- Grantee: Shelby County, Tennessee
- Grant: 2011 HUD Regional Planning Grant
- Award: $2,619,999
- Link: http://www.midsouthgreenprint.org/
The Memphis metro area is home to approximately 1.2 million residents. Through the Sustainable Communities Initiative, the region embarked on its first comprehensive effort to look across state lines and set out a vision for the area that spans three states (Tennessee, Arkansas and Mississippi), four counties, and 18 municipalities. Historically, communities and counties within each state had their own planning processes and policies, and some of these were out-of-date. Even Memphis and Shelby County had not done a comprehensive plan update since the 1980s.
The Memphis area plan was motivated by interest in creating a regional greenway network. The goal was to develop a plan that would better connect the tri-state region through a network of greenspace. The work initially focused on recreational and environmental concerns – creating better trail corridors, water quality through improved stormwater management and habitat connectivity– but as stakeholders looked more comprehensively at the benefits of greenways, it became apparent that the vision had to link to all of regions other goals and challenges. “Planning for greenspace was the basis for our regional planning effort, but as we thought about greenspace in a comprehensive way, we found that our work encompassed a broad range of issues – from health to housing, transportation to employment. If we’d take a traditional approach, we probably would have created a nice greenways map, but with the more comprehensive focus we created a plan for connecting our region,” said John Zeanah of Shelby County, who served as project manager.
The more comprehensive approach also brought new partners to the table who likely would not have engaged in greenways planning – groups like the Mid-South Peace and Justice Center, the Memphis Chamber of Commerce, and the Memphis Area Transit Authority.
For the Memphis region, greenways became a win-win solution. “We have created a plan that will use greenspace as a leverage to improve neighborhoods that have been disinvested,” said Zeanah. “We are creating a world class recreational network across three states and the Mississippi River. In doing so, we will improve quality of life in such a way that is significantly meaningful for the people who live here now and creates opportunity attract new jobs, residents, businesses to a region that has had stagnant growth. We are investing in some of our best assets – our greenspaces and natural areas – as a way to grow our population and grow our economic base.”
- Grantee: Piedmont Authority for Regional Transportation
- Grant: 2010 HUD Regional Planning Grant
- Award: $1,600,000
- Link: www.piedmonttogether.org
The Piedmont Region is located in central North Carolina. The region has a total population of 1.6 million, with 37% of residents living within one of region’s three main cities: High Point, Greensboro and Winston-Salem. Historically, several regional organizations have served the region. In 2010, the region received funding through SCI to create their first comprehensive regional plan. The goal was ambitious – to knit together this diverse region and create a shared vision and set of strategies. Even in the course of developing the application, the shared interests of the region came into focus and two area councils of government made the decision to merge into one.
After three and a half years of hard work, the regional vision was presented in March 2014. The final vision has strong support and has inspired the partners to think more concretely about implementation.
While the transportation authority was able to commit one employee to spend 10 hours/week focused on implementation, it was clear that that was not going to move things fast enough. In September 2014, the consortium met to consider the best path forward. They applied for, and received, a small amount of seed funding from a community foundation with which they were able to hire a part-time staff person. Today, Piedmont Together is in the process of forming a new 501c3 that will carry the plan forward. They have completed organizational bylaws, defined a space for them to operate within the region, and are developing a funding strategy.
After attending a Sustainable Communities Leadership Academy workshop and meeting representatives from PolicyLink – one of the capacity-building intermediaries – Piedmont Together began integrating equity into their plan. Piedmont is now one of several regions actively working to create an equity network.
Integrating GoalsIn some cases, the planning process revealed that existing plans and policies had created conflicting goals. The integrated approach allowed SCI communities to tackle these conflicts.
Regional Focus on Systems and ConnectionsRegional SCI grantees were able to focus on systems and regional connections – watersheds, transportation systems, commuter-sheds and regional housing issues – and identified broader strategies to address systemic problems.
Breaking Down Traditional SilosBreaking down traditional divisions of land use, transportation, housing development, and economic development resulted in many communities finding win-win solutions.
Discovering EfficienciesPotential to make more efficient use of limited public funds for infrastructure and services.
Fairness and EquityPlans better reflect new demographic changes and emphasize equitable outcomes.
Path to Economic SuccessVisions highlight the importance of a sustainable community to long-term economic vitality – business and workers want to be in great places.
Reflecting New TrendsAddressing the wants and needs of millennials and aging baby boomers, the desire for local food, the trend toward renewed urbanization, and emerging concerns about health and sustainability in general.
Lower Carbon DevelopmentVisions help demonstrate desire for lower carbon development and reducing vulnerabilities to impacts of climate change.
- Grantee: City of Austin Neighborhood and Development Office
- Project: Colony Park Sustainable Community Pilot
- Project Website: http://austintexas.gov/department/colony-park
- Grant: Community Challenge
- Award: $3,000,000
The Colony Park Sustainable Community Pilot had a rocky start. When the City of Austin Neighborhood and Development Office was awarded a community challenge grant for the creation of a neighborhood plan in Colony Park – an underserved, predominantly low-income and minority community – the planning process faced significant opposition from community leaders who felt that the needs of the Colony Park community were not reflected in the grant proposal. The leaders were also skeptical that the planning process or outcomes would be more inclusive than the grant proposal.
