Tim Halbur
Tim Halbur was until recently the managing editor of Planetizen.com, the leading news and information site for the urban planning community. In January, he left Planetizen to take on a more active role in creating change with ArtPlace, a national initiative to drive creative placemaking in the U.S.

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REASON 51: Obama is on the right side of land use and transportation policy.

Land use and public transit are topics that on the surface can seem very dry and irrelevant, but they have a huge impact. For the past sixty years plus, land use policy encouraged the development of cheap housing that sprawled out across the countryside, which is super-inefficient. We could do that back then because gas was cheap and safe. Now that oil is expensive and fumes are warming the planet, we’re realizing that cities can be really efficient machines for living because you can leave your car in the garage and actually walk to get the things you need.

Obama understands this, because he’s lived in a lot of cities. Honolulu had about 300,000 people when he was growing up there. He lived in a bungalow in the beginning of his life, but otherwise he lived mostly in apartment buildings. Romney, on the other hand, grew up in a 5,500 sq. ft. suburban mansion in a tony neighborhood of Detroit (back when Detroit was a symbol of success).

One of Obama’s most forward-thinking steps on urban policy was to make the connection between land use, health and transportation by creating a way for the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Department of Transportation and the Environmental Protection Agency to talk to each other. It’s called the Partnership for Sustainable Communities. Progressive critics say that the partnership has yet to pay off in big results, but land use decisions are notoriously long in scope and we’re only just beginning to see what this forward-thinking collaboration can do. Four more years of the Obama Administration would cement that relationship.

Another smart move taken by the President was the controversial appointment of Republican Ray LaHood to run the Department of Transportation. It was an early classic Obama example of reaching across the aisle, and those of us following transportation thought we were being shafted because Obama didn’t care. But it turned out that LaHood was a shrewd choice, and really came into his own as an advocate for expanding transit and pedestrian and bike access programs.

Obama was also instrumental in reforming the New Starts/Small Starts program, which are the federal government’s primary tools for funding local transit investments. The Obama administration added in criteria that assess transit projects on the basis of environmental benefits, land use and economic development potential.

So where is Romney on land use? As with health care, the Romney of today is not the Romney who served as Governor of Massachusetts. Back then, Mitt actually spearheaded a smart growth program that could be the inspiration for the Partnership for Sustainable Communities, called the Office for Commonwealth Development. But like many of his earlier political positions, Romney has had to bury his sprawl-fighting past and swear to fight insidious government intervention into urban planning. In fact, at a fundraiser in April, Romney implied he may eliminate HUD altogether. He's even allowed the Tea Party contingent to make their anti-U.N. insanity over "Agenda 21"—the comprehensive plan for sustainable global development that has been adopted by 178 nations—become official policy.

I supported Obama for President back in 2008 because I saw in him someone who would approach the presidency with logic and honor, and a willingness to cross party lines to make decisions. I admire his approach to land use policy, and want to see what he can do in another four years with a slightly improved economy.

Tim Halbur
 Los Angeles, California

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