Vibrant, Alive, Affordable + Living Lightly Locally= Sustainable Neighborhoods

5 Planets! How are we, the US of A, going to be a serious leader if our lifestyle requires 5 planets of resources??

How are we going to look our grandchildren in the eye and say with pride “All this is yours!”??

The good news is we are innovative. So, my fellow Americans, let’s roll up our sleeves and seize the opportunity. What else are we gonna do?!

Join us on Tuesday nights, and help design and build the 21st Century sustainable! MeetUp Design Lab for Sustainable Neighborhoods

More good news! Ya ready?  Mixed-use, mixed-income sustainable neighborhood infill developments of 2 or so acres, located in rural, urban, or suburban settings, meet the challenge to deliver sustainable lifestyles that are good for people and our planet!

Here is a drawing of one possibility that is efficient, affordable, and creates a beautiful oasis.


Infill Plaza at the Heart for web 1 copy

With approx. 40 residential units of varying sizes on the upper floor, and mixed-use commercial and shared common facilities on the ground floor, we just need 80 or so people who want to move in. Want to have your business here?

Come to the next Designing Sustainable Neighborhoods Workshop

Go to Meet Up Santa Fe and RSVP! and check the box letting us know you’ll be attending. Together, we can make Sustainable Neighborhoods real!

Don’t live in Santa Fe, but want one in your community??!! Let me know!

Beyond Foreclosure: The Future of the Suburbia

I came across this article on Retrofitting the Burbs.  Nice round up of ideas. Click here for the entire article by Aron Chang.  Also, see my earlier post on home-made services and home occupation in OPEN HOUSE, a  one weekend “happening” in Levittown.

New Opportunities
I believe that as designers we cannot accept as inevitable the decline of suburban neighborhoods, even if these neighborhoods exist, as Leinberger puts it, “on the fringes, in towns far away from the central city, not served by rail transit, and lacking any real core.” To do so will be to overlook important opportunities, and maybe also obligations. These neighborhoods embody major investments of energy and material resources; the housing surplus constitutes a vast store of underused — or “underperforming,” as developers would say — shelter, of habitable spaces already served by basic infrastructure. For the design professions these converging conditions pose an exciting challenge. Can architects, landscape architects and urban designers collaborate with developers, builders, economists, engineers, ecologists, homeowners and homebuyers, all focusing on the collective goal of reimagining the suburban single-family residence and reversing the decline of so many suburbs? And in the process can we effectively address the deeper issues of housing affordability and suburban sprawl?

Suburban housing with instrument workshop in back. [Photos by Aron Chang]

We might start by studying longstanding patterns and practices of housing adaptation in Southern California — a part of the country with no shortage of upscale real estate but with a dearth of affordable options. [8] In Los Angeles it’s not unusual to find recent immigrants, young people, the elderly, poor families and sometimes even professional-class single people doubling up with relatives, or occupying illegal units such as converted garages, or sometimes even living in suburban houses converted into single-room-occupancy dwellings. City officials have estimated that in the late 1990s there were 50,000 to 100,000 people housed in illegally converted garages throughout Los Angeles County, with even more in other forms of substandard housing. [9] Informal units also serve as businesses, e.g., chiropractors’ offices, seamstresses’ workshops, musicians’ instrument shops and schools, etc.

In other words, informal or illegal housing is hardly a new phenomenon; in fact, for many years, it has compensated for crucial gaps in the formal housing economy. [10] In Los Angeles and other cities, illegal units are too numerous for authorities to crack down on effectively; and their elimination would displace thousands of families. [11] But they are also too numerous to ignore; no city can plan effectively without a realistic population census. In fact, informal housing is problematic for various reasons. Tenants pay no property taxes or utility fees and have no legal recourse in disputes with landlords; lack of a formal address complicates job and driver license applications; units not built to code may lack good ventilation and safe emergency egress; overcrowding can diminish shared amenities such as street parking; illegal tapping of sewerage and electricity can strain infrastructure; and so on.

Suburban housing with informal apartment. [Photos by Aron Chang]

To reduce or eliminate extralegal housing will require that we repeal federal subsidies that incentivize current patterns of suburban development, as well as overhaul the zoning and regulatory structures that dictate minimum lot sizes, density, setbacks and modes of occupancy. But surely the need to do so is compelling, for extralegal units do more than underscore the actual and unmet needs of the housing market and the limitations of current policy; they function as vital examples of how higher densities, alternate modes of tenancy and ownership, and a responsive and diverse mix of uses not only can help individual residents but also reinvigorate whole neighborhoods. Indeed, they offer promising new models to innovative developers.