Now, after extensive work to build trust between city staff and members of the community, a true partnership between the City of Austin and Colony Park community leaders has emerged. A core group of community members meets weekly with city staff and is included in all communications about the project. These community leaders were deeply involved with all facets of the planning and implementation process. They reviewed and commented on all project documentation in initial draft stages, wrote a historical narrative for the existing conditions report based on their expert knowledge of the community, wrote the final public engagement plan, helped to develop the scope of work, and were involved in the selection process for the public engagement and design teams. Ultimately, the design team hired by Austin was not the one that had scored highest on city-designed selection criteria, but the team that had connected best with the community.
The project’s public engagement team attended every event and meeting held in the area throughout the planning process in order to distribute information about the project. The team also created a partnership with a local community college and university, which sent students door-to-door in Colony Park introducing members of the community to the project and conducting a survey to identify community needs. They built relationships and trust by consistently appearing in the community and showing their commitment to a community-driven planning process.
Margarita Decierdo from the Colony Park Neighborhood Association talks about lessons learned from the association’s work with the City of Austin.
The investment of time, energy, and resources required by this process was far beyond anything Austin has previously done, and the outcomes show that the investment has paid off. The City of Austin and members of the community worked together to create a plan that reflects the needs and desires of Colony Park, and it was accepted by the city council with no dissent. City staff and community members are deciding together what ongoing engagement efforts will look like through plan implementation and beyond. In addition, with this demonstrated success, the community is now asking the Neighborhood and Development Office to host conversations with other city departments, and other city departments are reaching out to them for a manual on how to engage with community at the neighborhood level.
Together, the community and city staff have prepared a list of key takeaways from their partnership. City staff states one such takeaway is that while effective engagement critical, it is also a major investment, which needs to be factored into grant proposals by both funders and grant writers. And a final takeaway from Colony Park and the City of Austin is that to do community-driven planning successfully, “be open and willing to be professionally stretched, challenged and personally transformed.”
- Grantee: City of Seattle, Washington
- Project: Community Cornerstones
- Project Website: http://www.seattle.gov/housing/Cornerstones/default.htm
- Grant: Community Challenge
- Award: $2,999,256
In 2008, with the expansion of Seattle’s light rail system into Southeast Seattle and planning for Transit Oriented Development (TOD) around new stations, a strong grassroots movement arose to ensure that vulnerable communities were not displaced by gentrification. Southeast Seattle is a diverse community with many different cultural and language groups (25% white, compared with Seattle’s overall population which is 69% white), but no one majority cultural population.
Seattle’s Race and Social Justice Initiative (RSJI) integrates equity efforts into city government to a degree that is rare in American municipalities. Many of the tactics of engagement as well as the impetus for creating a community-driven planning and implementation process come from RSJI, which developed a toolkit for inclusive outreach and community engagement.
In the spirit of RSJI, came Community Cornerstones. A major innovation of the project was hiring Public Outreach and Engagement Liaisons (POELs) as part of the planning and implementation process. Each of these liaisons was a member of a specific SE Seattle community, knew that culture and the existing community groups, and was trusted in the community. They were also what city staff call ”tri-cultural,” meaning they possessed an understanding of the U.S. context, city government, and the specific cultural group with whom they were liaising.
13 individual liaisons, representing cultural, youth, disability and rental communities, began by engaging individual communities in their own space. Over time, the groups began to meet together and with the city to develop trust and ownership of the planning process. While traditional planning models tend to include only the perspectives of homeowners and the business community, this process brought in more diverse perspectives. From these meetings, POELs identified three primary priorities for anti-displacement activities – stable, affordable family housing near light rail before displacement pressures exist, strong multi-cultural business districts serving the needs of neighborhoods and strong cultural organizations to plan for a shared Multi-Cultural Community Center (MCC).
POELs also helped build trust during the implementation process by engaging with over 100 immigrant and refugee business owners, allowing them to access services and resources previously unused because of lack of trust. This innovative connection of POELs with businesses is now being expanded from this pilot project to become part of the city’s normal model for economic development.
The POEls also helped the city identify people with real leadership and authority within communities, and supported those leaders in forming a coalition to plan for the shared MCC. As this coalition of leaders met, their trust and understanding of shared needs, challenges, and resources grew. This planning process was truly community-driven and modeled power sharing between government and community. The idea for the MCC came from the community, and the city supported (but did not lead) efforts. Importantly, funding to non-governmental groups was through contracts and in payment for their expertise, not in the form of grants.
The planning process built community capacity on three levels: individual leadership, within cultural organizations, and across the coalition. The durable, sustainable coalition that has arisen has been more successful overall by understanding the value of their assets (not just traditional financial assets, but also community connections and collective political power). The coalition ultimately decided not to build a brand-new shared facility yet, but to use the network they have created to conduct a smaller shared capital and development campaign as well as sharing programs and formalizing space-sharing arrangements to meet their needs.
