Campus News

Design Professor, Students Assist Federal Agencies


LEXINGTON, Ky. (May 26, 2010) − University of Kentucky Assistant Professor of Architecture Gary Rohrbacher’s graduate studio, "Macrocosm/Autocatalytic Communities," has been working with a new federal partnership created by the Obama administration, called "Sustainable Communities."

This new partnership for sustainable communities comprises four federal agencies:
- HUD (U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development);
- DOT (U.S. Department of Transportation); 
- DOE (U.S. Department of Energy); and the
- CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention).
The goal of the federal partnership is to improve access to affordable housing, more transportation options, and lower transportation costs while protecting the environment in communities nationwide. Through a set of guiding livability principles and a partnership agreement that will guide agencies' efforts, this partnership will coordinate federal housing, transportation, and other infrastructure investments to protect the environment, promote equitable development, and help to address the challenges of climate change.

Launched in June 2009, this federal partnership has the potential to become the next step in the history of great planning proposals; comparable with the Burnam’s 1909 Chicago Plan, Sir Ebenezer Howard’s Garden City, and the City Beautiful movement.

Rohrbacher became involved with this federal initiative through his work with the Houseboat to Energy Efficient Residency (HBEER) studio. The studio has been working with the houseboat industry in the Somerset, Ky., area to design and build manufactured homes that will cost the consumer less than $100,000, and operate on less than a dollar a day. Rohrbacher realized that if his students were to successfully meet these goals, they must engage all of the conditions that conspire to produce buildings, not just studs and insulation, but policy and governance as well.

Rohrbacher’s studio is working to ensure this new partnership’s success through a number of graphic and design interventions. The first problem the architecture students undertook was to help the Sustainable Communities Partnership communicate its Livability Principles. The principles are as follows:
- to provide more transportation choices;
- to promote equitable, affordable housing;
- to enhance economic competitiveness;  
- to support existing communities; 
- to coordinate and leverage federal policies and investment; and
- to value communities and neighborhoods.   

The UK students presented their work on the Livability Principles at the nation's first Sustainable Communities Workshop in Louisville, hosted by Rep. John Yarmuth. To view the student's work, visit: LIVABILITY PRINCIPLES.pdf

UK students are also working to help this new partnership by creating a roadmap that will help the federal agencies meet their goals. Rohrbacher describes this roadmap as a loop matrix. This loop matrix provides a set of unsustainable conditions that can be found in communities all across the nation. Attached to each unsustainable condition is a list of available federal agency resources, and a hopeful outcome. The goal of the loop matrix is to help the partnership see where there are overlaps and gaps in their collective strategy toward sustainable communities.

In addition to assisting federal agencies, the loop matrix can be used by any municipality, planner or citizen to see where there is government support for making their community a better place. The manual is important because funding and technical support often come from counterintuitive places - for instance the CDC (Center for Disease Control and Prevention) supports bike boulevards and sidewalks to fight the country's obesity epidemic, etc.

The loop matrix will be distributed to all of the agencies involved in the Obama administration's Partnership for Sustainable Communities, including HUD, EPA, CDC and DOT. The UK students are hopeful that the tool might even reach President Barack Obama’s desk.