Health, Infrastructure, and Land Use Law at APA's Policy and Advocacy Conference

Day two of APA’s Policy and Advocacy Conference was packed with plenary sessions and learning sessions on important issues like health and aging, infrastructure funding, and land use law.

Health and Aging Advocacy

One of the day’s first concurrent sessions was Lessons from Health & Aging Advocacy, moderated by Stephanie Firestone, Program Director of Livable Communities at the National Association of Area Agencies on Aging (n4a).

Firestone reminded us that we are living in an age where the fastest growing age category is 85 years and older. We all know that health outcomes are determined by how and where we live and play, so it is increasingly important that planners pay attention to making communities places where people of all ages can live with dignity.

Advocates for “age-friendly” communities have quite the challenge before them, as U.S. suburbs were not created with access in mind. Sprawling suburbs are difficult places for aging communities to remain engaged once they can no longer drive.

Bob Blancato of the Elder Justice Coalition has been a longtime advocate for age-friendly communities. Blancato provided key tips for effective advocacy. It’s his hope that planners can relay a message of long-term planning to a Congress that rarely acts with foresight. Issues related to aging, housing, transportation, social services, land use — are all local in nature but affected at the federal level.

In addition to constant communication to federal agencies and policymakers for a united federal policy on aging, there is ample room for improvement at the local planning level. Area Agencies on Aging organize programming for age-friendly communities across the country. Barbara Gordon, Region IV director for n4a, and Terri Lynch, acting director of the Alexandria Office of Aging and Adult Services, provided examples of how planners have successfully partnered with n4a in their respective communities.

Planners interested in learning how age-friendly their communities are can plug in their zip codes into the Livability Index on AARP’s website. The site is a great place to identify which local issues to prioritize in improving the livability of our communities. This knowledge, in addition to increased partnership with n4a, can help planners ensure their communities are livable for people of all ages.

FAST Act Implementation

After lunch, Gloria Shepherd of the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) and Deron Lovaas of the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), along with Brian Tynan of AECOM, presented major new components of the FAST Act. They discussed what these updates mean for the future of infrastructure funding and the planners who implement transportation and environmental programs under the legislation. Lovaas has written a series of blogs for APA on recent developments in transportation policy; his latest focuses on tracking carbon pollution.

Shepherd provided detailed information about the main programs that have been updated under the FAST Act, including regulation governing MTPs, provisions for voluntary scenario planning, and programmatic agreements for the integration of planning and environmental review. One major change is the delegation of NEPA authority to numerous states. The act has been updated to reflect changing technology as well. The FHWA is in the process of designating electric vehicle corridors, and the congestion mitigation and air quality improvement program added eligibility for the installation of vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) communication.

FHWA administrators hope that the FAST Act changes will improve the accountability and transparency of transportation programs over the next five years. While policymakers have not made progress in increasing the gas tax, Lovaas remains hopeful that five years from now, it will be easier to explain to the public how transportation and infrastructure outcomes effect people’s lives and the environment. In turn, this awareness will make it easier to gain bipartisan support for tax reform.

The FAST Act provided $300 billion over the next five years to surface transportation infrastructure planning and investment. While it is encouraging that this money is fully funded, there is still no funding fix for the Highway Trust Fund shortfall in the U.S. Currently, infrastructure has bipartisan support from Congress and from both presidential candidates, but it remains to be seen whether they will follow through and provide adequate funding for our nation’s infrastructure needs.

Land Use Law Review

John Baker, chair of APA’s Amicus Curiae Committee, led the session that provided an overview of important land use law cases currently under review in the Supreme Court and discussed APA’s role in the courts. The final court decisions of each of these cases could potentially affect land use law, making them important examples for land use planners to follow.

APA works to advance planning through the judicial process by filing amicus curiae friend of the court briefs in select cases of national importance. Michael Wolf, professor of law at the University of Florida, shared how he worked with APA’s Amicus Curiae Committee on the Murr v. Wisconsin case that is awaiting oral argument before the Supreme Court now.

All of the day’s sessions provided valuable information for planners seeking to stay informed of the latest issues and legal changes facing planners in 2016.

Top image: Moderating the Lessons from Health & Aging Advocacy session at the 2016 Policy and Advocacy Conference are Stephanie Firestone (right), Program Director of Livable Communities at the National Association of Area Agencies on Aging (n4a), and Bob Blancato, President of Matz, Blancato, & Associates and National Coordinator of the Elder Justice Coalition. Photo by Ben Zweig.

About the Author

Paige Peltzer

Paige Peltzer is a recent graduate of the Harvard Graduate School of Design's Master in Urban Planning program where she studied housing and neighborhood development. She is currently an associate at Economic and Planning Systems, Inc. (EPS) in Oakland, California, and serves on APA's Student Representatives Council as the representative from Region I.

September 21, 2016

By Paige Peltzer, AICP Candidate