CNT in the News

Lancaster city starts work on its climate action plan

LancasterOnline | September 17, 2018

Earlier this year, Lancaster became the first city in the northeast U.S. and one of the first 10 in the world to earn LEED Gold certification for sustainability.

But that was just the beginning, setting a “baseline” for a process that will stretch over generations, Mayor Danene Sorace said Thursday at an event commemorating the designation awarded by the U.S. Green Building Council.

Moments later, she announced the next step: The development of a climate action plan.

It will incorporate strategies for reducing emissions from city operations, which could include options such as retrofitting buildings and purchasing more green energy. It will also offer guidelines for improving the city’s resilience to flooding and other repercussions of global warming.

Lancaster hopes to finish the plan by Earth Day, April 22, said Douglas Smith, senior planner. The city will work with Chicago-based consultants Elevate Energy and the Center for Neighborhood Technology.

Communities can no longer wait before taking action on climate change, Sorace said: “The time is clearly now.”

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You can find a job in Fishers, but good luck finding an apartment

The Indianapolis Star | August 21, 2018

Fast-growing Fishers has an even faster-growing problem: a growing gap between wages and residential rents.

The Hamilton County suburb has recently added hundreds of high-paying tech jobs, burnishing a reputation as a desirable landing spot for skilled young workers. That’s not the problem.

The snag is that those positions have helped drive rents so high that they outpace wage increases for many of the city's middle-class jobs in government, teaching, hospitals and the trades. That higher cost of living is making it difficult for those workers to move near their jobs, which adds to their transportation expenses.

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Of course, most residents in Fishers and elsewhere in Hamilton County work in Indianapolis and other counties, so they also have high commuting costs. While the government says housing and transportation expenses together shouldn't exceed 45 percent of income, Fishers residents spend an average of about 60 percent of their pay on those necessities, according to the Center for Neighborhood Technology, a Chicago-based research firm.

“As a city you can lack affordable housing or public transit, but it is a very hard living arrangement if you lack both,” said HAND outreach coordinator Andrea Davis.

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City Plans to Expand TOD Ordinance to Include High-Frequency Bus Corridors

Streetsblog Chicago | June 25, 2018

In 2013 City Council passed Chicago’s first transit-oriented development ordinance, which halved the number of required on-site parking spots at new developments near transit stations – previously a 1:1 ration was mandated. In 2015 the Council beefed up the ordinance by essentially eliminating parking requirements near ‘L’ and metra stations, and doubled the size of the TOD zones.

Many have argued that the resulting TOD boom has been at best a mixed blessing. While the legislation has encouraged the construction of dense, parking-light housing near transit, most of the new buildings have been upscale apartment or condo buildings in affluent or gentrifying neighborhoods. Particularly in Logan Square, the new crop of high-end TODs along the Blue Line, generally with 10 percent on-site affordable units, have been blamed for accelerating gentrification and displacement of longtime residents.

For better or for worse, the city is ready to increase the amount of land that’s available for transit-oriented development. On Friday Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced a proposal to expand the TOD ordinance again to include high-ridership, high-frequency CTA bus routes. The city says that this would make Chicago the first U.S. city to pursue such a policy.

“Chicago has been a national leader in transit-oriented development, and expanding the policy to bus lines will strengthen smart growth in the city,” Emanuel said in a statement. “We look forward to continuing to work closely with communities to enhance the way we live, work and get around Chicago.”

Over the next six months, the city and the CTA will study possible strategies to encourage TOD along busy bus routes, focusing at first on Western, Ashland, Chicago Avenue and 79th Street. These four routes experience ridership that meets or exceeds areas of the Blue, Orange, Green and Pink lines, according to the CTA. Special attention will be paid to key bus-bus and bus-train transfer locations.

The study will include input from aldermen and community organizations, and the city claims it will have an eye on equity issues when developing the new TOD policy.

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How This Justice Funder is Backing Water Infrastructure in American Cities

Inside Philanthropy | June 25, 2018

A medium-sized family foundation with big ambitions like the Surdna Foundation has a couple of options when it comes to focusing its resources. It can go deep in a particular geography, or it can hammer down on some key strategies. 

For Surdna’s environment program, that focus is uniquely all about infrastructure, including sustainable and equitable water infrastructure in American cities, ranging from Los Angeles to New Orleans. The foundation’s been a key funder in the push for green infrastructure and urban water management since around 2013, giving out around $8.7 million to date, according to its grants database. Its subprogram is focused on some important locations, but grants have gone all over the country, and toward developing national resources and best practices in the field.

While ocean conservation is a real juggernaut in green funding circles, freshwater management has also emerged as a major philanthropic issue in response to the ongoing Flint water crisis, drought in the American West, and flooding related to intense storms and other consequences of climate change.