Informal housing suggests new and expanded roles for building and urban designers in enabling the transformation of single-use residential monocultures into lively, dynamic, mixed-use and mixed-income districts. The challenge for designers will be to redirect their traditional practices to participate in the kind of small-scale and incremental change that usually occurs without the resources of municipalities or redevelopment agencies or third-party developers. For years now homeowners have been making decisions to convert garages or set up second units; the cumulative effects of these individual decisions and investments — installing a window in the side wall of a garage or adding a bathroom or stove in an underused space, thus enabling a recent graduate to live in the city or an entrepreneur to seed a business — have helped to transform many older urban neighborhoods in Southern California. And they suggest possibilities that seem more hopeful than Leinberger’s forecast of suburb-slums for the poor and lifestyle centers for the wealthy. [12]

What designers and planners can do, then, is to reinforce these positive trends and create viable visions of neighborhoods that are equipped to adapt, to change and grow in density and use without diminishing quality of life, while bringing new income, amenities and services. We have to collaborate with policymakers, zoning boards, neighborhood associations, builders, engineers and lawyers; we have to study neighborhoods that have already been densified and diversified by informal housing and start-up businesses; and we have to use our understanding of spatial relationships and land use to modify negative perceptions of infill and mixed use. In doing so, architects might finally succeed in claiming a professional place at the forefront of suburban redevelopment, rather than merely critiquing and bemoaning the waste of so much ill-conceived growth.

Backyard Homes, Pacoima 10k Project, cityLab, UCLA. [Photo via cityLAB]

Design Research
Some promising initiatives are already underway. At the School of Architecture and Urban Design at UCLA, the design center cityLAB is working on the Backyard Homes project. Under the direction of cityLAB directors Dana Cuff and Roger Sherman, an interdisciplinary team — university designers, community organizations, Los Angeles planning officials, city council staff and the Community Redevelopment Agency, and for-profit and non-profit developers — is examining the potential for infilling workforce housing in the backyards of large residential sites in the Pacoima district of the San Fernando Valley; ultimately the center hopes to encourage experimentation throughout Southern California. Other center activities include researching the history of single-family housing and suburban infill; working with non-profit developers such as Habitat for Humanity to build two units instead of one unit on suburban lots; persuading private homeowners to erect prototype backyard homes; and, scheduled for 2013, constructing a prototype infill unit in the Hammer Museum courtyard.

Some municipalities are already focusing on the potential of infill. In 2003 the city of Santa Cruz, California, recognized there was a scarcity of affordable housing within its municipal boundaries, due largely to the limited availability of developable land and an increasing population. In response to state legislation requiring cities to permit accessory dwelling units as a matter of right, the city created an Accessory Dwelling Unit Program, enacting an ordinance regulating the development of mother-in-law or granny flats on single-family lots. The ADU Program seeks to “promote infill development to help preserve the surrounding natural greenbelt,” to “help minimize the impact of population growth on the community by providing more rental housing,” and to “foster the use of public transportation.” Funded by the California Pollution Control Financing Authority, the program is being implemented in a number of ways, including publication of an ADU Plan Sets Bookfeaturing prototypes designed by local and regional architects; distribution of an ADU Manual and a Garage Conversion Manual with guidelines for obtaining permits; public workshops; wage subsidies for licensed contractors who employ apprentice workers to build ADUs; and loans to homeowners of up to $100,000 through a local bank. In the three years prior to the implementation of the program, Santa Cruz issued an average of six construction permits for ADUs each year. In the eight years since, the city has issued an average of 23 permits each year. Those numbers rose steadily before the recession, reaching a peak of 36 permits in 2007 before declining in the last three years due to wider economic distress. [13]

Prototype accessory dwelling unit, SixEight Design, created for the Santa Cruz Accessory Dwelling Unit Program.

