When I took over as CEO this fall, I reflected on the journey some of my longest-serving colleagues have been on for many years: associating responsible economic development in cities with needs for social justice, climate protection, and resilience. While support in the United States for this way of thinking has clearly ebbed and flowed in modern history, it is clear that CNT has been at the forefront of understanding infrastructure development in ways that have been quite unpopular, and often resisted, for most of its existence. In some ways, that is a rather familiar feeling for me. Coming from Underwriters Laboratories (UL LLC), which fights a storied battle to galvanize societal understanding and acceptance of basic principles of product safety, it was clear to me the public has largely taken UL’s successes for granted and have disconnected somewhat from UL’s mission to protect them. Safety has become a very unpopular discussion in American society because people largely expect it to be taken care of for them, rather than something they need to fight vigilantly to achieve and/or protect.
The common thread is the recognition that public participation in whatever goal we are trying to accomplish is desirable and important—but very difficult to achieve. The struggle to determine what is worthy of public engagement and support is real and enduring. Too often, the reward for having successfully identified a problem worth solving and organizing solutions to combat it is that the public disconnects from it altogether, somehow assured that capable organizations are handling these issues to their expectations. Disinterest in the importance and severity of the problem early on, when conquered, often gives way to disinterest in later days because organizations have proven successful in solving them. It’s a double-edged sword.
At CNT, while we desire that our efforts to develop infrastructure in financially viable, socially equitable, and climate-friendly ways be embraced by ever growing numbers of people, we are acutely aware of the need to toil on without a lot of pomp and circumstance. That said, our achievements to date have been significant and worthy of a “toot of the horn!”
In 2016, our Market Research & Innovation team, led by CNT Co-Founder Scott Bernstein, made significant strides pushing forward the concept of a “double bottom-line” approach to urban poverty reduction. The traditional approach to poverty reduction has singularly focused on job creation; The Urban Opportunity Agenda re-defines this approach and ensures that city officials and planners also consider ways to reduce energy, water, transportation, and housing costs for vulnerable populations. We have led this discussion and approach nationally, fashioning a path to implementation in cities like Memphis, and are ready to go to scale in multiple cities nationwide in 2017.
Our Urban Analytics team, led by Managing Director Linda Young, continues to rack up awards and recognition for their diligent work procuring, manipulating, and analyzing data. Chief Research Scientist Peter Haas co-authored the Transportation Research Board’s “Best Transportation and Land Use Paper” in 2016 with his work to “right-size” the amount of parking required by building developers to ensure economic efficiency of related property. Planetizen named CNT’s AllTransit one of its “Top Websites of 2016,” communicating the practical benefits of leveraging our rich database to assess transportation options to get to work and other important destinations. CNT’s main website was also recognized by The Global Grid in 2016 as a Top-20 Website for Urban Planning in the United States. We were honored to represent Chicago’s urban planners on this list and are pleased to know our research, databases and information is respected by leaders of our industry.
One of the things that CNT is absolutely committed to doing is focusing on a developing a “hands-on” approach to the issues that we endeavor to solve. RainReady is something of an “organization within an organization” at CNT, devoted to solving floodwater issues in urban communities. RainReady has developed a suite of solutions for flooding that has been recognized in a number of ways in 2016. The American Society of Civil Engineers called RainReady a “Game-Changer,” and The White House included RainReady in its cohort of “Best Practitioners in Flooding and Climate Resilience.” Pressing forward into 2017, we will address water issues in a more integrated way, linking our approach to stormwater management to issues of drinking water and waste water as well. We have garnered the interest of multiple U.S. cities grappling with similar challenges to work with us, and look to outreach effectively and share our learnings to expand the number of communities across the US that can be considered “RainReady.”
Our agenda for 2017 is ambitious and also includes new efforts to engage start-ups that are addressing concerns in energy, water, transportation, and the built environment. CNT can expand our influence by extending our support and network beyond our home-grown innovations to solutions that are already burgeoning in the marketplace. By offering strategic advice, extending access to important civic contacts, and framing research effectively, we believe we can support a range of companies seeking performance “proof-points” that are essential for them to win city, state, and federal contracts, and to gain the confidence of the community of organizations that drive infrastructure forward in the United States.
This important work is only possible with friends like you. We understand that demands for your attention and dollars are rather intense. While there are many organizations worthy of support, CNT hopes that if you care about issues of infrastructure development and want to make sure cities are approached in ways that make them more equitable, livable, and environmentally friendly, you will support us with a tax-deductible financial contribution at this time. No donation is too small, or too big. If you believe in what we are doing, please, vote with your pocketbook. CNT has a commitment from a generous donor to match all donations that we receive before the year’s end up to $10,000, and the clock is ticking. Make sure that your dollars go the extra mile and double your impact!
Thank you again for your attention, engagement, enthusiasm, and support. We’ve come a long way, but the world continues to change dramatically, for better and for worse. We have so much further to go... looking forward to continuing the journey with you.