Of course, philanthropy has a long history of bankrolling water projects overseas. It's been striking to watch the United States emerge as a locus for such funding, although the issues are quite different—and, in many places, present intriguing opportunities. As cities are responding to more runoff pollution, aging water systems, and federal stormwater regulations, all with tight budgets, some funders are trying to steer away from dirty pipes and gutters in favor of “green infrastructure,” like parks and landscaping features that can absorb water in place. 

So Surnda, under Sustainable Environments Program Director Helen Chin, supports community engagement in these decisions, and water infrastructure projects that can counter poverty and create local benefits. The foundation seeks to build up capacity and innovation in the overall field, while backing actual infrastructure projects in cities and metro areas. 

The foundation has backed a bunch of national groups like the Center for Neighborhood Technology and Climate Interactive to work on best practices and tools for establishing green infrastructure. Local funding is spread around, with grants going to big cities like Los Angeles and New York, but there’s also a lot of interesting work being funded in Pennsylvania and Louisiana.

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If You Lived Here, You'd Be Home By Now: How Neighborhoods Can Kick Car Habits

Sightline Institute | June 22, 2018

Zoning in most Cascadian cities is anti-climate. Single-family zoning—the most sprawling residential zoning type—plasters swaths of the region’s urban areas. Seattle is prime offender: over half of its land is covered by single-family zoning. Bellevue, Bellingham, Eugene, Portland, Salem, and Spokane are similarly strangled by sprawling single-family zones. And the list could go on.

The consequence of having widespread, outdated zoning laws that mandate unwalkable city designs is that people drive more, and emit more greenhouse gases from their tailpipes. Cars are the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in Seattle, as in other Cascadian metro areas. Myriad factors influence this relationship. For example, low-density neighborhoods lack the customer base needed to expand transit networks and grow neighborhood walkability via local businesses, reducing opportunities for car-free trips.

Accessory dwelling units (ADUs) could help dial down cities’ climate-busting design with minimal change to the physical form of single-family neighborhoods. These small homes, tucked into existing daylight basements, above garages, or in backyard cottages, make room for more people to join established single-family neighborhoods with very little impact on an area’s look and feel. Added up across the city, these homes nudge up residential convenience and walkability, cutting household driving, and attendant carbon emissions. The additional households bring the riders that support better transit service. They purchase the croissants, handmade cards, and children’s books that keep neighborhood businesses humming and in range of car-free travel options, like biking and walking. In turn, all residents of ADU-rich neighborhoods benefit, enjoying more robust transit, as well as a more thriving local business scene, and of course, the opportunity to make a few more trips car-free.

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Why Seattleites in certain neighborhoods drive less
The chart below shows annual household driving estimates for each of Seattle’s census block groups according to a predictive model from the Center for Neighborhood Technology Housing and Transportation Affordability Index (H+T).

CNT’s model estimates household driving behavior in every census block group in the United States using statistical relationships derived from measured driving behavior data in a variety of US urban and rural settings...

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CNT's H+T Index on Affordability in Carrboro, NC

OrangePolitics | June 15, 2018

Does the Cost of Housing Tell the Whole Story? Not in Carrboro

For years now, residents and elected officials alike have expressed concern over the affordability of housing in Orange County and the Triangle. Durham’s “Pennies for Housing” and Chapel Hill’s recent “Affordable Housing Bond” attest to the central role housing affordability has played in civic discourse in our area. Moreover, research suggests that the cost of an area’s housing is among the most prominent variables that factor into people’s decisions on where [to] settle.

Which is why it’s nice to see articles that help us make investment decisions. Take a recent one by Derrick Miller published on the SmartAsset site. Miller uses the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD)’s definition of “housing cost-burdened”—i.e., when people spend more than 30% of their income on housing—to estimate the percentage of folks in various U.S. cities who are burdened by their housing costs. His calculations reveal that Newark, NJ is the nation’s “most severely housing cost-burdened” city in the U.S. and that Cary, NC is the least housing cost-burdened city.

Miller says, “altogether nearly 48% of households in Newark spend at least 30% of their income on housing.” On the other hand, he notes that with less than 15% of Cary homeowners spending more than 30% of their income on housing, “Cary residents are some of the most financially flexible in the nation.” 
But is Miller telling the whole story? Would anyone seriously argue that a $300,000 house located 10 miles from the nearest grocery store cost homeowners the same as a $300,000 house located within ½ mile walking distance of a grocery store, offices, shops, and restaurants? In fact, when we factor in households’ transportation costs, a different cost picture emerges.

To account for households’ transportation costs, I entered Newark, NJ and Cary, NC into the Housing and Transportation (H+T®) Affordability Index—a tool developed by the Center for Neighborhood Technology (CNT) that includes both the cost of housing AND the cost of transportation to more closely reflect the affordability of places.

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