What is remarkable about the Santa Cruz ADU program is the degree of cooperation that its implementation required — cooperation between city planners and city council, between the community at large and city officials, and between individual stakeholders and the community. In speaking with key individuals, I learned that the program required a shared understanding of the issues of housing affordability and housing choice, and the acknowledgement that thousands of illegal garage conversions throughout Santa Cruz were the direct result of failed policies. [14] For example, a local architect and city council member, Mark Primack — who as a zoning board member in the 1980s and ’90s worked with frustrated homeowners who struggled to comply with restrictive codes — became a strong champion of the ADU Program. With his professional knowledge of building practices, Mark worked with the fire marshal to develop new requirements for sprinklers and firewall separations; with the water department to adjust the requirements for new attachments to utilities for ADUs; and with the planning department to rewrite the parking requirements — all to ensure that the new ADU policies would not be prohibitively costly. In a related effort, a local garden designer, Lynn Robinson, ran successfully for the city council as a “concerned community member” in order to represent neighborhood interests, especially regarding the potential effects of ADUs on privacy, daylight and parking congestion. It is important to note that both Primack and Robinson combined their professional experience — the understanding of building, space and design — with a sustained engagement in political and social processes in order to make the new ADU program a meaningful contribution to the urban future of Santa Cruz.

Both the cityLAB project and Santa Cruz program demonstrate the importance of interdisciplinary collaboration and political advocacy. I’d like to further emphasize this with examples from my own research. In 2009 I studied the capacity of single-family residential lots in Temple City, southwest of Los Angeles in the San Gabriel Valley, to accommodate infill rental units that would alleviate the pressures of the regional housing market. Temple City (population 35,558, according to the 2010 U.S. Census) has a large immigrant and non-white population; it’s a place where many garages have already been converted to extralegal units. In thinking about how new units could be inserted into built-out suburban lots, I looked carefully at the city’s zoning code and at the prototypical single-family lot.

According to one zoning regulation, a 40-degree plane drawn from the front property line cannot be intersected by any part of the structure in the front 30 feet of the lot. [15] City planners most likely intended this as another means, along with setbacks and height restrictions, of controlling the buildable envelope of single-family homes, bringing order and coherence to the street by dictating a consistent relationship between the house, front yard and street. Rather than challenging the necessity of such a rule, I propose that the 40-degree rule be the model for a new kind of regulation that would allow infill units to be constructed with minimal impact. For example, the city could develop sun-angle zoning, a performance-driven regulation that would require infill units to be designed so that a plane drawn from a given sun angle across the relevant top edge of the infill unit could not block more than 20 percent of a neighboring facade or yard. This regulation would address neighbors’ fears about new structures diminishing their quality of life, while providing a new buildable envelope within with architects could work. The resulting forms would be specific to the climate and existing geometry of the lots.

My study also proposes flag-lot parking zones that could alleviate homeowner concerns about parking shortages that might result from new infill or commerical development. The city could purchase rear portions of lots in residential areas and provide street access via long driveways (in plan the long driveway resembles a flag pole; hence the term “flag lot”); these lots would accommodate cars internally within the block, so that the overall appearance of the street would change little as the block capacity expanded. The parking lots could be regulated so that development rights of individual homeowners would be linked to parking spots they own or rent, potentially a means of deriving additional city revenues. Finally, I propose that architects work with engineers and manufacturers to identify building systems and materials especially suitable for infill housing. For example, an exterior envelope of structural insulated panels could be built more quickly than an envelope of standard two-by-four construction, minimizing the disruption to daily life for residents.

Proposed ADUs and sun-angle zoning, Temple City, CA, research by Aron Chang. [Images courtesy of Aron Chang]

While none of these strategies alone would ensure an efficient or friction-free transition from lower density single-family neighborhoods into more complex, higher-density and multi-use neighborhoods — and none would be easy to achieve politically — they begin to suggest how architects could use their knowledge of housing typologies and spatial relationships, and their ability to envision possible futures, to work with multiple public-and private-sector collaborators to plan and implement viable approaches to suburban redevelopment. Innovations in zoning policies, construction techniques, property assessment and taxation, parking distribution, maintenance and expansion of utilities, provision of social services, processes for formalizing existing informal housing — all these strategies will be required for us to truly rework the suburbs, one home and one neighborhood at a time.

Work such as this is hardly outside the realm of what architects are already doing (again, as we see with cityLAB and Santa Cruz). But to achieve large-scale results, we need to move beyond the ideas competition, the student thesis, the part-time and often pro bono work of architects and institutions. We need to develop broader interest and initiative among an entire generation of practitioners to take on the complexities of innovative suburban redevelopment. Just as urban redevelopment has been at the forefront of academic discourse and planning and design practice for the last several decades, suburban redevelopment must take on similar importance. It’s an urgent issue with arguably greater relevance for the future of the American landscape, both physical and social, and how that landscape is inhabited and traversed. The result might be a new kind of American suburb that grows over time and responds to the needs of a dynamic population as well as to the contingencies of time, place and economics.

