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Kickstarter: A tool for neighborhood funding?

Kickstarter is a tool  that allows people with a good idea or project to ask the internet world for funding. Can it be a source of funding for urban economic development — particularly sustainable development projects in neighborhoods?

Blogger Emily Badger reports that the City of Chicago is exploring the potential of Kickstarter with a website called Seed Chicago.  She writes:

As Kickstarter has grown over the past few years into the Internet’s go-to crowdfunding platform, it’s been tempting to try to apply the model to anything and everything in need of cash – to products, places, programs, public parks, potholes, you name it. But the concept has some clear limitations when implemented at the urban scale. Maybe a neighborhood could fund its own park and street improvements when City Hall can’t. But what about the communities that can’t afford to do that? Crowdfunding of community assets could potentially double down on inequality.

Check out Emily’s post here.



See her report here.


Where Americans Need Better Access to Food

Do the families in your area have sufficient access to food? Check out the Food Access Research Atlas published by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The Atlas’s interactive map of the United States shows where people live in “food deserts” — census tracts where a significant number of people live more than a mile away from a grocery store and rural tracts where people live more than 10 miles away. The map also shows where low-income families live 20 miles away from a supermarket and have no access to cars.

Among other uses, the map indicates where urban agriculture, farmers’ markets and other programs could best be located to ensure that all Americans have access to food.

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Perma Cities

Perma Cities is a free online game of permaculture and urban design. Its development team announced on March 4, 2013, that it plans to release a new open-source full-feature version in the summer of 2013.  It will include elements on resources, social welfare, transportation and buildings. Check it out. Its current website includes a sample of what’s to come.

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Future Bristol: Pictorial Voting

Future Bristol is a tool  to engage the public in what it means for the UK city of Bristol to be a “low carbon city”, enabling everyone to have their say and help shape the future that we want to see. The aims are to:

  • Engage the public and raise awareness about what a low carbon future means
  • Find out how people feel about two different potential futures, which features are desirable and which we want to avoid
  • Start a public discussion about how Bristol can become a low carbon city, and gather opinions, thoughts and new ideas


The project’s website offers two scenarios. They are the result of a 4 year research project undertaken by Dr Rose Bailey at the University of the West of England during the period 2008-2012, supported by Bristol City Council and The Centre for Sustainable Energy. This research aimed to explore how the Bristol city region might achieve its 2050 carbon reduction target of 80%, to help close the gap between ‘where we are now’ and ‘where we need to be’.

To do this, 140 local, influential people in businesses, charities, local councils, and universities were asked “what would you like Bristol to look like in 2050 if it was a low carbon city, and how do we make it happen?” Through a three-stage consultation process, the two different possible futures in the pictures were described, called ‘X’ and ‘Y’, and the steps that might achieve these scenarios were then mapped out by working backwards to the present.

Read more about the research here: “An exploration of the low carbon futures for the Bristol region”

To find out more about what Bristol city is doing to tackle climate change, head to the City Council’s climate change pages and the Green Capital Partnership’s site.


If you have any questions about the project please email

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i-Tree: Finding the Value of Urban Trees

i-Tree is a state-of-the-art, peer-reviewed software suite from the USDA Forest Service that provides urban forestry analysis and benefits assessment tools. The i-Tree Tools help communities of all sizes to strengthen their urban forest management and advocacy efforts by quantifying the structure of community trees and the environmental services that trees provide.

Since the initial release of the i-Tree Tools in August 2006, numerous communities, non-profit organizations, consultants, volunteers and students have used i-Tree to report on individual trees, parcels, neighborhoods, cities, and even entire states. By understanding the local, tangible ecosystem services that trees provide, i-Tree users can link urban forest management activities with environmental quality and community livability. Whether your interest is a single tree or an entire forest, i-Tree provides baseline data that you can use to demonstrate value and set priorities for more effective decision-making.

i-Tree Tools are in the public domain and are freely accessible.  Go to for more information and to download the software.

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Everything You Want to Know About Climate Communications

Want to know how to talk about climate change in your community? How to make the moral case for climate action? What the experts say about effective climate communications?

