Smart Growth Summit

The Center for Planning Excellence’s 2019 Louisiana Smart Growth Summit.

The legacy of disinvestment and discriminatory housing policies are still an issue in America in 2019 with the problems it caused, speakers at the Louisiana Smart Growth Summit said Tuesday.

Calvin Gladney, president and chief executive officer of Smart Growth America, said, for example, the poorest ZIP codes in Atlanta, which have the worst health outcomes in the city, are where highways were built to keep blacks and whites separate. “Until you start with the acknowledgment of that history and you explore the traumas that occurred, where do you start?”

This was the 14th Louisiana Smart Growth Summit. The summit, sponsored by the Baton Rouge-based Center for Planning Excellence, bills itself as the only educational event centered around land-use planning in the state. The conference also addressed steps being taken to manage the risk caused by climate change.

Gladney noted as part of his discussion that steps taken to disinvest in certain communities have made the effects of climate change worse. Neighborhoods that don’t have a lot of trees but have a lot of concrete and asphalt do a poor job of handling large rainfall amounts. “We need to figure out how to break the cycle,” Gladney said.

Stephanie Broyles, an associate professor at Pennington Biomedical Research Center, said children who live in high crime neighborhoods get less exercise than children who live in safer areas. Any sort of campaign aimed at improving childhood health needs to take this into account or nothing that gets done will address issues of inequality.

“If we don’t address the environment, address disparities, we are just wasting our breath,” she said. “We can’t create an equal playing field if someone is always going to be stuck. We could be increasing health disparities with any program we roll out.”

In one program aimed at getting children to be more active, Pennington researchers had success in getting streets closed during the day in high crime neighborhoods. Broyles said the children were more active and parents said the program allowed them to get to know their neighbors better and made them feel part of a larger community.

During discussions about addressing the effects of climate change, Fawn McGee, bureau chief of the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection’s State Land Acquisition Program, said since 2013 her state has bought more than 700 properties belonging to people who live in areas prone to flooding.

“Our ultimate goal is to move people out as quickly as possible,” she said. The state of New Jersey demolishes any structures on the property, tears out the streets and removes all utilities to return the land to its original state.

Thanks to federal and state funds, the program is expanding. McGee said her goal is to start buying flood-prone property in Atlantic City.

“I’m a buyout believer,” she said.

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Email Timothy Boone at tboone@theadvocate.com.