In an article in The New York Times, architecture educator and critic Witold Rybczynski lamented the monotony of single-family subdivisions across the country. He noted the disproportionate media and public attention to the “glass-roofed museums, the granite-faced office towers, the glamorous hotels,” and pointed out that Americans spend more on the construction of single-family houses than on any other building type. Yet most homebuyers are asked to choose among houses and neighborhoods essentially identical in structure and function, differing only in stylistic flourishes or material finishes. Rybczynski was especially disappointed by the “scant evidence that the [building] industry [is] responding seriously to the chief concern of many young Americans: housing affordability. Instead of pioneering innovations in construction, design and planning that would reduce selling prices and enlarge the size of the first-time-buyer’s market, most builders prefer to cater to the prosperous second- and third-time buyer. The button that is labeled ‘Small and Cheap’ remains unpushed. Too bad.” He then concluded: “It might be time to reconsider the single-family house; either we content ourselves with smaller houses, or we will be obliged to look at alternatives like patio and row houses, and to resurrect such housing types as the California bungalow court and the Georgian housing terrace.” It might be time,wrote Rybcynzksi. It’s especially notable, then, that the article I’ve just quoted was published in 1991.

Two decades on, the issues remain just as relevant, except the houses have gotten bigger and more wasteful and the environmental imperatives more urgent. Writing for the same newspaper in 2009, design writer Allison Arieff focused upon the same theme of “suburban and exurban master-planned communities and how to make them better.” She cited big box reuse and the High Line in New York City as examples of the ingenuity designers and developers could apply toward transforming subdivisions into “self-sufficient mixed-use neighborhood[s],” imagining “three-car-garaged McMansions … subdivided into rental units with street-front cafés, shops and other local businesses.” It’s a spirited call to action, whether or not one agrees with the particular post-suburban spin. The problems of affordable housing, sustainable development and the fate of suburban single-family neighborhoods are more pressing than ever. Design alone will never bring about the changes that are necessary and desirable. Rather it is at the intersection of public policy and design, zoning innovation and design, construction innovation and design, neighborhood activism and design, and cultural perception and design, that possibilities for change exist.

A Rock Star in the Pantheon of Sustainability

In the 60’s “CLAPTON IS GOD” graffiti started showing up around London.  I’m sure if you’re wandering around Chicago, you will find graffiti paying homage “DAVIS IS GOD”.  But you asked yourself, “What the heck does that mean?” and dismissed it “Kids on drugs”.  Well, here’s the story.

See this kind, grandmotherly lady smiling at you? She is the Mick Jagger/Keith Richards in the world of sustainability!  Check out A Trojan Horse of Love.  It’s right up there with “Stairway to Heaven”, or “Satisfaction” for all-time greats.



Talk about rock stars- Susan Davis is in the Pantheon!

  • A deal is a good deal when it’s good for all concerned.
  • Tell the truth.
  • Generosity comes back ten-fold to the bottom line.
  • Socially responsible companies are more productive and profitable than others.
  • Water doesn’t rise any higher than its source.
  • Treasure teamwork; share the wealth.
  • The best call a company can get is a call of complaint because it helps it to improve, so when you get a complaint call, start by saying “thank you!”.
  • Love the discipline of the numbers.
  • Never make decisions out of fear
  • Trust the universe.
Image courtesy of A Trojan Horse of Love  … READ MORE >>

When competition drives excellence

Elisabet Sahtouris…I don’t know who this lady is, but I’ll bet there’s more pearls of wisdom where this comes from! Kill your enemy or feed your enemy…hmmmm… Tough choice, eh?

Elisabet Sahtouris Interview from StormCloud Media on Vimeo.

Freiberg Germany has a yearly contest as to who’s neighborhood can have the lowest energy consumption. Another example where competition drives excellence. That’s what I’m talking about. Together we can make sustainable real!

Beyond Bartering-tapping into human ingenuity

Volunteers earn these Time Dollars by doing things for others, such as making them jewelry or baking them pound cake.

Edgar Cahn was lying in a hospital bed recovering from a heart attack, when the inspiration came through. He created timebank usa, and a tool for honoring everyone’s contribution has been established. Check out audio file how teen offenders recidivism has been reduced to 10%!! That is incredible.