The community-led effort is now almost self-sustaining, and it is clear that trust and ownership were greatly strengthened when the groups realized that they were in charge.
- Grantee: Puget Sound Regional Council
- Project: Growing Transit Communities
- Project Website: http://www.psrc.org/growth/growing-transit-communities/
- Grant: Regional Planning
- Award: $4,999,700
When the Puget Sound Regional Council (PSRC) received the SCI regional grant to support transit-oriented development around their expanding light rail system, they were intentional in designing a planning process that would include a wide variety of stakeholders. The PSRC had only an advisory capacity in the Growing Transit Communities (GTC) project, so that a broader range of stakeholders could be involved in the consortium.
In addition, $450,000 of the total grant was awarded as sub-grants to 43 local organizations to support projects they had chosen to prioritize, which empowered those organizations to take an active role and feel ownership in the planning process. Because many of these small organizations did not have capacity to meet HUD reporting requirements, PSRC hired staff to assist them in providing the required documentation to HUD. Many of these organizations have since been able to obtain funds to continue their work. Several have won HUD grants, possibly because their increased capacity and prior relationship with HUD made their applications more competitive. Others have received funding from foundations who were part of the planning consortium or from jurisdictions that GTC convinced to provide seed capital for specific projects.
Social equity was a central focus and theme of GTC’s planning efforts. Based on feedback from community representatives, the GTC held the first Regional Equity Summit in November 2013, which brought together over 400 community members and local leaders to share strategies and visions for building a more equitable region. During the summit, the GTC announced the creation of a long-term stakeholder body called The Puget Sound Regional Equity Network that would provide expertise and input in planning efforts to ensure that equity remained a central theme in current and future regional planning efforts.
- Grantee: Washington County, Oregon
- Project: Aloha-Reedville Study and Livable Community Plan
- Project Website: http://www.co.washington.or.us/alohareedville
- Grants: Community Challenge/TIGER 2, and regional Metro Construction Excise Tax (CET)
- Award: $500,000 HUD, $1,500,000 DOT, Metro CET $442,000
The Aloha-Reedville Community in Washington County, OR is an unincorporated urban area between the cities of Hillsboro and Beaverton with about 50,000 residents. When Washington County received a Community Challenge/TIGER 2 grant to develop a community vision and plan for the future, they were starting work in an area that had no significant planning for decades. Many community members were wary of the process, believing that past projects and countywide planning efforts had neglected the needs and desires of their community.
As part of the Aloha-Reedville project, the county contracted a number of community-based organizations (CBOs) to assist in engagement efforts. Engaging these partners helped project staff gather feedback from a much more diverse group of residents and shape a well-rounded plan that considered a wider range of needs than previous planning efforts.
County staff report that contracting with community based organizations could have been even more effective if it had occurred earlier in the process; early connection would have allowed CBOs to help identify project goals and objectives and shape engagement strategies from the start. However, because many advocacy groups in Washington County are small, grassroots organizations, preliminary relationship-building and capacity development would likely have been needed in order to work with any new or existing CBO.
In addition, CBO partners struggled with organizational capacity issues, especially related to providing invoices and expense reports with sufficient documentation to meet HUD requirements. County staff believe larger grants or lump sum payments that do not require itemized invoices from small contractors may be helpful in streamlining this process for future grant work.
The project team also found that the community members being engaged through this project needed basic education to participate in the planning process. The planning process began with a series of roundtables, designed to share tools, gather data, and also develop a set of shared values. The project team quickly found that engagement efforts needed to focus on providing basic education on the role of county government, what planning is, how planning would affect community members’ day-to-day lives, and building relationships.
To build community capacity, the Center for Intercultural Organizing (CIO), the consortium’s lead advocacy partner, provided individual-level leadership training with direct assistance from Washington County staff and Commissioners. Training was widely advertised through community channels, and advocacy partners also reached out directly to candidates from historically underrepresented communities whom they thought would be especially helpful. Around two dozen community members participated in the training, and several of these have since become involved in community governance.
The county devoted more time than anticipated to capacity-building efforts with both CBOs and the community, but those efforts paid off. Many plan recommendations will require community-led efforts to move forward into implementation. A citizen’s advisory committee, developed to coordinate and advocate for implementation efforts, has decided to continue to meet. The Aloha & Reedville Community Council includes representation by businesses, nonprofits, community groups. They have developed a mission statement and a charter. Besides advocating for plan recommendations, the council wants to take the lead on activity that is outside of the county’s role like business development and strengthening community identity.
The Aloha-Reedville planning process was very successful in directing resources to community-identified improvements, with over $32 million in obligated infrastructure going in over the next five years and another $15-20 million expected to follow. In addition, the process produced unexpected opportunities to improve community services. For example, when Somali community expressed concern about potential profiling, the Sheriff’s Department made a special effort to engage more actively with the community, leading to a much improved relationship between the sheriff’s office and community members.
