Over the last 50 years, poorly planned growth that assumed people would drive for every single trip has dominated in the United States; with devastating environmental, social and economic consequences. Supported with billions in highway subsidies Americans have been paving over farms, forests, and open space at an astonishing rate. Cars now cause 80% of the air pollution in many urban areas, and transportation is by far the country’s largest source of greenhouse gas emissions. Stuart Cohen has created new tools to reverse this paradigm of growth away from sprawling big box development, and instead revitalize the existing towns and cities by planning for people, not cars – a reversal that could have tremendous potential to reduce global warming pollution and improve social outcomes as the country grows by 100 million by 2050. His first successes were at a regional scale, leading efforts for a smart growth visioning and winning billions for public transportation. The smart growth vision pointed to a better way and was quickly replicated in other major regions of California. Cohen then built diverse campaigns and partnered with agencies to raise over $6 billion toward new public transit, bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure, and affordable homes near transit.
He and his team are now creating new tools and incentives to align the needs of citizens and neighbors, city planners and developers. The first major effort is to make community voices a constructive heart of planning a neighborhood’s future, and help avoid the oppositional dynamics that blunt progress. Through the Great Communities Collaborative, tools, training, and technical assistance help neighbors identify not just what they want to preserve, but what they may want to make more complete communities, whether safer streets, parks, or more services like health or childcare facilities. Another innovation is a third-party certification for buildings, called GreenTRIP, which supports cities and developers that plan for low-traffic, low-carbon developments. GreenTRIP certification is given to projects that are designed to cut traffic, with incentives like free transit passes or CarSharing on-site, instead of excessive parking. Having emerged from pilot projects in the Bay Area, this approach is spreading to other regions in California, and to other parts of the country.