News for May, 2012
Tuesday, May 29th, 2012
ComEd has partnered with CNT Energy to launch the Non-Profit Special Hardship Program (Hardship Program). ComEd will provide a one-time grant of up to two thousand dollars to 501(c)(3) organizations that are experiencing financial hardship due to property damage, vandalism, unexpected loss of funding, or general financial difficulties.
As program facilitators, CNT Energy will review all applications to verify the financial need of grant candidates as demonstrated by official documents such as police reports, insurance claims, financial records, or documents verifying loss of funding. Once selected for assistance, applicants will participate in a CNT-sponsored energy management workshop or webinar to learn strategies for conserving energy and reducing energy-related spending.
Applications will be accepted through December 31, 2012, or until funds are depleted. Read more »
Tuesday, May 29th, 2012
CNT has launched a “Smart Water for Smart Regions” initiative to transform water service and infrastructure in the Great Lakes region. The initiative will help communities deliver water services to homes and businesses more efficiently, effectively, and transparently, while sustaining the region’s water resources.
Communities in the Great Lakes region, stretching from Minnesota to New York, are paying the price for deteriorating water infrastructure: unreliable service, rising water rates, and flooded neighborhoods. Our environment suffers as well, with increased pollution of rivers and lakes and severe physical damage to landscapes and habitat. CNT will work with communities large and small to find practical, innovative, cost-effective ways to address these widespread problems. Read more »
Friday, May 25th, 2012
Urban rainstorms frequently result in flooded streets and yards, puddled parking lots, and wet, disgusting basements. Stormwater may eventually wash debris from roadways, clear up that annoying oil slick in the parking lot, and give the city a fresh-washed feeling, but this renewed cleanliness comes with a steep environmental cost: the oil, debris, and dirt washed off roads by rain is subsequently returned, often bypassing sewage treatment systems, to local water sources. Communities can reduce the incidence of this stormwater pollution by installing small-scale green infrastructure features—such as bioswales, permeable pavers, and rain gardens—that are commonly referred to as stormwater best management practices (BMPs).
Green landscape features - like this bioswale at Our Lady Gate of Heaven Parish - can and should be installed amidst large impervious surfaces (parking lots).
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Thursday, May 24th, 2012
After a steady increase during the 1980s and 1990s, VMT, or vehicle miles traveled, have leveled out in the United States and are actually decreasing in the wake of the Great Recession. Even during the slow recovery period we’re now in, Americans are keeping their foot off the gas pedal.
Americans are holding on to their cars. There are more than 240 million passenger vehicles in operation nationwide. Only in 2008 were there more cars on the road in the United States. The average age of these vehicles in circulation has steadily increased from an 8.4 year average in 1995 to 10.8 in 2011.
It seems likely that people are holding on to their cars not necessarily because they want to, but because there’s no other way to get around. A 2010 poll found that the majority of adults in the United States say they have no choice but to drive as much as they do and most would like to spend less time in their cars. Transit may exist for many of these people, but the hassle of accessibility doesn’t translate into more ridership for many cities around the country.
A 2010 poll found that the majority of adults in the United States say they have no choice but to drive as much as they do and most would like to spend less time in their cars. Photo by Flickr User: freefotouk
Whether it’s the recession or a response to high gas prices or something else, people are driving less but holding on to their cars. People who care about cities, affordability, and the environment need to capitalize on this change in behavior by making it easier and obvious for people to keep their VMT low even when the economy gets stronger, gas prices drop, etc.
That means policies and funding for transit, biking, and car-sharing that reflects a fundamental shift in how we view and invest in transportation networks. We need policies that support infrastructure for multiple mobility options instead of policies that prioritize driving over everything else. If we want to offer a way for people to drive less long-term, dependable and convenient transportation options are a must.
This argument I’m making isn’t particularly novel to anyone outside of the Capitol. Cities and regions are getting it and moving forward with innovative ways to fund transit on their own. In at least 33 metropolitan regions around the country, large investments are being made in streetcars, light rail, metro rail, or commuter rail projects in 2012. I wrote about Los Angeles’ efforts not too long ago. In 2009, Oklahoma City voters approved MAPS3 program, which included $130 million worth of mass transit improvements in addition to other public works and redevelopment projects. The Research Triangle area has three counties and two metropolitan planning organizations working together on funding a dedicated transit system, with Durham County already approving a sales tax increase for its part. Here in Chicago, we expect our new Infrastructure Trust to be used to invest in transit upgrades and expansion.
Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and her Senate colleagues have developed a bipartisan bill - Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century (MAP-21) - which would reauthorize the nation's surface transportation programs for the next two years. Photo credit: U.S. Senate Photo Studio
Congress desperately needs to get on board. Public transit is not partisan. Saving people money on getting to work and the grocery store is not partisan. But both Republicans and Democrats have failed for more than three years now to reach common ground on a multiyear transportation bill to replace the 2005-09 legislation. We are on the ninth short term extension, which will expire on June 30. Forty seven Members of Congress are meeting now to decide the fate of public transportation in our country. Such a critical issue deserves a thoughtful approach that articulates a transportation vision for the country for the next 50 years and beyond.
Wednesday, May 23rd, 2012
CNT is excited to attend the Local Technical Assistance (LTA) program Ideas Exchange hosted by the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning (CMAP) this Thursday, May 24, at the UBS Tower in Chicago’s downtown Loop. The LTA program was launched in 2011 by CMAP to help municipalities further the goals of GO TO 2040; during its first year more than 70 local government, nonprofits, and intergovernmental organizations received technical assistance that has enabled them to successfully implement transportation, land use, and housing planning projects.
The Ideas Exchange, a new feature of the LTA program, will give local communities the opportunity to review the progress of current projects and to explore the variety of technical assistance options available this year as they begin their LTA applications.
Read more »
Monday, May 21st, 2012
CHICAGO (May 21, 2012)—The Center for Neighborhood Technology (CNT), a Chicago-based nonprofit organization that works nationally to promote more sustainable urban communities, has launched a “Smart Water for Smart Regions” initiative to transform water service and infrastructure in the Great Lakes region. The initiative will help communities deliver water services to homes and businesses more efficiently, effectively, and transparently, while sustaining the region’s water resources. The initiative is made possible with generous support from the Joyce Foundation and State Farm.
“Communities in the Great Lakes region, stretching from Minnesota to New York, are paying the price for deteriorating water infrastructure: unreliable service, rising water rates, and flooded neighborhoods,” said Harriet Festing, director of the CNT Water program. “Our environment suffers as well, with increased pollution of rivers and lakes and severe physical damage to landscapes and habitat. CNT will work with communities large and small to find practical, innovative, cost-effective ways to address these widespread problems.”
The “Smart Water for Smart Regions” initiative has already begun with a survey of more than 100 Great Lakes utilities and municipalities about their water service policies and practices. Preliminary survey results show that the challenges are pervasive, as is enthusiasm for collaborating together to overcome them. The full survey findings will be released this summer.
“State Farm processes thousands of claims each year for property damage related to failing water infrastructure,” said Michael Rivas Rossman, State Farm Public Affairs. “We see how prevalent, costly, and devastating this is for families and business owners, and we’re pleased to be working with CNT to find ways to better understand and address the problem.”
Working with the Alliance for Water Efficiency, American Water Works Association, Great Lakes Commission, and the Water Environment Federation, CNT’s “Smart Water for Smart Regions” initiative will take on these challenges with research, piloted solutions, and advocacy. As part of the initiative, CNT will:
- Establish collaborative programs with water supply utilities in the Great Lakes states who are seeking to reduce the volume of leakage and increase public awareness of the problem.
- Work with the largest stormwater utilities and municipalities to strengthen flood control strategies with a focus on simple, low-cost tools such as building rain gardens, repairing private lateral sewage pipes, and installing water permeable paving.
- Pioneer the nation’s first a one-stop wet weather retrofit or “Wetrofit” service to reduce flooding and waste in the Chicago region.
- Advocate for model state legislation that governs water utilities, including developing stronger targets, and public reporting on infrastructure and efficiency investments.
- Mobilize leaders, communities, and individuals across the Great Lakes to demand smarter infrastructure investment to reduce costs and efficiently conserve water.
“Restoring the health of the Great Lakes and area waterways is critical to the sustainability of the region. Investments in this work are vital to supporting a vision to protect the environment and resources for the future,” said Molly M. Flanagan, a program officer at the Joyce Foundation. “For many years, the Joyce Foundation has helped CNT develop innovative, cost-effective solutions to water infrastructure woes. We are pleased to help them now develop networks of communities that will bring their solutions to scale across the Great Lakes.”
“Efficient use of resources is what drives CNT, and this is an important time to ensure we make the right high-impact investments and policy change needed to improve people’s quality of life, reduce costs, and improve water quality,” said Kathryn Tholin, CEO of CNT. “We are grateful to the Joyce Foundation and State Farm for helping us expand our efforts and support communities as they make the transition to smart water services.”
Emily Robinson, Center for Neighborhood Technology, email@example.com, 773-269-4043
Founded in 1978, CNT is a Chicago-based think-and-do tank that works nationally to advance urban sustainability by researching, inventing and testing strategies that use resources more efficiently and equitably. Its programs focus on transportation, energy, water, community development, and climate. Visit www.cnt.org for more information.
