Transportation shapes housing. Housing shapes transportation. And both cornerstones of American life play a role in climate change. 

Recognizing these interwoven realities, three federal agencies have joined forces in an effort to improve housing affordability, increase low-cost transportation options, and achieve carbon reduction goals simultaneously.

The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT), the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) this week outlined a joint “Sustainable Communities” initiative designed to bolster the health and vitality of American neighborhoods, cities, and natural resources.

The move formalizes an initiative announced earlier this year and now includes a blueprint for action. As they testified during a June 16 Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee hearing, DOT Secretary Ray LaHood, HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan, and EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson collectively mapped out six “livability principles” that will now serve as guideposts for coordinating federal transportation, environmental protection, and housing investments.

“These principles mean that we will all be working off the same playbook to formulate and implement policies and programs,” said Donovan.  “For the first time, the federal government will speak with one voice on housing, environmental and transportation policy.”

The six livability principles are as follows:

Provide more transportation choices. Develop safe, reliable and economical transportation choices to decrease household transportation costs, reduce our nation's dependence on foreign oil, improve air quality, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and promote public health.

Promote equitable, affordable housing. Expand location- and energy-efficient housing choices for people of all ages, incomes, races, and ethnicities to increase mobility and lower the combined cost of housing and transportation.

Enhance economic competitiveness. Improve economic competitiveness through reliable and timely access to employment centers, educational opportunities, services, and other basic needs by workers as well as expanded business access to markets.

Support existing communities. Target federal funding toward existing communities--through such strategies as transit-oriented, mixed-use development, and land recycling--to increase community revitalization, improve the efficiency of public works investments, and safeguard rural landscapes.

Coordinate policies and leverage investment. Align federal policies and funding to remove barriers to collaboration, leverage funding, and increase the accountability and effectiveness of all levels of government to plan for future growth, including making smart energy choices such as locally generated renewable energy.

Value communities and neighborhoods. Enhance the unique characteristics of all communities by investing in healthy, safe and walkable neighborhoods, whether they are rural, urban, or suburban.

"It's important that the separate agencies working to improve livability in our neighborhoods are all pointed in the same direction," said Jackson. "We're leading the way towards communities that are cleaner, healthier, more affordable, and great destinations for businesses and jobs."

Organizations such as AARP (which is pushing a similar agenda with its Livable Communities initiative) and the Urban Land Institute have been quick to applaud the partnership as a step in the right direction.

“This commitment demonstrates a stronger focus on land use and community building than we have seen at the federal level for many years,” said ULI CEO Richard Rosan. “Clearly, this administration understands that our nation’s cities and metropolitan regions are the economic engine for America, and that they are in competition globally for business and for talented workers.”

ULI and other smart growth proponents are hopeful the multi-agency effort will provide more broad-based federal support and funding for efforts such as building workforce housing closer to employment centers; integrating land use and infrastructure planning; and accommodating urban growth in a way that minimizes auto dependency and supports pedestrian-friendly development. They believe this would conserve land and energy while improving the environment.

Jenny Sullivan is a senior editor covering architecture and community planning for BUILDER. Monica Stern-Morales, an editorial intern at BUILDER, also contributed to this story.