Measures to Protect Federal Facilities Should Enhance, Rather Than Impair Economic Development and Community Livability, ULI Tells Congress

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WASHINGTON (May 20, 2010) — Attempts by the U.S. Congress to protect federal facilities against acts of terrorism should avoid over-reactive measures that could affect the quality of life in the greater community, and instead focus on an approach that enhances economic development opportunities and community livability, according to Urban Land Institute (ULI) Executive Vice President Maureen McAvey.

McAvey discussed the need to balance security concerns with community sustainability during testimony today before the U.S. House of Representatives Subcommittee on Economic Development, Public Buildings and Emergency Management. The subcommittee, chaired by U.S. Representative Eleanor Holmes Norton, (D-DC), is part of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

ULI is a non-partisan, global research and education institute dedicated to responsible land use. The Institute’s program of work centers around the belief that a high quality of life is essential to the long-term economic, social and environmental sustainability of urban areas. “The challenge we face is the need to balance legitimate needs for physical security with the associated undesirable impacts to public spaces, building design, and broader neighborhood vitality and community sustainability,” McAvey said. “In addition to mitigating the undesirable impacts, we must move further to understand the desirable impacts that federal facilities and federal uses can have in fostering sound economic development.”

While it is critical to adequately protect federal employees and citizens who use buildings in which federal facilities are located, “going too far” with restrictions on location and access could undermine the progress that has been made in urban revitalization over the past two decades, McAvey cautioned. “Security proposals for individual buildings are often developed specifically to satisfy existing security standards, and do not balance improved building security in the context of broader measures such as neighborhood-based strategies and local economic development considerations.”

U.S. Census Bureau data showing elevated residential construction in urban neighborhoods since 1990 reflects a trend in which cities across America have been “rediscovered as places to live and work, not just work and leave,” she said. This urban migration has resulted in more compact, less isolated development that incorporates different land uses and transit connections to improve mobility and foster a greater sense of community, McAvey explained.

Fortifying individual buildings in which there is a federal presence through extreme measures that discourage or prohibit connections with adjacent developments and the greater community would have a highly disruptive impact, she said. “Ultimately, cities are about people, not buildings. While we speculate as to whether people will leave our cities because of threats of terrorism, we know for certain that they will leave if they are fed up with a low quality of life due to poor land use and transportation planning. What we have learned from this urban revival is that the fortunes of cities are being determined by their ability to attract people to places that are as appealing to live as they are to work.”

McAvey also emphasized the need to carefully consider the siting of buildings that house federal workers. The location of federal employees — particularly in markets such as Washington, D.C., which have a strong employment base of federal workers and federal government contractors — can change the course of economic development for an entire region, she noted. “Locating near transit, and in existing buildings in more centrally positioned locations is conducive to urban sustainability. Locating in far-flung, car-dependent locations that place additional pressure on infrastructure is conducive to urban sprawl,” McAvey said.

McAvey’s testimony outlined numerous benefits of taking an “anti-sprawl” approach to federal facility security. Using this approach, federal leasing activity can:

  • Be located in highly accessible locations that have broad and efficient connections to a cross-section of affordable and work-force housing alternatives. By encouraging all opportunities of “co-location”, existing investments in local infrastructure are leveraged and future investments in local infrastructure are minimized.
  • Be structured as a “development catalyst” that enables and encourages complementary private-sector mixed-use investment in adjacent sites, especially in brownfield locations, where infrastructure and remediation costs can be structured for broader community benefit at no additional expense to the federal government.
  • Target buildings and sites that are considered by local planning officials to be underutilized in terms of land use densities, such as abandoned/underutilized shopping malls, commercial office buildings or industrial areas
  • Be oriented towards public transportation and thereby reduce or eliminate the need for conventional parking ratios. Federal leasing can not only encourage the use of public transit, but also facilitate and intensify the level of pedestrian travel in a given location.
  • Include land use and building program elements that advance community and neighborhood economic development, such as the inclusion of storefronts, temporary markets and farmers markets.
  • Employ strategies that creatively leverage federal “support” functions (food and beverage, conference facilities, childcare uses) in a manner that conforms to active ground-floor use objectives set forth by local land use planners. This not only promotes the connection of building users to the neighborhood context, but also makes these service spaces available for use by surrounding residents.
  • Where necessary, provide an investment in shared parking facilities in a manner where those facilities can become a community asset and shared during non-business hours.

McAvey underscored the significance of federal building security policies with advice from the late U.S. Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, an urban champion who received ULI’s highest honor, the ULI J.C. Nichols Prize for Visionaries in Urban Development, just after the 9-11 terrorist attacks. During his acceptance remarks in October 2001, Moynihan urged ULI members not to be deterred by random terrorism, and to stay focused on building better cities. “He said, ‘The only way they (terrorists) can win is if we change the way we live, and a lot of us live in cities,’” McAvey recalled. “I can think of no better advice on how to approach federal security issues. We would do well to move forward with a policy that is a ‘win’ for our urban areas.”

About the Urban Land Institute
The Urban Land Institute ( is a nonprofit education and research institute supported by its members. Its mission is to provide leadership in the responsible use of land and in creating and sustaining thriving communities worldwide. Established in 1936, the Institute has nearly 30,000 members representing all aspects of land use.