Thursday, May 17th, 2012
When Congress for the New Urbanism (CNU) held its inaugural convention 20 years ago, the traditional idea of walkable downtowns that are easily accessed by surrounding neighborhoods and serviced by public transit had been obliterated by commuter suburbs, inexpensive automobiles, and increasingly dispersed communities. Determined to ameliorate the affects of sprawl, which the CNU founders viewed as harmful to the nation as a whole, they banded together, began holding annual conferences, and, two decades later, have successfully transformed their then-radical idea of using mixed-use development to create sustainable communities into an internationally respected design practice that more and more people seek out when looking for a place to live.
New Urbanism’s continued success is marked by the remarkably wide turnout of young professionals at CNU 20. New Urbanism has made its way out of the obscure corners of urban planning and into academia, where the newest generation of design experts is learning the value of incorporating sustainable development practices into their own careers.
Although New Urbanism has the support of many planners and design professionals, actual change in the built environment is impeded by a misconception that big-box developments, which concentrate goods and services under one roof and have ample parking for cars, are more financially viable than mixed-use developments that adapt themselves to an existing neighborhood fabric.
Of all the sessions I attended at CNU 20, I was most compelled by the research discussed during the Friday morning breakout session, “The Economic Benefit of Good Urbanism.” The panelists used data from extensive financial and policy analysis to demonstrate that the economic benefits to municipalities from big-box stores are significantly less than those provided by mixed-use developments.
Panelists at the CNU conference used data from extensive financial and policy analysis to demonstrate that the economic benefits to municipalities from big-box stores are significantly less than those provided by mixed-use developments. Photo by Tim Boyle, Getty Images
Panelist Joseph Minicozzi of Urban3, LLC gave examples from his research in Asheville, North Carolina, where his firm compared the property tax generated by a Super Walmart on the edge of the city with a typical acre of mixed-use development in Asheville’s downtown district. The Walmart consumed 34.0 acres and generated property taxes of $47,500 per acre, while the mixed-use development consumed only 0.2 acres and generated $634,000 in property taxes per acre. A sample set of 15 cities from Montana to Florida provided similar results, underlining the economic potential of creating mixed-use developments on Main Streets, vibrant neighborhood hubs, or central business districts in communities across the nation. I was happy to see real numbers (and large ones at that!) to make the case for sustainable, mixed-use planning.
Joseph Minicozzi of Urban3, LLC gave examples from his research in Asheville, North Carolina, where his firm compared the property tax generated by a Super Walmart on the edge of the city with a typical acre of mixed-use development in Asheville’s downtown district. Credit - Urban3
You can read more about the analysis in the author’s own words in this Planetizen essay.
My own breakout session on Friday afternoon, “Preserving Affordability: Gentrification without Displacement,” was equally satisfying. More than 100 people gathered to hear Alexander Gorlin, Rosanne Haggarty, Jaimie Ross, Alexander von Hoffman, and myself consider strategies for spurring economic development while maintaining affordability. Employment-oriented transit, an idea explored in CNT’s publication Prospering in Place, is an important way to increase employment options for households at all income levels while decreasing transportation costs and maintaining neighborhood affordability.
The 48,100 square foot former Morris B. Sachs Building in Chicago's Logan Square neighborhood has been converted into retail space, a community arts center and 28 loft-style market rate and affordable lofts. Photo from - YoChicago
More and more planners and design professionals have recognized the benefits of implementing sustainable New Urbanism principals. That’s wonderful progress. I’d like to see us New Urbanists doing even more to explain the benefits of these principals to our friends, neighbors, and family members to ensure we see more of these principals shaping the DNA of our communities.
Friday, May 11th, 2012
CNT hosted its fourth Equity Express “train-the-trainer” workshop in early May. Nineteen representatives from 12 local community outreach organizations, such as homeless advocacy groups, disability housing programs, and refugee assistance centers, attended the workshop that was filled to capacity. Over the course of the two-day event, CNT staff helped these leaders develop strategies for training their constituents on the best ways to generate income savings on a modest budget.
12 local community outreach organizations attended the latest Equity Express “train-the-trainer” workshop
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Friday, May 11th, 2012
CNT welcomes our newest staff member in our Water program, Ryan Wilson. As stormwater program manager, Ryan will promote the value of using green infrastructure—trees, rain gardens, and native plants—to soak up raindrops where they fall and alleviate pressure on traditional grey infrastructure systems that lead to flooding. Ryan will also lead CNT’s effort to establish a one-stop Wetrofit service that will provide advocacy tools, technical assistance, and education to property owners looking to install and upgrade systems that reduce on-site flooding and improve property values.
“CNT’s Water program is embarking on very exciting and very important work over the next two years, and we’re extremely pleased to have Ryan on board to shape and implement our initiatives,” said Harriet Festing, CNT Water program director.
Read more »