The Resource Innovation Group offers an excellent collection of resources based on listening to the needs of “climate practitioners”.  TRIG’s describes its mission this way:

A bridge between research and action. For years, we at TRIG’s Social Capital Project have been hearing from climate practitioners that this is what they need. Those in government and nonprofits trying to communicate to the public about climate change say that they often lack the time and resources to digest the latest research and incorporate it into their campaigns. Similarly, researchers wish to know more about how their findings are playing out in the field. Everyone wants to know what they need to know, and to have it available at their fingertips.

Climate Access is that bridge.

In the fall of 2011, The Resource Innovation Group’s Social Capital Project, in partnership with the Rutgers Initiative on Climate and Society and theStonehouse Standing Circle, launched Climate Access to provide climate communications thinkers and doers with access to the necessary tools, knowledge and people. This is all in the name of increasing public support for climate policies and engagement in programs that help people, organizations and communities change their energy and other carbon-intensive behaviors.

TRIG’s website provides links to a Resource Hub, a compilation of communications and behavior-change campaigns, a blog, roundtables and a frequently updated collection of “tips and tools”.

Check it out.

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What are Your State’s Energy Programs?

States and localities are America’s traditional laboratories for public policy and that’s true for the nation’s transition to clean energy technologies. States have a wide variety of policies and programs that promote energy efficiency and the use of renewable energy.

The U.S. Department of Energy tracks these policies on a data base called DSIRE (Database of State Incentives for Renewables and Efficiency). The data show that:

22 states offer grants for renewable energy systems;

24 states offer tax creditsPropertyTax_map for renewable energy; and

43 states have policies that allow homeowners to connect their renewable electric systems to the utility grid.

The data show what an important role states are playing in America’s move to a clean energy economy.




SW US Solar map

What’s Your Potential for Renewable Energy?

The National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, CO., offers maps that show the potential for solar power, wind power, geothermal and other renewable energy systems in different areas of the United States.

If you’re exploring the potential for renewable energy in your part of the country, check them out.

You’ll find NREL’s solar resource maps here, and its maps of the best areas for concentrating solar power here.

Other resource maps address biomass potential, geothermal energy, and wind power.

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Make Your City More Disaster Resilient

If you are looking for ways to make your city more resilient — in other words, better able to withstand and recover from disasters — a growing collection of  handbooks is available, offering detailed advice. Here are two:

* The Center for Climate Strategies offers an Adaptation Guidebook for communities to improve their resilience to the impacts of global climate change.

* The United Nations has published a handbook  for local government leaders, with a “generic framework” for risk reduction. The handbook, written for an international audience and available in several languages, includes lists of best practices and tools. Here is a sample:

The Ten Essentials for Making Cities Resilient

1. Put in place organisation and coordination to understand and reduce disaster risk, based on participation of citizen groups and civil society. Build local alliances. Ensure that all departments understand their role in disaster risk reduction and preparedness.
2. Assign a budget for disaster risk reduction and provide incentives for homeowners, low income families, communities, businesses and the public sector to invest in reducing the risks they face.
3. Maintain up to date data on hazards and vulnerabilities. Prepare risk assessments and use these as the basis for urban development plans and decisions, ensure that this information and the plans for your city’s resilience are readily available to the public and fully discussed with them.
4. Invest in and maintain critical infrastructure that reduces risk, such as flood drainage, adjusted where needed to cope with climate change.
5. Assess the safety of all schools and health facilities and upgrade these as necessary.
6. Apply and enforce realistic, risk compliant building regulations and land use planning principles. Identify safe land for low income citizens and upgrade informal settlements, wherever feasible.
7. Ensure that education programmes and training on disaster risk reduction are in place in schools and local communities.
8. Protect ecosystems and natural buffers to mitigate floods, storm surges and other hazards to which your city may be vulnerable. Adapt to climate change by building on good risk reduction practices.
9. Install early warning systems and emergency management capacities in your city and hold regular public preparedness drills.
10. After any disaster, ensure that the needs of the affected population are placed at the centre of reconstruction, with support for them and their community organisations to design and help implement responses, including rebuilding homes and livelihoods.

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Where Are the Big Greenhouse Gas Emitters?

Where are the biggest sources of greenhouse gas emissions in your state or near your city? An interactive map from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency shows where they were in 2011, the first year that large sources were required to report their emission levels to EPA.

