uses web based surveys and a "You-Map-It" application on their website.

The second link between sustainability and fair housing, Young said, is land use patterns. While real estate interests are sometimes slow to understand the impact of green amenities, it turns out that development often follows features like parks, bike trails and walkways. Making sure that these investments are included in neighborhood redevelopment is a key to making low income urban neighborhoods competitive and reducing sprawl.

The GreenPrint planning team has influenced another HUD-funded Sustainability effort: the Aerotropolis Challenge grant. While this planning effort focuses mainly on regional transportation and logistics infrastructure, it has identified green amenities around the Memphis Airport, such as enhancing and linking the numerous tributaries of the Nonconnah Creek that flow through the area, as a key to the redevelopment of that strategic area.

The Greenprint efforts for fair housing and social equity are also drawing attention in the planning profession, a step forward from the days when planning and environment were looked at as exclusively "middle class" issues. The University of Memphis's Planning & Zoning Institute on April 19th features a keynote speech on "Planning and Environmental Justice". The positive role in shaping metropolitan growth patterns taken by HUD and its partners in the Sustainability Initiative, the Department of Transportation and the Environmental Protection Agency, contrasts with policies that promoted sprawl and residential segregation after World War II.