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In Pursuit of a Just Region: The Vision, Reality and Implications of the Sustainable Communities Initiative

2016, Doctor of Philosophy, Ohio State University, City and Regional Planning.
The planning field has a long history of intersecting with, contributing to and addressing issues of social, racial and geographic equity, from the late 19th century work of Jacob Riis and Jane Addams to contemporary movements such as progressive regionalism and environmental justice. Planning has had a conflicted history in engaging issues of equity and racial or social inclusion, with the profession at times being at the forefront of social justice issues, and at others acting as an accomplice in many of the most discriminatory urban policies in 20th century American history. While planning has often served the needs of marginalized groups, racial discrimination has been interwoven with various aspects of planning practice and policy throughout the 20th century.
The model of sustainable development, which has become dominant in planning practice in the past two decades, presents a vision for balancing economic development, environmental protection and social equity, known as the three “e’s” of sustainable development. By the late 2000s the principles of sustainability have made their way into the thinking of many federal agencies. The Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Sustainable Communities’ Initiative (SCI), introduced by the Obama Administration, sought to take these principles and translate them to practice at a scale not previously attempted in the United States.
HUD invested more than $200 million in seventy- four regions across the U.S. who received three- year regional sustainable development planning grants. The planning initiatives were intended to better coordinate housing and transportation while supporting more sustainable and equitable land use, infrastructure, and zoning decisions. SCI included a strong equity and fair housing mandate, introduced new equity planning and fair housing tools, and provided extensive support for equity planning in the program.
My research examines the experience of forty- five regional planning grantees awarded SCI grants in 2010. This research is a formative program evaluation of the SCI. This research seeks to understand if the SCI’s effort to affirmatively further fair housing and support regional equity led to stronger equity outcomes in regional sustainability planning processes and plans.
Utilizing a mixed-methods approach integrating plan evaluation and thematic analysis of documents, I find that equity planning efforts in the SCI fostered a stronger equity component to regional sustainability plans. For some regions, SCI was transformational in fostering new understandings and approaches to supporting equity planning, although the depth of the equity component of the planning process and plan recommendations varied substantially between grantees within the 2010 cohort of grantees.
The SCI experience speaks to the potential benefits of stronger, more proactive federal support by HUD for equity planning. Despite this progress, serious concerns regarding the implementation of SCI linger. The communicative rational planning model of SCI has substantial shortcomings in implementing complex regional sustainability plans. I propose integration of the collective impact theory to address this shortcoming in existing theory and to foster more productive implementation of SCI plans.
Jennifer Evans-Cowley, PhD (Committee Chair)
Jill Clark, PhD (Committee Member)
Rachel Kleit, PhD (Committee Member)
Bernadette Hanlon, PhD (Committee Member)
309 p.

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Reece, J. (2016). In Pursuit of a Just Region: The Vision, Reality and Implications of the Sustainable Communities Initiative . (Electronic Thesis or Dissertation). Retrieved from https://etd.ohiolink.edu/

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Reece, Jason. "In Pursuit of a Just Region: The Vision, Reality and Implications of the Sustainable Communities Initiative ." Electronic Thesis or Dissertation. Ohio State University, 2016. OhioLINK Electronic Theses and Dissertations Center. 23 Oct 2017.

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Reece, Jason "In Pursuit of a Just Region: The Vision, Reality and Implications of the Sustainable Communities Initiative ." Electronic Thesis or Dissertation. Ohio State University, 2016. https://etd.ohiolink.edu/

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