A Neighborhood Improvement Journal - Summer 2021


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The Center for Neighborhood Technology



Since 1978, the Center for Neighborhood Technology (CNT) has worked to show urban communities locally and all across the country how to develop more sustainably. With smarts, creativity and innovation, and before the term sustainable development was even widely used, CNT has been demonstrating its unique brand of sustainable development: development that is good for the economy and the environment; makes better use of existing resources and community assets; and improves the health of natural systems and the wealth of people—today and in the future.

CNT's organizational model is part think tank, part incubator. While the organization carries out complex research and analysis, it's the application of that research for the benefit of real neighborhoods and real people, especially those most in need, that really drives the organization to excel. Sometimes this application is about changing markets, and other times public policies. Sometimes it requires changing both.

Over the years, CNT's work, especially in the areas of energy, transportation, materials conservation and housing preservation, has paid off by fueling a generation of community development institutions and learning, garnering CNT a reputation as an economic innovator and leader in the field of creative sustainable development.

CNT's Signature Approach: Hidden Assets

CNT's overall approach to sustainable development is embodied in a "Hidden Assets" framework. Hidden Assets is our response to the glib belief that cities are bundles of problems and liabilities. We see urban areas as rich in hidden assets waiting to be revealed and organized, and CNT's role is to do just that: to reveal the assets of urban regions and their communities; to craft approaches to maintaining and enhancing the value of these assets; and to capture the value of these assets for communities. The failure to systematically do this in the past has resulted in the premature abandonment of existing investments, unfair systems of taxation and far-from-equitable markets.

This Hidden Assets approach is informed by several insights we have about urban America.

Resource Efficiency:
Natural and human resources must be more efficiently used and allocated. This can happen through improvements in urban form (i.e., location efficiency or convenience, as well as accessibility); networks, markets and social and community institutions (i.e., network efficiency); and technology. All of these offer the potential for greater resource efficiency because (a) inputs are reduced to achieve the same outcome; (b) non-productive output (waste) is reduced; (c) durability is increased; and (d) investments and services are shared, whether at the level of household, community or economic network, resulting in yet higher levels of efficiency and productivity.

Economic Value:
The value of local activity that results in efficient resource use needs to benefit the community and/or network that is responsible for the increased efficiency. If, for example, a community successfully motivates and aligns a large number of small actions and investments to result in a collective net resource efficiency, the community and its members should be compensated for that service. This entails a theory and basis for valuation; an application of that theory; reinforcement of the efficiency strategy through contractual, statutory or regulatory rules; and new forms of organization and social capital.

Environmental Performance:
Too often, population growth and human settlement are seen as running counter to a quality environment. From an ecological standpoint, this is not a helpful framing, inasmuch as it defines the dominant species, human beings, as the problem. The reality is that high population densities and the network character of the urban form that support such densities can yield positive environmental results: reduced inputs or demand and durable and sustainable investments.

Taken together, the widespread adoption of these insights would integrate urban form, economic networks and natural assets, creating new kinds of urban and regional systems that more rapidly:

* Build individual and community wealth by minimizing economic risks and reducing costs
* Improve ecological quality by minimizing environmental risks and reducing waste
* Distribute the economic and environmental benefits more broadly and fairly

By building on what exists—infrastructure, natural resources, the built environment, organizations and institutions—urban communities and regions throughout the country have a unique capacity to offer a high quality of life to all residents without compromising the ability of future generations.



Center for Neighborhood Technology


WiserEarth 2005-2011
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 License.




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