I’m telling ya America, Together we can make sustainable real! … READ MORE >>

Trading real adventures for online games & converting nature into goods, leaves us poorer

Growing the economy… sustainably. Conserving our way into a new economy.

In this video, Charles Eisenstein lays it out.What sounds totally illogical, that less is more, helps me think in new ways.  Values get turned on their head. Time bank anyone?

Charles Eisenstein Interview from StormCloud Media on Vimeo.

Hey, what’s one of your favorite songs to sing? How bout we meet at the common house after 5, play some ping pong, have a beer, and do a couple of karaoke songs??!! See you there!! Together we can make sustainable real!

We are the ones we’re looking for

The Great American Quest, ” life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” has led us to the mountain top, the shopping mall. We sat there in rapture, beaming and gleaming in the sunlight streaming into the food court, all the abundance of our bags full of awesome stuff. We filled our homes up with the awesome stuff, and then we filled up our storage units.

And we find ourselves still waiting for the rapture. We set up ingenious manufacturing supply systems, global supply routes of mining, processing and sculpting our planet’s resources to fill the shelves of the malls, as if we lived in infinite abundance.

Somehow, I was blessed with eyes to see, and ears to listen, “the emperor has no clothes”, well at most he’s wearing a Speedo. I chose a path less followed, a path I once judged as kind of spineless, “a weed in the wind”, a wandering around, trying to find my own pursuit of happiness…. READ MORE >>

Real Estate has a suicidal tendency

I’m looking for the 12 step program and enrolling the country.

A vibrant alive, great place to live gets “discovered”, the prices go thru the roof,  the locals get bought out, and the neighborhood ends up with hard working professionals, empty nesters, and second homes. Some would say this phenomena is a good thing. From my experience, we tend to kill off the very thing we love. Real Estate has a suicidal tendency.

Oh, the neighborhood is still beautiful. The Historical Preservation folks are doing a good job of keeping the architecture out of the hands of our compulsion, but the soul is dying. The streets are quieter. The traffic is lighter. Many young families can’t afford to move in. Most of the neighborhood’s children leave with their working families. Local schools loose enrollment and get closed. The artists are mostly gone. The original locals are now having to commute longer and longer distances to work. The living cultural heritage is going, going, gone.

“Hi, I’m Brian, and I have an American Real Estate Suicidal Tendency”

All together now…  “HI BRIAN!”…

Chattanooga Vision 2000- an inspiring story of citizens transforming their world

The intent is to give people the tools to redevelop their neighborhood sustainably. Here’s one way I see it playing out. (my take on the Chattanooga 2000 process).

1) All the citizens are invited to a “Make our City a Better Place to Live” event ( “A more sustainable town”, etc).

2) The question is asked to the gathering (say at the convention center, a school gym, a big place, a bunch of people)

“What would make our city town a better place to live?”   a thousand post-its go up on the walls.

“Ok! How would we know these things were accomplished?”   Another thousand post-its go up on the walls.

“OK! Go do it!”

So what happens??   A chaos of good ideas and enthusiasm gets set loose.  The Community taps into the greatest resource on the planet; heart felt human ingenuity. 

3) What happened in Chattanooga?  (again in my uninformed memory on what I read) The folks of Chattanooga got back together in 6 months and discovered that many of the one-two year goals they set, were completed in 6 months!!

4) I love my interpretation of what I remember!  Is says we can be living in a great town, filled with creative juice, where the barriers to innovation are lowered.


OK, here’s the real story, according to a write up by the Head Facilitator, Carl Moore.

Case Studies of Revitalization Strategies Working Paper


Problems Being Addressed

By the 1970’s Chattanooga was suffering from general economic decline and downtown

deterioration, brought on by severe environmental pollution, heavy loss of manufacturing

jobs, poor education, racial conflicts, and a decreasing population and tax base. At one time

the United States Department of Health, Education and Welfare had called Chattanooga the

dirtiest city in the United States. Air pollution was so bad that people drove with their

headlights on in the daytime, the sky had turned orange, and the turbercu-losis rate was three

times the national average. Moreover, citizens felt pessimistic about the prospect of

politicians guiding the city to a better future.

Catalyst for Change

A handful of local officials, civic leaders, and business executives decided to take action

outside of the political process. They established a non-profit organization, called the

Chattanooga Venture, to help turn the city around. The Venture’s first project was Vision

2000, an extensive collaborative visioning process funded by the Lyndhurst foundation. The

process, which included over 2,000 citizens, created a grassroots, participatory method for

the community to articulate its goals and objectives. The process resulted in a plan called

“Vision 2000,” and ten years later, “Revision 2000.”

