We’ve spent this week exploring the ways in which the Department of Defense is overhauling its master planning procedures to turn their sprawling military bases into compact, walkable communities with mixed-use development and town centers. They’re hoping to bring back some of the people who have moved off base in recent decades, with the promise of a more livable community. Streetsblog had the chance to talk to Michael McAndrew, director of facility investment and management for the deputy under secretary of defense. McAndrew has helped guide this process from the inside.
Tanya Snyder: When did the military establishment realize it needed to do something about energy use?
Michael McAndrew is helping engineer more sustainable transportation and land use by one of the world's largest builders and energy consumers: the U.S. Department of Defense. Image courtesy of DoD.
Michael McAndrew: I didn’t pursue revamping the installation master plan process because of energy, directly. It’s a benefit, don’t get me wrong. But I had seen some problems out there that kind of alarmed me. In particular, I see a lot of one-story buildings, a lot of sprawl, buildings with a lot of space in between.
And at that point, our previous deputy undersecretary was pushing a lot of energy initiatives. One of the things that drive a lot of energy use for us is gas and a lot of vehicles on base. One way we thought to solve two problems at one time was to build higher, taller buildings on base and bring them closer together. That way we would have less roads, less need for vehicles.
So we took a look at what our master planning policies were at the time, and they were last crafted and edited back in the mid 80s. Any document that old obviously needs to have a fresh set of eyes on it, thinking about what we’re doing today and in the near future. So, we put together a team to go out there — with contract support that does private sector master planning, community planning — and we sat down and talked about where we want to go. And we let ‘em go.
TS: That was Mark Gillem’s team?
MM: Yes, we used him as our advisor. And they came back with a good product that pushes a lot of mixed-use facilities, a higher density on base, and it was just kind of [filling] all the bills to plan for future.
And I say “plan for the future” because installation master planning looks out about 20 years.
TS: You talked about some of the problems with single-story development and sprawl and space between buildings. What harm does that kind of development cause on the base?
MM: One time I was over at Ramstein Air Force Base in Germany, and the people there were talking to me about how it gets so congested on the roads. They were talking about traffic flow and the amount of cars. And they had some vacant buildings and they were getting ready to do some moves on the base, and I started saying, ‘Well if you knock down certain buildings here and here, and consolidate them, that’s going to free up space, and you can reroute traffic.’ They didn’t go into a lot of discussion. But then suddenly the traffic problem went away.
Remember, the sprawl didn’t come about in one or two or three years. The situation we’re in now, we got to over 50 or 60 years. You fix it one building at a time.
I think a lot of services we were working with realized there was a problem of the way we budget around here. They only have so much money, so they only put up a smaller building instead of thinking about how an entire series of buildings or a lane or an alley or a street would look in the future.
And it’s hard, and I respect that, because there is only so much budget that we have that we can effect in any one year. Hopefully this master planning will help them think more comprehensively about their base so that when they do have to do one project they can think about others. So instead of building a one-story building they can build a two- or three-story building. There are certainly a lot of recapitalization requirements out there, and they can combine more of these organizations into one building, rather than have the standalone organization buildings that they have now.
TS: That’s a good point you make, that maybe you have different ideas and guidance about planning now but the resources are still the same. So somebody needs this one small facility and you come with this very good idea of combining it with other facilities into one building, but then you’re building a multimillion-dollar building. Is that still a hard case to make, resource-wise?