Community members have also provided significant support for grant applications to fund recommended improvements, in what county staff refer to as “grassroots, grasstops, and partner support.” The new relationships between community and county government—and also across county departments—have greatly improved communications both externally and internally and is likely to make outreach for future planning efforts significantly more effective.
More InvestmentEngaging members of diverse communities results in a more inclusive process, more inclusive execution, and final outcomes that better reflect the needs and desires of all residents.
Inclusive ExecutionCommunity-driven plans have stronger community buy-in and investment.
More ResourcesPartnerships with community leaders and organizations can provide additional resources to both planning and implementation efforts.
- Grantee: Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning of Chicago
- Project: GO TO 2040, Local Technical Assistance Program
- Project Website: http://www.cmap.illinois.gov/2040/main
- Grant: Regional Planning
- Award: $4,250,000
When the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning (CMAP) received their regional planning grant, the region had just completed a long-range comprehensive planning process, GO TO 2040. The Sustainable Communities Initiative supported the creation of the Local Technical Assistance (LTA) program, a program which provides local governments and community groups with funding and resources to develop local, place-based planning processes. CMAP provided planning assistance to local communities through the development of new planning resources and coordination with existing technical assistance activities.
While the many local governments in the Chicago region are responsible for land use planning and other planning processes, few have capacity in this area. CMAP estimates that half of the region’s local governments do not have a professional planner on staff. Because the success of GO TO 2040 relies on the alignment of local government planning and implementation projects with the regional comprehensive plan, increasing this local planning capacity is vital. Planning project ideas are generated in the individual communities based on the priorities of those municipalities and community groups, and are chosen in a competitive application process based on their consistency with the goals of GO TO 2040. The flexibility of funding from HUD was crucial in allowing CMAP to choose a broad scope of projects for the LTA program, and has helped to push forward many elements of GO TO 2040 beyond CMAP’s usual focus on transportation and land use. The LTA program includes projects focusing on housing and economic development, water resources, and specific neighborhoods or corridors.
Since the expiration of the grant in January 2014, CMAP has continued the LTA program using alternative sources of funding. As of May 2015, over 100 projects have been completed, with another 50 currently underway. While these statistics are impressive, CMAP’s Director of Local Planning, Bob Dean, emphasizes the importance of looking beyond the numbers to the individual stories of implementation. One of the first completed LTA plans was for a small, unincorporated area that had seen little investment for decades. After completing their plan, they received an implementation grant to put in sidewalks, bus shelters and a community garden. According to Dean, this successful implementation communicated to the community that they are relevant to county government, and showed that local implementation, even on a small scale, can make a discernable impact on people’s lives. To date, CMAP’s role in implementation has been small—mostly aligning community needs with available resources from other external partners—but the proportion of projects with an implementation focus has increased in later rounds of the LTA program.
CMAP’s post-grant evaluation of the LTA program in November 2014 identified local commitment as the most important contributor to plan and implementation success. According to the evaluation report, “the LTA program’s best projects have all been in communities that participated actively in the planning process, while those that turned out less well were typically in communities with lower degrees of ownership and commitment.” The evaluation results showed the importance of a dedicated, local champion and significant partnerships with external organizations for project implementation. Currently, CMAP asks communities to put forward applications for planning projects based on their community’s priorities in order to engender a base level of commitment to the planning goals within each community. However, CMAP has added a local match requirement (on a sliding scale so as not to exclude less-resourced communities) to further encourage community ownership in and commitment to the planning and implementation processes.
- Grantee: New River Valley Planning District (Radford, Virginia)
- Project: New River Valley Livability Initiative
- Project Website: http://nrvlivability.org/
- Grant: Regional Planning
- Award: $1,000,000
When the New River Valley Planning District Commission received grant funds, the planning process faced significant and sustained opposition from the community. In the face of that opposition, their primary stakeholder engagement goals focused on establishing legitimacy, building trust, and gaining community investment in the planning process. While they used many “standard” engagement methods—summits, online and paper surveys, community outreach meetings, communications via website—they also explicitly moved beyond standard engagement efforts.
The New River Valley Planning District Commission created a new kind of survey using CrowdGauge software, the NRV Tomorrow Survey. Compared to the standard survey NRV had previously deployed, this survey was more nuanced and contextual. The process of completing the survey developed the participants’ understanding of impacts and co-benefits, and through a “participatory budgeting” section, encouraged participants to rank priorities. While both surveys yielded valuable results, the NRV Tomorrow Survey also fostered meaningful conversations. NRV also built and executed game- and theater/storytelling-based engagement efforts in partnership with Virginia Tech’s Department of Theater and Cinema, Sojourn Theater and SCI capacity-building organization, PlaceMatters.
Carol Davis, Sustainability Manager, Town of Blacksburg, Virginia speaks about methods of nontraditional community engagement.