The visioning process and the plan stimulated a number of subsequent redevelopment efforts,

including creation of a private non-profit agency to facilitate redevelopment projects

(RiverValley Partners/River City Company), and another private non-profit focused on

eliminating substandard housing (Chattanooga Neighborhood Enterprise). The plan also

resulted in a number of transportation improvements, undertaken by the Chattanooga Area

Regional Transportation Authority (such as electric buses), and extensive environmental

clean-up efforts. A number of attractions, including a stadium, an aquarium, a restored

theater and bridge, and a cultural center, were developed as a result of the plan.

Consistent with direction from the Gwinnett County Revitalization Task Force, this case

study focuses primarily on the visioning process used in Chattanooga, rather than the

subsequent revitalization efforts.

Major Players

Major players in the visioning process include the Lyndhurst foundation, which provided

funding; the Chattanooga Venture, which was created to manage the process and act as

champion for the resulting plan; the private facilitators hired by the Venture; and the vast

number of citizen participants in the process.

The Visioning Process

rtf_final_report_addendum.doc A-23 Case Studies of Revitalization Strategies Working Paper

Visioning describes a process whereby citizens come together to articulate a shared vision

for their community. Carl Moore describes community-wide visioning as a process wherein

“a diverse cross-section of residents work together to define the key issues facing a

community and develop shared goals for addressing those issues” (Moore et al 1999, 558).

The process can address issues such as economic development, transportation, education,

culture, environmental issues, race relations, social services, and more. Typically, the

participants will draft recommendations describing how these goals should be achieved.

Visioning can provide several benefits, such as galvanizing a community to action, creating a

participatory culture, creating networks for future collaboration efforts, and shaping future

community leaders. However, visioning can also create an expectation that future projects

will involve similar public participation efforts. It also raises expectations that actions will be

taken on the agreed-upon goals. If action is not taken, the process merely increases

skepticism in the community.

Implementation and Logistics

According to Moore et al 1999, successful visioning involves the following phases:

1. Organizing.

Community-wide visioning can be initiated in many ways, for example, by a small group of

citizens or by a government agency. However, in order for the community to “own” the

process, it is important that elected officials not be solely responsible for designing and

managing the process. It is useful in this stage to gather information about other visioning


The initiating group must first decide who will lead the visioning process. It is useful to form

a steering committee that includes representatives of all the major stakeholders. The steering

committee members should credibly reflect the broader community, have a reputation for

previous work in the public interest, and include strong leaders who believe in the

collaborative process. It is also important that the steering committee members represent

collectively a constituency for change (e.g., members who can leverage resources or can hold

authorities responsible for implementing the plan). A steering committee should not be too

large. In the Chattanooga effort, the steering committee for the two visioning efforts included

more than 50 people representing dozens of different organizations. The group was credible

because of its broad diversity.

After forming the steering committee, the group must form a staff. A paid coordinator is key

to the process, since the volunteers on the steering committee will be focused on process

design, fund-raising, retaining outside facilitation assistance, and publicity and education

efforts. Chattanooga Venture hired one full-time staff member to manage the logistics, a

local resident who was respected and knowledgeable about the community, with no formal

connections to local government, business, or the professional planning community. This

gave the staff member a certain level of autonomy.

rtf_final_report_addendum.doc A-24 Case Studies of Revitalization Strategies Working Paper

The steering committee or initiating group must then design the visioning process, grappling

with details such as how long the process will take, how many rounds of meetings are

needed, what the agendas should be, and who will facilitate. The process design should

consider a mechanism for tracking and documenting the participants. The process design

effort itself may require a substantial amount of time—for example, in Birmingham, the

initiating committee took a year to design the visioning process.

The last step in this phase is to get the public to participate. This requires a well thought out

publicity and outreach plan. Publicity campaigns should include a name, logo, and slogans to

create an identity for the process. Spreading the message about the effort through radio,

brochures, or newspapers is essential. The outreach component should consider how citizens

from all parts of the community will be reached, particularly those members that are often

underrepresented. Useful outreach techniques include working with existing community

organizations (such as religious organizations, PTAs, or Rotary Clubs). For example, a

rotary group meeting can devote one of its regularly scheduled meetings for input to the

visioning process. Another strategy includes appointing volunteer captains to ensure good


The steering committee must be cautious of overrepresentation by middle-aged, middle-class

participants. There are typically groups of community members that are underrepresented in

these processes, including groups at the far end of the socioeconomic spectrum or the age

spectrum. Including representatives of these groups, and others who might be

underrepresented, in the visioning process takes hard work and strategy. One strategy is to

meet in locations and times that are convenient for them (for example, at high schools, senior

homes, or in places accessible by public transit). Public information materials should

emphasize that meetings are open to all, and that the visioning is truly a democratic process

that equally values input from all participants, regardless of their age, class, race, political

clout, or ethnic background.

