At military installations, suburban-style sprawl is out and walkable communities are in, under new Defense Department planning guidelines released Thursday.
The guidelines call for “compact development” that incorporates mass transit and a mix of residential housing close to shops and other businesses. Energy conservation is a key goal; trees and other greenery should be considered as well.
It’s “about doing things more efficiently so we can preserve land for future missions,” said Dorothy Robyn, deputy undersecretary of Defense for installations and environment. “We think it will improve quality of life, but for us it’s also about doing our jobs better.”
She spoke at a forum sponsored by the National Capital Planning Commission and George Mason University.
The stakes are large. The Defense Department has more than 300,000 buildings encompassing 2.2 billion square feet. That physical footprint is about three times the size of Wal-Mart Stores Inc.
But if the Pentagon excels at natural land management — its enormous holdings provide habitat to many at-risk species — it hasn’t done so well in shaping the installations where hundreds of thousands of service members and their families live.
“We have not had a good master planning process,” Robyn said. Many bases are “very sprawling, very auto-centric,” she said. “You have to have to have a car to get around.”
Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash., for example, has 70,000 parking spaces, even though its daily population never exceeds 40,000, she said. The military has exported that model overseas. At Aviano Air Base, Italy, it can take up to an hour to drive to the commissary from family housing areas, said Mark Gillem, a consultant and associate professor of architecture at the University of Oregon.
In development for 18 months, the guidance applies to all installation master planning and represents the first thorough rewrite of DoD’s policy in a quarter-century.
The Defense Department, like other federal agencies, is already under orders from the White House to curb energy use throughout its operations and emphasize sustainable development. The new guidelines build on those requirements, but portray other benefits as well.
Transit-oriented development, for example, reduces traffic congestion and lowers the accident rate, the document states. It also promotes healthy communities by encouraging more walking and bicycling.
The military has already been trying out some of the new approaches at installations as diverse as Lewis-McChord and Fort Hood, Texas, Gillem said.
“Those [Hood] folks are very interested,” he said. “If you can do it at Fort Hood, you can do it anywhere.”