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The Center for Neighborhood Technology ( CNT) is a non-profit organization, headquartered in Chicago, Illinoismarker, which is committed to sustainable development and livable urban communities. CNT, as an “innovations center for urban sustainability”, researches, invents, and tests urban strategies that use resources more efficiently and equitably. Over the years, CNT’s work, especially in the areas of climate, energy, natural resources, transportation and community development, has paid off by fueling a generation of community development and learning institutions, earning CNT a reputation as an economic innovator and leader in the field of creative sustainable development.

Founded in 1978, it has recently grown to include an office in San Francisco, Californiamarker. CNT has been responsible for developing a variety of projects. It launched two non-profits to advance its mission; CNT Energy, an organization that develops and implements initiatives to help consumers and communities control energy costs and reduce energy use; and I-GOTM, a membership-based car sharing organization that provides hourly rental of a fleet of cars located across Chicago and its surrounding suburbs. It also created Wireless Community Networks, a wireless internet access project which uses a mesh network. In addition, their Urban Practice Consulting offers a unique menu of tools and strategies which can be applied individually or collectively to urban development and redevelopment issues.

Leadership

Scott Bernstein is CNT's founder and President. Kathryn Tholin was appointed CEO of CNT in September of 2005, after serving as the interim CEO since February of 2005. Stephen Perkins, Ph.D., who joined CNT in 1980, is CNT's Senior Vice President, and Jacky Grimshaw, who joined CNT in 1992, is CNT's Vice President for Policy, Transportation & Community Development.

A Creative and Effective Institution

The Center for Neighborhood Technology receives prestigious MacArthur award
CNT was recognized on April 28th, 2009, as one of only eight organizations from around the world to receive the prestigious John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Award for Creative and Effective Institutions. CNT received the award for its use of cutting-edge research to develop and implement transformative ideas for improving the quality of life in urban neighborhoods, including car sharing and energy audits. The award recognizes organizations that are “highly creative and effective, have made an extraordinary impact in their fields and are helping to address some of the world’s most challenging problems.”This award, one of many in CNT's history, demonstrates CNT's dedication to the continuing pursuit of effective solutions that promote more livable and sustainable urban communities and contribute to national urban policy.

Change begins at home: leading by example

In 2000, the Center for Neighborhood Technology renovated their offices to the highest standards of the LEED Green Building Rating System. In December of 2005, the building became the thirteenth building to receive a “Platinum” LEED ranking.

Climate

The Center for Neighborhood Technology has been conducting research and developing and testing innovative programs to use urban resources more efficiently for almost 30 years. These efforts inevitably relate to the growing concerns about reducing greenhouse gas emissions and slowing global warming.

CNT’s research has shown that cities can be the most efficient places to live, with their lower per capita greenhouse gas emissions due to efficient land use and transportation alternatives. Because urban areas are compact and have extensive mass transit and communication networks, they offer the greatest opportunities to help solve the climate crisis by expanding and enhancing their existing strategies for reducing carbon emissions.

In September of 2008, the City of Chicago released its Climate Action Plan, which describes the major effects climate change could have on the city and suggests ways to address those challenges. CNT led the mitigation research team for the Chicago Climate Change Task Force that developed the report.

CNT is not merely working to promote change locally however; it also took part in developing the Presidential Climate Action Plan, a comprehensive and detailed plan to help the next President of the United States take action on global warming within the first 100 days of the new administration.

Energy

Using energy efficiently has been a critical focus of CNT’s efforts to improve urban sustainability. In 2000, CNT Energy (formerly known as the Community Energy Cooperative) was created to explore new ways to measure energy usage and to assist individual consumers and concerned communities in achieving sustainable, affordable energy solutions. CNT Energy’s areas of focus include building performance and energy efficiency, real-time electricity pricing, climate change analysis, regional energy planning, and green building research and evaluation.

In June of 2008, CNT launched the Illinois Smart Grid Initiative, a voluntary group of state and local government, as well as consumer, business, environmental and utility stakeholders that will collaborate to examine how consumers can benefit from a comprehensive overhaul and modernization of the power grid in Illinois.

CNT, in collaboration with the Community Investment Corporation, created the Cook County Energy Savers to provide owners of multi-family buildings with recommendations and solutions for energy efficiency. It is “a one-stop energy efficiency shop” that offers energy assessments, financing options for implementing energy recommendations, assistance with coordinating tax benefits, and annual reports on energy performance.