2. Conducting the Visioning Process.

Now the visioning process can begin. The first step involves gathering ideas through multiple

meetings held in a variety of locations. Every meeting should give participants a chance to

talk with each other about their long-term goals for the community (small group discussions

are quite helpful). These visioning sessions can yield thousands of ideas about the

community’s future. In Chattanooga, more than 2,000 people participated in two rounds of

meetings (the first round gathered ideas, and the other formulated goals and action items

based on those ideas). Nine meetings were held in one month for the first round, mostly

during evening hours. One meeting was held at a senior center, another at a convention

center where high school students gathered.

The participants at each meeting selected one topic from five potential topics (people, place,

work, play, or government). They were asked to respond to a question about the city’s future.

Facilitators then asked participants to describe their ideas one at a time, and each idea was

recorded on a flip chart. The group then clarified some of those ideas and selected the five

most important items. Each meeting produced a list of ideas with an indication of how

strongly the participants felt about each one, based on the number of votes it received. Even

rtf_final_report_addendum.doc A-25 Case Studies of Revitalization Strategies Working Paper

ideas that received no votes, however, would be considered during the goal-setting process,

as the facilitators informed the participants.

After the ideas have been collected, they must be shaped into goals and action steps. In

Chattanooga, a small group consisting of citizens active in the process and members of the

Chattanooga Venture Board met to review the 2,500 ideas generated. The group then sorted

those ideas into categories and created preliminary goal statements for each category. For

example, Chattanooga’s goal for education was “Excellent public schools, K-12, which are

well funded and actively supported by the community.”

The board of the Venture then held a second round of public meetings, using promotional

materials to increase attendance. Participants split into smaller groups, and each group

discussed one category. The participants then read the list of ideas in that category and

highlighted themes. After the themes were placed on flip charts, the facilitators read the

drafting team’s goal statement. After agreeing upon a statement, the participants then focused

on actions and projects that would be needed to accomplish that goal.

Chattanooga noted a drop off in public participation between the first and second round of

meetings. Thus, some communities use a process where goals and actions are discussed in a

single round of meetings. Whatever process approach is used, it is important to make sure

that the goals reflect public opinion in very clear language.

Organizers must continue their educational efforts throughout the process, not only to ensure

good attendance but also to keep the public informed about the dialogue. Organizers of

ReVision 2000 prepared a magazine with detailed information about the effort, mailed to

every household in the county. Other communities have used a newspaper supplement or

encouraged local newspapers to run articles featuring key issues that would be addressed in

the meetings.

The final step in this phase involves voting. Here, the public is invited to ratify the goals and

action steps. Having the public decide on the goals helps them appreciate the trade-offs

involved. Voting can be organized in many ways. Chattanooga held a Vision Fair at a central

downtown space. Citizens reviewed the goals and actions from the second round of meetings,

and each citizen cast votes for their five favorite actions. Other communities have used fake

money that citizens could put in front of their favorite items. Choosing a central venue, such

as a large commercial mall, helps increase the likelihood of high participation.

3. Implementing the Vision.

This final phase involves implementing the vision. Steering committees must begin thinking

about implementation strategies before the visioning process begins (e.g., while they are

designing the visioning process). This helps the committee strategize about overcoming

possible obstacles.

The most important implementation strategy is to build a broad base of participation and

interests. When residents and community leaders are excited about and invested in the vision,

it is more likely to happen.

rtf_final_report_addendum.doc A-26 Case Studies of Revitalization Strategies Working Paper

The vision must also clearly specify what needs to happen next. Another technique is to

assign individuals or groups to follow through on specific parts of the vision. Yet another key

technique is to incorporate benchmarks and indicators to measure progress. Benchmarks

(which describe a starting point) and indicators (tools for measuring change) help a

community see what progress is being made. In addition, successful implementation requires

leadership, a group or agency that continues to act as the champion for the vision (such as the

Chattanooga Venture). The Venture provided continued support and capitalized on emerging

opportunities to help the vision become reality.