The innovative engagement methods that NRV used helped to provide context to citizen priorities and identify themes and key tensions within the community. This type of contextual information is especially valuable at the beginning of the planning process, but is often not sought until the planning process is already well under way. When implementing, NRV can use resources, such as community-level problem-solving capacity and the strong partnerships that develop during nonstandard engagement efforts—when citizens are participating, rather than simply being informed.
- Grantee: East-West Gateway Council of Governments
- Project: One STL: Many Communities. One Future.
- Project Website: http://www.onestl.org/
- Grant: Regional Planning
- Award: $4,687,750
The East-West Gateway Council of Governments (EWGW) provides a forum for local governments from the two states in the St. Louis metro region, Missouri and Illinois, to work together on cross-jurisdictional problems. Despite early EWGW efforts, regional representatives struggled to find common goals and interests, making collaboration efforts difficult to create and sustain. The SCI grant allowed EWGW to focus on creating a strong, broad consortium that had shared goals and could share resources across the region to address those goals, a planning effort that would later become OneSTL.
By creating a broad coalition, the consortium was able to use the expertise of consortium members to take ownership of activities and tasks, ranging from creating a data exchange to partnering on a market study and Transit Oriented Development plan, to development of a Fair Housing Equity Assessment. Active engagement in a task force for municipalities who would be responsible for much of the implementation process ensured that they would have ownership and buy-in in the planning process as well.
Implementation is a key focus for OneSTL, with an implementation committee overseeing other members of the network who are tasked with various implementation projects and activities. The consortium has found this combination of a strong backbone organization and distribution of responsibilities among consortium members to be crucial to success. They are now working to create a series of nested networks to maintain momentum around their collaboration efforts and to carry on implementation work more effectively. Finally, to facilitate funding of plan priorities, they have created an online “Sustainable Project Marketplace” where implementers can post projects and connect to potential funders.
Examples of OneSTL Nested Networks
- Leadership network: key political champions
- Technical network: educational institutions and consultants to provide direct technical assistance to local communities
- Funders network: connecting philanthropy and agency grantmakers with key OneSTL activities and partners
- Evaluation team: to measure impact and outcomes of OneSTL implementation.
- Grantee: City of Knoxville, Tennessee
- Project: PlanET: A Regional Partnership of East Tennessee Communities
- Project Website: http://www.planeasttn.org/
- Grant: Regional Planning
- Award: $4,327,500
The PlanET project has been the first attempt at comprehensive regional planning in East Tennessee. Before the City of Knoxville received this regional planning grant from SCI, regional collaboration efforts focused only on the immediate Knoxville area (Metropolitan Planning Commission), or solely on transportation issues relevant to only urban communities (Knoxville Regional Transportation Planning Organization). To be an effective collaborative effort, a regional plan needed to include cross-sector stakeholders from beyond the immediate Knoxville metro area.
The newly-formed partnership named themselves PlanET to reflect their focus on planning for the entire region of East Tennessee and partners from each of the area’s counties and municipalities, including stakeholders from both urban and rural parts of the region.
A major part of the consortium was the Board of Mayors, which provided fiscal and policy oversight of the planning process. Their inclusion engaged key local leaders and created momentum and commitment throughout the planning process and current implementation phase. A regional Mayor’s Caucus emerged from the board to coordinate and address regional priorities across their municipalities. Another essential aspect to the consortium’s success was the strategic use of faculty and students to accomplish specific planning tasks and objectives, including the development of greenway designs.
While the planning process for PlanET was a collaboration of many stakeholders, implementation of PlanET has been delegated to a nonprofit with a regional focus. PlanET partners have sought to expand that group’s capacity to serve as the backbone organization and find additional leaders in the region to be part of implementation efforts. For PlanET, successful implementation requires a diverse array of community leaders committing to the shared regional goals and visions developed in the plan, and the creation of demonstration projects at the local level.
The regional chamber of commerce and PlanET have now coordinated efforts, reframing the implementation effort as ET Competes to reflect that partnership. Moving forward, the PlanET consortium hopes the partnership with the chamber will strengthen their connection with the business community. In addition to PlanET’s efforts to stand up a backbone organization, the regional Metropolitan Planning Organization has committed to maintaining and updating the ET Index, an online outcome and impact measurement tool as well as and other regional tools developed by PlanET, so that local government policymakers receive continued support during the implementation of programs aligned with PlanET’s regional objectives.
No Plan is an IslandBy breaking down traditional departmental and government silos, communities avoid the problem of isolated plans working at cross-purposes.
Less WastePooling resources and tackling shared challenges increases efficiencies and improves economies of scale.
Easier AsksPresenting a unified front means that grant-making organizations and governments have more streamlined and effective ways to furnish resources.
Growing the PieIt not only allows sharing of existing resources and reduces competition for limited funding and other resources for planning and implementation activities, but may actually bring in more resources to partners involved in the collaboration to execute their pieces of the shared plan.
