By Robert Ping, WALC Institute Executive Director
The world is changing. Well, I know this is a cliché, but it is because it is true – always. Change is inevitable, and change is hard because it can be unpredictable. The recent U.S. elections are proof of that. A lot of people were blindsided by the results, even those who voted for the eventual winners. Dramatic change is ahead in this country, at least for a few years, if not for a long time. Some of us are happy about that, some of us are not.
For those who have been part of the change towards livability these recent changes may be scary, even depressing. But change at the federal level can only go so far. There are states, regions, cities, towns and rural areas, and each one of these can determine much of its own future, with or without federal influence.
The movement towards livability is strong. So strong that I believe it will continue despite what may or may not happen nationally in the near future. Most of this momentum is taking place in cities, of all sizes and shapes. We see this firsthand in the work we do at the WALC Institute working directly in communities and we learn about other successful livability initiatives every single day. I believe we are past the livability tipping point in America.
For example, the Complete Streets movement has been led by forward-thinking cities, by advocates and city leaders who know that people want to be in places that are safe, comfortable and people-friendly. Local successes have worked their way upstream and are inspiring states and those inside the Washington, D.C. ‘Beltline’ to realize that Complete Streets are good for streets, people and economies, as long as we can avoid residential displacement along the way. It is positive change at the community level that has created the momentum.
The federal government is now ramping up to scale things down, so to speak, and many state governments will follow this new, old trend. But I believe that forward-thinking cities can continue to improve livability for their citizens, led by local leaders and community members, even though support from the state and national level will likely shrink. The most livable cities got through the Great Recession with only minor bruises, after all. The cities that haven’t made strides toward livability are working harder to keep from falling behind.
We will see a (temporary) slowdown in federal funding for livability initiatives, but I don’t believe we will see a serious loss of momentum and passion for a more livable future. The world is changing. And good things are going to keep happening--at least at the local level.