The map shows big emitters by sector, type of gas and geographic location. EPA says power plants remain the largest stationary source of greenhouse gases, accounting for about one-third of the nation’s total. Petroleum and natural gas systems were second and refineries third.

Click here to access the map.

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Smart, Healthy & Equitable Communities

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has issued a report that offers “tools” on on how communities can apply smart growth strategies that:

  • Clean up and invest in existing neighborhoods;
  • Provide affordable housing and transportation;
  • Improve access to jobs, parks and stores.

The report was developed by EPA’s Office of Environmental Justice and its Office of Sustainable Communities.

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Play the Disaster Game

As we are learning more and more often around the world, disasters are no fun and preventing them is no game. But the United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction is using a game to teach people how to create safer environments by assessing disaster risks and limiting damage. The UN advises that you’ll get advice while you play this game, but some of it will be good, and some will be bad. Launch the game here.

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Building Energy Tools from the Department of Energy

If you design or build buildings, you’ll find a very full toolbox at the U.S. Department of Energy. It has posted a wide variety of software and calculators to help evaluate the life-cycle potential of different energy efficiency and renewable energy technologies. The tools help designers develop energy strategies in new or existing buildings. Some are available for free, others for a fee.

And if you’ve developed a tool along these lines, DOE invites you to submit it.

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Human Development Indicators in Our Big Cities

Nearly 80 million Americans live in our biggest 10 cities. Measure of America has developed this interactive tool to show how the cities compare — and how different racial groups compare — on education, health and income.

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Common Good Forecaster

We all know that education is a good thing, but its benefits go far beyond better jobs and higher pay. The United Way and the American Human Development Project have developed the Common Good Forecaster, a tool that allows you to see the benefits that education can have for your county and state. You’ll also find it here.

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The Well-O-Meter

How well are you? The answer depends on many factors: age, exercise, habits, etc. To get a general sense of your health, check out the Well-O-Meter developed by Measure of America. It asks you 24 simple questions and takes only a few minutes.

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Measuring America

How does your state rank on heath, education and income? Measure of America offers an interactive map that allows you to find out. One hint: the Human Development Index score for the nation as a whole is 5.17. Does your state beat it?

Measure of America is a project of the Social Science Research Council.

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Community Renewable Energy Development Tool

Is your community interested in renewable energy? If not, consider its benefits: It does not pollute; it makes your community more self-sufficient; it contributes to the important goal of reducing the emissions that cause climate change; it keeps dollars in your community.

The second question is whether renewable energy is practical and cost effective in your part of the country. To find out, use this new tool developed by the Department of Energy. Click here


Partnership for Sustainable Communities

One of the goals of the Partnership for Sustainable Communities is to help communities develop and support neighborhoods that provide transportation choices and affordable housing while increasing economic competitiveness and directing resources toward places with existing infrastructure.

To help support these communities, the Partnership agencies compiled this list of useful tools and key resources. All of the resources here have been developed by or sponsored by Partnership agencies.


Massachusetts Smart Growth/Smart Energy Toolkit

The Smart Growth/Smart Energy Toolkit Toolkit is designed expressly to assist in the implementation of smart growth / smart energy.

Smart Growth
Smart growth is a principle of land development that emphasizes the mixing of land uses, increases the availability of a range of housing types in neighborhoods, takes advantage of compact design, fosters distinctive and attractive communities, preserves open space, farmland, natural beauty and critical environmental areas, strengthens existing communities, provides a variety of transportation choices, makes development decisions predictable, fair and cost effective, and encourages community and stakeholder collaboration in development decisions.

Smart Energy
Smart energy is the use of clean, renewable resources to create electricity and heat, as well as more efficient use of energy through conservation and high efficiency technologies, which will save money as well as energy. In addition to buildings, the technologies and fuels used in the transportation sector are also major components of smart energy. Implementation of smart energy practices decreases global warming emissions and other pollutants, enhances public health, and reduces spending on fossil fuels while promoting the use of innovative technologies that enhance economic development in the Commonwealth. Described briefly below, clean energy practices are discussed in more depth in other sections of the Toolkit, most notably “Smart Energy.” Through this Toolkit and other policies and programs municipalities are encouraged to promote smart energy through incorporation of building and fleet efficiencies, local power generation, energy purchasing, and regulatory practices.