- Grantee: Lane Council of Governments
- Project: Lane Livability Consortium
- Project Website: www.livabilitylane.org
- Grant: Regional Planning
- Award: $1,450,000
The goal of Lane Council of Governments planning effort was to coordinate and augment existing plans across the region. These plans were distributed across different agencies and local governments, so finding support and moving forward on coordination efforts required buy-in from partners across the region. That buy-in was difficult to achieve at the beginning of the project due to a lack of outreach during the grant proposal stage of the process; partners were not eager to come to the table.
Lane Council of Governments realized that a major barrier to effective partnership was that agencies and organizations lacked the resources needed for collaboration, and so were forced to choose between joining the consortium or providing essential services. To respond to this challenge, the consortium, now named the Lane Livability Consortium, restructured to distribute funding to consortium members. This distributed funding allowed the consortium to bring a wide range of stakeholders to the table, including those who were under-resourced or doubtful about the value of collaboration.
The consortium started with a baseline assessment of existing plans in the region to identify missing or miscommunicated planning linkages. This assessment went beyond simply collecting existing plans; the consortium conducted in-depth interviews across agencies and workshops on all plans. They strategically used a graduate student team from the University of Oregon to assist in collecting information. Engaging the university not only provided needed resources for the effort, but allowed a neutral third-party assessment of the current state of collaboration that helped to diffuse any defensiveness that individual agencies and partners might feel about the existing state of their collaboration efforts.
The consortium’s planning efforts have already had some very tangible impacts. They prepared an EPA brownfields assessment grant, which has led to a number of redevelopment opportunities, and their work on economic clusters – with its inclusion of business sector stakeholders – helped partners understand how to support clusters and the business sector, leading to many cross-sector opportunities.
As collaboration continues, consortium members are constantly developing a greater understanding of existing silos and how to work across jurisdictions and sectors. There is a strengthened network of connections among consortium members, who have identified shared issues and goals and now have the familiarity with partner organizations to get results.
Maintaining the current level of collaboration will be a challenge when there is not dedicated staff, funding, or external commitments to drive progress. However, Lane Council of Governments has been designated as the core organization for post-grant collaboration efforts, and they have a structure in place within the COG to continue the collaboration.
- Grantee: Chittenden County Regional Planning Commission
- Project: ECOS Project
- Project Website: http://ecosproject.com
- Grant: Regional Planning
- Award: $995,000
When Chittenden County Regional Planning Commission received its regional planning grant, the region had a separate Regional Planning Commission (RPC), Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) and Regional Development Corporation (RDC), all developing separate plans on different five-year cycles.
Collaboration efforts began with an agreement between the three organizations to have a shared planning process. The agreement involved federal and state agencies, and demonstrated a level of commitment, both of which helped foster critical partnerships with local agencies and organizations.
As early as the grant proposal stage, the consortium brought non-traditional partners into the process. These partners included the region’s hospital, health departments and universities, most of whom had not participated in planning processes before. This investment of time to look beyond traditional partners and identify shared goals allowed the RPC to create a strong coalition whose members had real ownership in the planning process.
The introduction of the collective impact model further strengthened collaboration efforts. The collective impact model encouraged the consortium to develop shared goals and measurements, designate a backbone organization, and assign consortium members responsibility for individual pieces of the plan. While the final plan included individual goals, the focus of implementation was on singular strategies and actions that address multiple goals.
One significant accomplishment of the consortium was a new agreement on transportation planning – a historically contentious issue in the area. By bringing partners from all stakeholder groups together at the table from the beginning, the consortium was able to get everyone on board with the final plans, even groups that had been opposed in the past. By giving everyone a voice, they gained trust in the shared ownership of the planning process and showed that they were facilitating the planning process, not dictating outcomes.
By the end of the grant, the RPC and MPO had merged. The merger started before the grant, but was facilitated, and likely accelerated by, the organizations’ efforts to coordinate planning cycles and the building of trust and recognition of shared goals that resulted from participation in the collaboration process.
- Grantee: Capitol Region Council of Governments
- Project: Sustainable Knowledge Corridor
- Project Website: http://www.sustainableknowledgecorridor.org/site/
- Grant: Regional Planning
- Award: $4,200,000
When three regional planning organizations from Connecticut and Massachusetts came together to apply for an SCI grant in 2011, they did so with the recognition that the region would benefit from more work across the Connecticut-Massachusetts border, since their common goals and challenges do not stop at the state line.
The Capitol Region Council of Governments (CT), the Pioneer Valley Regional Planning Commission (MA), and the Central Connecticut Planning Agencies, collaborated in a planning effort that would later be branded New England’s Sustainable Knowledge Corridor. The Consortium built on existing regional and bi-state collaboration efforts like the Hartford-Springfield Economic Partnership (HSEP), a loose network of regional planning councils, educational institutions and business groups focused on the economic strength for the region.
More than thirty organizations across the region were included in the consortium, including regional planning organizations, municipal governments, state agencies, educational and research institutions, advocacy groups and housing and community development organizations. The inclusion of stakeholders from all sectors and from across the region was striking, as was the breadth of topic areas being addressed, ranging far beyond the economic focus of pre-existing collaborative efforts to an agenda that included housing, transportation and environmental issues.
