Thursday, March 3, 2011

Centerpiece: Looking Beyond the Usual Suspects

Whether planning an event or writing up a policy tool, we always look for real-world examples that can help to illustrate concepts and keep the presentation or analysis rooted in practice. Case studies help us to envision how an abstract idea or complex policy plays out on-the-ground. They provide a model and, often, encouragement: This community was able to adopt an inclusionary zoning ordinance – why can’t we? Sometimes, they even provide a reference or contact that other practitioners can reach out to for guidance or advice.

When it comes time to identify the ideal community to profile in a conference session or report, however, we often end up turning to the same examples – the usual suspects. We often select these places for good reason: they have benefited from the vision and dedication of a leader or group of leaders who have made great things happen. It’s difficult to talk about transit-oriented development without referring to the great work happening in Atlanta, Portland, or Denver. Discussions of community land trusts often point to Burlington, Vermont. Inclusionary zoning? Montgomery County. These “usual suspects” have forged a new model for effectiveness and creativity, and in doing so have raised the bar for everyone else.

But what about everyone else?

Certainly there are communities across the country that are doing interesting and innovative things to improve access to affordable housing near transit or work centers. Or that have revised their zoning ordinances to create permanently affordable homeownership opportunities for moderate-income families. We are always looking for these “undiscovered” examples to profile on and, or to feature at a conference, but for researchers sitting behind a desk in Washington they can be hard to find!
As NHC and the Center gear up to plan our next learning conference (coming soon in September 2011!) and release a new toolkit on transit-oriented development, we will be looking for more communities that deserve our attention. Please feel free to email us or post in the comments below.

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