One of CNT Energy’s most recent projects is Power Smart Pricing, which allows users to pay the hourly, wholesale market price of electricity, and save money by timing their electricity usage to the hours when it is cheapest.

Natural Resources

CNT’s work with natural resources is concentrated on making the most of natural resources, and using them in an intelligent and sustainable way. Areas of focus include developing tools to map and analyze the values of green infrastructure, researching and demonstrating stormwater best management practices (BMPs), and promoting changes in local, regional and national policy.

Students at St. Margaret Mary plant a rain garden
As a result of a 2000 Openlands conference on natural resource protection in the tri-state (Wisconsinmarker, Illinoismarker, and Indianamarker) area, and Openlands’ inability to find a map of the green infrastructure for the three states, CNT launched the Natural Connections project. A data archive for a 19-county region was created, allowing users to download most of the data collected on green infrastructure for those areas. An interactive web mapping tool allows users to take this data and create customized maps of the region’s green infrastructure.

In 2005, CNT developed a way to measure the effects of storm water management in an effort to promote green infrastructure that better handles storm water (i.e. rain gardens, porous pavement, green roofs, drainage swales). The Green Values calculator allows developers, regulators or simple property owners “to assess the economic and hydrological impact of green vs. conventional storm water management.”

The recently added rain garden in Pulaski Park, built by volunteers and organized by CNT in collaboration with the Water Environment Federation (WEF) Students and Young Professionals Committee and the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago (MWRDGC) as part of the 2008 WEF Technical Exhibition and Conference (WEFtec), is just one example of how green infrastructure can be beautiful as well as beneficial.

Transportation & Community Development

CNT promotes research and action on understanding housing and transportation affordability, revitalizing and developing communities and public involvement in shaping policy. Its work has led to the creation of the I-GOTM carsharing program, and a number of tools created to increase awareness of the importance of transportation planning and promote better mass transit.

CNT is a founder of the Surface Transportation Policy Partnership ( STPP), which is a nationwide coalition working to promote smarter transportation choices, and CNT’s own Jacky Grimshaw is the Chair of the STPP steering committee.

In 2003, CNT, along with Reconnecting America and Strategic Economics, launched the Center for Transit-Oriented Development (CTOD) to help bring transit-oriented development (TOD) to scale as a nationally recognized real estate product.

As part of their commitment to TOD, CNT helped form the Lake Street Coalition, which successfully fought to keep the El station at Pulaski and Lake Streets open when the CTA threatened to close it in the early 1990s. They then joined with another member of the Lake Street Coalition, Bethel New Life, in an effort to revitalize and rehabilitate the area surrounding the El station; initiating a neighborhood planning process. CNT has also signed agreements with two communities, Blue Islandmarker and Harveymarker, for a public planning project that draws community benefits from already existing but undervalued transit and freight assets in Cook Countymarker suburbs.

CNT’s research into how transportation costs associated with location can affect housing affordability, which led to Location Efficient Mortgages (LEMs), also led them to co-develop with CTOD a tool to measure the true affordability of housing – the Housing + Transportation Affordability Index. In 2008, the Housing + Transportation Affordability Index became available through an interactive look-up and mapping website, which measures the affordability of housing for 52 metropolitan areas.

In the March 18 and 19, 2009, Federal hearing on “Livable Communities, Transit Oriented Development, and Incorporating Green Building Practices into Federal Housing and Transportation Policy”, CNT's work (some of it through CTOD) was cited several times in the testimonies of the U.S. Housing and Urban Development (HUDmarker), Secretary, Shaun Donovan, and U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) Secretary, Ray LaHood as they announced the creation of an interagency partnership to promote sustainable communities through coordinating housing and transportation policy and investments.

Legacy projects

Wet cleaning

During the 1990s, with funding from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and others, CNT began a research project with the Greener Cleaner to develop and test the viability of wet cleaning technology. Wet cleaning, in place of traditional dry cleaning methods, reduces and even eliminates the use of solvents that are hazardous both to workers and communities. Working with industry trade associations and others, CNT staff were able to promote the use of wet cleaning and help create pollution prevention recognition and certification programs.

Wireless Community Networks (WCN)

WCN is a community wireless network project developed by the Center for Neighborhood Technology for the Chicago area. Started in 2002, WCN uses a mesh network to provide high-speed internet access to members of local communities. The project is part of a community economic development strategy, and seeks to narrow the digital divide by operating in underserved areas.

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