According to planning staff, working together on bi-state strategies was crucial, since many of the region’s issues span municipal and state boundaries. Both states recognized that presenting a united plan and voice to federal and state agencies on issues like New England corridor transportation planning was the only way to accomplish large scale goals.
In order to ensure effective implementation of their plan, the consortium worked throughout the planning process to secure continual funding. The consortium also developed six local plans for municipalities and designed implementation projects to be absorbed into the budgets of local governments and other partner organizations tasked to carry out specific implementation items. This kept the consortium’s region-wide planning applicable to local problems in each state.
The ownership and accountability of consortium members will help them to achieve implementation goals in the completed plan, as well as help them to overcome a major challenge of regional planning efforts – regional organizations’ lack of authority to make real policy changes at the local level.
- Grantee: State of Rhode Island
- Grant: Regional Planning
- Award: $1,934,961
- Link: http://www.planning.ri.gov/statewideplanning/sustainable/index.php
Clear and compelling presentation can be the difference between a rigorous, data-dense report that gets ignored and one that makes a tangible impact. Rhode Island’s Equity Profile demonstrates that information presented in the right way can tell a compelling story and change the conversation in powerful ways.
Project leaders at the Rhode Island Division of Planning received funding from HUD to update the state’s guide plan, especially in elements related to housing and economic development. One of the project leaders’ goals was to have a planning process and outcomes that were representative of Rhode Island’s population, both now and in the future. To this end, the Division of Planning teamed up with SCI capacity-building organization PolicyLink and the Program for Environmental and Regional Equity (PERE) at the University of Southern California to create An Equity Profile of Rhode Island.
PolicyLink produced similar profiles for other SCI grantees around the country, including the Piedmont Triad Region in North Carolina, Southeast Florida, and Kansas City. These profiles are built on large amounts of demographic and economic data from a variety of public and private sources, including the U.S. Census and the American Community Survey.
The equity profile told the story of a state undergoing dramatic change. It showed that in 2010, 36% of the state’s population under 18 were people of color – four times greater than the over-64 population. The profile also reported that the state would continue to become increasingly non-white, with 100% of the recent population growth coming from people of color. However, the benefits of economic growth were currently concentrated among the state’s white population. Rhode Islanders of color were more likely to be unemployed and earn lower average wages, even when they had the same levels of education as white workers. The profile’s authors argued that this uneven economic growth put the state’s future at risk.
And people listened. Described as an “incredible internal resource” by Laura Sullivan, the CDBG Disaster Recovery Program Manager at the Rhode Island Division of Planning, the profile spurred a new focus on equity at the division and gave them the hard data needed to make this case in the housing and economic development plans. The profile eventually made its way to the office of Governor Lincoln Chafee, who quoted the document in his State of the State address and issued an executive order on diversity and equal opportunity. Governor Chafee’s order encouraged all state agencies to develop a diversity baseline of their current hires in order to track future improvements, commissioned a report on diversity in state government, and added diversity liaisons to each department. The executive order also established the Rhode Island Office of Diversity, Equity, and Opportunity, which was tasked with increasing diversity among state employees and contractors. These efforts are continuing under the new administration of Governor Gina Raimondo.
Rhode Island’s Equity Profile “told an important story that hadn’t been told before,” according to Jeff Davis, Principal Planner at the Rhode Island Statewide Planning Program, and it did so in a very concise, aesthetic way. The presentation of information kept the profile from becoming just another report on the pile.
- Grantee: South Florida Regional Planning Council
- Grant: Regional Planning
- Award: $4,250,000
- Link: http://seven50.org/
In 2010, the Southeast Florida Regional Partnership (SFRP) received a Sustainable Communities Initiative grant to develop an ambitious 50-year strategic plan for the seven Florida counties of Monroe, Miami-Dade, Broward, Palm Beach, Martin, St. Lucie and Indian River. These resources have been used to develop the Seven50: Southeast Florida Prosperity Plan. This Prosperity Plan reflects regional agreement around priority investments in key areas of importance to Southeast Florida’s future. With broad public input, these issues have coalesced into a coherent strategy and investment plan in support of the future sustainability and economic prosperity of our communities and region.
While collaborative efforts were underway in Southeast Florida prior to the Seven50 process, generally speaking the scope of these efforts tended to be defined by a particular focus issue or geography. There were few tools to look at the connections and relationships across jurisdictions and issue areas. Through the efforts of the SFRP, planning and coordination across the region was elevated to a new level in an effort as regional leaders took a step back to view and better understand the interconnectivity of the region and how apparently “local” issues fit into, and shape, the larger region.
A major barrier to regional planning was the very fragmented policy landscape the SFRP was seeking to change. For example, spatial data about the region’s geography, population, transportation, housing, economy, and environment was scattered across scores of municipal and county government databases. If the Seven50 planners wanted to see how sea level rise would affect property values, they would have to reach out to over 120 local governments in order to get a complete picture. Southeast Florida’s aspirations and challenges transcended borders, and so SFRP decided that their spatial data should as well.
