CNT in the News

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The consequence of having widespread, outdated zoning laws that mandate unwalkable city designs is that people drive more, and emit more greenhouse gases from their tailpipes.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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Yes, Transit-Rich Neighborhoods Are More Affordable

CityLab | May 29, 2018

In October 2017, a study called “Complicating the Story of Location Affordability” appeared in the journal Housing Policy Debate. In it, the study authors Michael Smart and Nicholas Klein questioned one of the foundational assumptions about affordability in cities: the concept of location efficiency. This is the widely accepted understanding that those who live in dense, walkable neighborhoods that are well served by mass transit will be able to spend less money on transportation and thus reduce their overall cost of living.

In the study, the authors analyze a sample of movers, attempting to predict household transportation expenditure savings for those who relocate to places where commuters can access jobs by transit. According to their analysis, neighborhoods with relatively high access to transit do not systematically bring down transportation costs for families who move there. They write, “We conclude that the location affordability literature may significantly overstate the promise of cost savings in transit-rich neighborhoods.” CityLab’s Laura Bliss recently wrote up this study, with a headline that declared, “People in Transit-Rich Neighborhoods Don't Spend Less on Transportation.”

Much of the location affordability literature that this study concerns was the research done by us at the Center for Neighborhood Technology. We believe otherwise—namely, that there is a relationship between transit-rich neighborhoods and cost of living. What’s more, the study, while interesting, isn’t really about location efficiency.

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Transit boards overwhelmingly male, whiter than ridership

Chicago Reader | May 23, 2018

The boards of directors for the Chicago area's four transit agencies—the CTA, Metra, Pace, and the Regional Transportation Authority—make decisions about policy, fares, service, and senior leadership that affect all of us who ride public transportation. But in general the members of the boards don't reflect the diverse demographics of the region.

Three of the four boards skew much whiter than the populations they serve, and all of the rosters are overwhelmingly male. Local transit advocates and politicians say that's a problem, because when the folks who make choices about buses and trains aren't representative of the people who ride them, their priorities may not always reflect customers' real-life needs.

Transit leadership that isn't diverse is a nationwide issue, as highlighted by a recent blog post by Julia Ehrman of the TransitCenter foundation (a former Streetsblog Chicago funder). Ehrman compared boards in Atlanta, Boston, and Portland, Oregon, to the demographics of their service areas and customers and found that in most cases people of color and women were significantly underrepresented.

Why does this matter? ...

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The Shape of Water

Chicago Magazine | April 27, 2018

Can Chicago really become a better, maybe even a far better, place while much of the world suffers the intensifying storms and droughts resulting from climate change? A growing consensus suggests the answer may be a cautious yes. For one, there’s Amir Jina, an economist at the University of Chicago who studies how global warming affects regional economies. In the simulations he ran, as temperatures rise, rainfall intensifies, and seas surge, Chicago fares better than many big U.S. cities because of its relative insulation from the worst ravages of heat, hurricanes, and loss of agriculture.

The Great Lakes could be considered our greatest insurance against climate change. They contain 95 percent of North America’s supply of freshwater—and are protected by the Great Lakes Water Compact, which prohibits cities and towns outside the Great Lakes basin from tapping them. While aquifers elsewhere run dry, Chicago should stay flush for hundreds of years to come.

“We’re going to be like the Saudi Arabia of freshwater,” says David Archer, a professor of geophysical science at the University of Chicago. “This is one of the best places in the world to live out global warming.”

There’s just one problem: Water, which should be our salvation, could also do us in.

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Three Major Factors That Impact Your Cost of Living

Refinery29 | April 13, 2018

One of the first things you might do when thinking about moving (or actually moving) to a new place is get a rough estimate of how much it costs to live there.

Any number of cost-of-living calculators might help you find that out, considering how far your current salary might go, or even comparing the costs of groceries. But if you want to project a little farther into the future, try taking a look at the Economic Policy Institute's (EPI) budget fact sheets and family budget calculator. This year, EPI partnered with the CNT to come up with figures for Americans' transportation costs. EPI says the nonprofit helped them come up with a more comprehensive look at this expense, which has nuances that drivers and underground dwellers alike can overlook.

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