Parallels to Gwinnett County

Although Gwinnett County does not suffer from the severe economic and environmental

pollution problems like Chattanooga faced in the 1980s, Chattanooga’s visioning process

can—and has—been used in many other communities of all types as a tool to help determine

a vision for their future. However, suburban communities face special challenges, as

residents tend to live there because of housing costs and not necessarily because of

government services or because they identify with the area. It is often harder to achieve

broad, engaged participation in suburban communities.

In addition, Gwinnett County may wish to target certain commercial areas for visioning and

revitalization efforts, rather than the entire community. If so, it may be more appropriate to

conduct a charrette rather than a visioning process. A charrette is an intensive and short

visioning process that often focuses on one aspect of community life in a particular area, or a

particular issue like transportation. Stakeholders interested in the issue convene in intensive,

interactive meetings, which can last anywhere from one day to several weeks, while they

design a plan for the issue in question.


Costs of the visioning process vary depending on the design of the process, the educational

materials used, etc. For example, the Chattanooga visioning process, considered the

“Cadillac version” of visioning, cost a quarter of a million dollars. In Los Alamos, New

Mexico, the process cost $80,000 for the facilitating team plus ads in the newspaper and an

educational supplement.

The Lyndhurst Foundation underwrote the Chattanooga effort. In other communities, the

United Way has sponsored the process. Most resources are raised outside of government

through foundations and others who promote community change.

Success Factors for Visioning Process

Factors that explain Chattanooga’s successful visioning effort include the following:

rtf_final_report_addendum.doc A-27

• Generous Foundation Funding. Lyndhurst Foundation funding allowed Chattanooga

Venture to form and conduct a thorough visioning and educational process. Case Studies of Revitalization Strategies Working Paper

• Creation of New Agency to Oversee Visioning Process. The Chattanooga Venture

served as manager for the visioning effort, then served as champion to implement the

plan. The agency helped ensure sustained attention to the plan.

• Extensive Community Input; Participatory, Highly Inclusive Grass-Roots Process.

Citizens in the Chattanooga process really felt as though they had been heard. In

addition, the Venture made strenuous efforts to ensure that typically underrepresented

segments of the population participated. This helped increase community support and

buy-in for subsequent projects. Use of the Nominal Group Technique, which is a tool

for generating ideas and organizing them into a prioritized list, helped make the

process participatory.

• Use of Highly Experienced, Paid Facilitators for Visioning Process. The highly

skilled facilitators brought their wealth of experiences from other communities and

applied those lessons in Chattanooga. The facilitators also trained a group of local

residents to facilitate other events in the future, an effort that met with success.

Community leadership programs are a good source of future facilitators.

• Visioning Process Community-Driven, Not Government-Driven. If citizens perceive

that the process is managed and controlled by elected officials, they will not feel a

sense of ownership of the process.

• Timing—Community Ready For Change, But Not Facing A Narrow Crisis. Timing

is important. The community must be ready for change (which in many instances has

meant exasperation with elected officials, and a sense that politicians cannot lead the

community effectively toward change). However, the community must not be facing

a narrow crisis, otherwise its vision for a comprehensive future will be unduly biased

by that crisis.

• Education and Outreach Efforts; Wide Distribution of Results. The Venture made a

tremendous effort to bring the public in, educate them about the process, and

distribute the results through all forms of media.

• Comprehensive Process (Addressed Many Issues). A community-wide visioning

process should provide a complex, all-inclusive, far reaching view for the future.

• Vision Must be Designed to Lead Directly to Implementation. If the vision is not

designed to lead to implementation, it will not result in positive change and will

merely increase community skepticism. A group or organization external to

government should broker the implementation process.


Chattanooga’s Visioning Process

Carl Moore, The Community Store


rtf_final_report_addendum.doc A-28 Case Studies of Revitalization Strategies Working Paper


Moore, Carl. The Community Store. Interview, February 2002.

Moore, Carl M., Gianni Longo, and Patsy Palmer. 1999. Visioning. In The Consensus

Building Handbook: A Comprehensive Guide to Reaching Agreement. Edited by Susskind,

Lawrence, Sarah McKearnan and Jennifer Thomas-Larmer. Sage Publications: Thousand

Oaks, CA.

Linton, Brenda L. Economic Development Case Studies: Chattanooga, Tennessee, USA.

Research Triangle Institute, NC.

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