As part of the Seven 50: Southeast Florida Prosperity Plan development process, project consultants and planners created the Scenario Planning Analytical Resources Core (SPARC) — known colloquially as the Data Warehouse. The planners realized that other places around the country had one-stop shops for Geographic Information Systems (GIS) data, but Southeast Florida did not. The Data Warehouse brings together GIS data from across the region into one open source database. It is cloud-based, allowing anyone – planners from other governments, academics and the public – access through a web browser. Users can make their own custom maps and queries right in the browser, giving basic GIS capabilities without the need for expensive proprietary software. Custom maps can be saved and shared between users, or exported and integrated with other mapping software.
The Data Warehouse has been an asset to the Seven50 process, allowing the consultant team to easily conduct region-wide spatial analysis. The tool played a key role in scenario modeling and transportation planning. It helped to elevate the conversation to the regional level, demonstrating for the first time the interconnectedness of the seven-county region.
Since its creation, people from across the region have used the Data Warehouse to create their own maps for a wide variety of purposes. Some have used it to calculate travel time on hurricane evacuation routes across all seven counties. A Florida International University PhD candidate used the Warehouse to conduct an analysis of food deserts. One user even created a map showing homes for sale that were close to bus stops in what appeared to be a search for transit-accessible housing. The Data Warehouse has been, and continues to be, a powerful asset for the entire Southeast Florida community, helping its leaders and residents better understand the seven counties as a single interdependent region.
A new, regional data collaborative is being organized by the South Florida Regional Planning Council. The Southeast Florida DataCommon collaborative seeks to create a regional data sharing and learning environment that will, among other things, support the efforts of individual organizations seeking to access and utilize better data to enhance transportation, health, and children services program outcomes. By working together, sharing data, and serving as a support network across issue areas, they will be able to work smarter, enhance decision making, and create more equitable, opportunity-filled, and prosperous communities. It is envisioned that information contained within the Data Warehouse will be incorporated into the DataCommon.
- Grantee: Denver Regional Council of Governments
- Grant: Regional Planning
- Award: $4,500,000
- Link: http://drcog.org/planning-great-region/metro-vision
The Sustainable Communities Initiative is about more than just funding; it also has facilitated impactful, intelligent, and effective technical assistance for grantees. One particular example of this assistance has been WALKscope Denver, an innovative web-based tool that crowdsources data collection about pedestrian infrastructure. WALKscope was developed by a partnership between capacity-building organization PlaceMatters and Walk Denver, with funding from Mile High Connects. The tool allows anyone to collect data using a free mobile app and their phone’s GPS capabilities. Data collected through the app then becomes available to the public on the WALKscope website, where users can view, manipulate, and analyze the wealth of information about the pedestrian experience within the Denver area.
WALKscope is particularly remarkable because it facilitates the collection of a wide range of data. Not only can users identify crosswalks, intersections, traffic controls, and make pedestrian counts, but they can also include qualitative data such as the condition of sidewalks, adequate lighting, or even how safe they feel in a particular spot. The result is a very detailed spatial representation of how easy or hard it is for pedestrians to get around.
The Denver Regional Council of Governments (DRCOG), an SCI grantee, has seen the value in WALKscope and has been making this tool available to partners across the region. One such partner is the West Colfax Business Improvement District (BID), who has been trying to make West Colfax Avenue safer for pedestrians to cross. West Colfax Avenue is a major arterial state highway in western Denver, and forms the backbone of the West Colfax neighborhood. In an effort to improve the walkability of the street, the BID organized “walk audits” of the area, in which local planning students and West Colfax residents were recruited to canvass the neighborhood, entering spatial data about the pedestrian experience into the WALKscope app on their phones.
Thanks to the effective application of technology (and the footwork of planning students), the walk audits were a success. Approximately 1,500 data points were collected and automatically marked on the map. Because the data was digitized from the start, rather than having to be transcribed from paper surveys, the BID was able to handle much more data than they would have been able to collect and manage on their own. The result was an easy-to-use but very high-resolution picture of walkability on West Colfax, complete with photographs of intersections, pedestrian obstacles, and amenities. The West Colfax BID plans to use this information to recommend specific infrastructure improvements designed to benefit pedestrians.
WALKscope is only the beginning; PlaceMatters, with the continued support of DRCOG, will be creating a “First and Final Mile Toolkit” that will facilitate this kind of data collection for cycling, transit, and perhaps even bikeshare and carshare infrastructure.
Paradigm ShiftsNew insights and critical changes to the status quo come from examination of previously uncaptured data.
Deeper UnderstandingBetter data collection and visualization help communities improve understanding of trends and shifts in their populations and environment.
Transparency and ParticipationTransparency and centralization of data allows for greater participation from citizens and partners as well as discovery of unexplored connections between systems.
Increased Citizen InputNovel methods of data collection allow communities to base decisions on input from a more diverse group of stakeholders, including historically underserved populations.
Tracking ProgressBaseline metrics allow communities to demonstrate measurable progress to stakeholders, as well as to reconfigure plan inputs to maximize results.