On April 3rd, UTSOA graduate students in the “Planning for Megaregions” class gathered in the CM2 office to present their semester’s work. The Planning for Megaregions class was a collaborative the joint teaching-research effort between The University of Texas at Austin (UT Austin) and The University of Pennsylvania (UPenn) supported by CM2. Each institution’s class investigated megaregion spatial inequality (with UT Austin’s team focusing on the Texas Triangle and Penn’s team focusing on the Northeast Megaregion) and explored transportation planning and investment strategies to address the challenge. Guests in attendance included Donny Hamilton, Jr., CM2 Advisory Committee member and the Director of Finance and Administration for the USDOT Federal Highway Administration (FHWA); Anthony Jones, a Community Planner for the USDOT Federal Highway Administration (FHWA); Ashley McLain, Principal at Cox|McLain Environmental Consulting (a CM2 Support Partner); and Dr. Sandra Rosenbloom, Affiliated Research Professor at UT Austin.
The UT Austin class presented on their experience during their trip to Manchester, UK, to learn more about the regional planning initiatives happening in northern England. Both UT Austin and Penn university teams collaborated with the UK 2070 Independent Commission, led by Lord Kerslake, during their February trip to Manchester, UK for a weeklong charrette with Kerslake Commission staff and advisors. This commission is developing economic and infrastructure strategies to close the United Kingdom’s growing spatial inequality. While in Manchester, Penn and UT Austin team members also engaged with leaders of the Northern Powerhouse initiative, the UK’s $100 billion initiative to build two new high-speed rail lines and upgrade motorways as part of a broader initiative to revitalize the economy of several disadvantaged mid-size cities across the North of England. This trip provided a unique opportunity for CM2 researchers from multiple institutions to learn from international initiatives that address megaregional mobility as well as conduct technology transfer of current CM2 research at a global scale. To see a full list of the entities that met with the research teams, see the event page here.
Upon their return from the UK, the teams sought to apply the lessons on regional planning in the UK to their respective megaregion focus areas. The UT Austin team settled on three main strategies/focus areas for regional planning in the Texas Triangle.
- Economic Competitiveness: framing the issue for the region is critical and determining what economic indicators to use is vital.
- Transportation: creating inter-institutional structures that take into consideration local/intra-city transit too.
- Spatial Inequality: strengthening the economic base of small and medium cities between the anchor cities of a megaregion.
Following the presentations, there was a lively discussion with the presenters and guest regarding the different political structures in the UK and Texas, which affect each region’s approach to regional planning. As Mr. Hamilton pointed out, overcoming hyperlocal politics is a major concern in regional planning here in Texas. However, Dr. Zhang reflected that several of the local politicians in the UK expressed desire to have more local control similar to the US model. Dr. Rosenbloom made the point that with #Brexit looming over the UK’s future, northern UK will be much more affected that southern UK, which could affect their current regional planning approach.
Overall, the students and guests reflected that they learned new perspectives in tackling regional planning issues, making the semester’s research very rewarding.