Partner Spotlight on the Center for Neighborhood Technology: Creating Data-Driven Tools for Sustainable Communities

By Cristina Davia – 


Click photo to learn more about CNT

The Center for Neighborhood Technology (CNT), a non-profit organization founded in 1978, works to create sustainable cities that are transit-oriented, equitable and provide economic development opportunities for everybody.

CNT’s approach to creating such places is through researching and analyzing urban problems, testing and promoting economically efficient and environmentally sound solutions, and demonstrating the value of investing in sustainable solutions.

Transit-Oriented Development

CNT promotes transit as a preferable and sustainable transportation choice. CNT works to reduce automobile dependency and increase transportation and economic efficiencies by promoting transit-oriented development and location efficient places.

Research by CNT has shown that by not owning a car or by owning fewer cars, households can reduce their living expenses by eight to 12 thousand dollars a year. But, households can only reap these benefits by living in location efficient places.

The Damen stop of the blue line in Chicago serves the bustling Wicker Park and Bucktown neighborhoods. Photo: Sally Ryan Photography

The Damen stop of the blue line in Chicago is close to CNT’s office and serves the bustling, location efficient Wicker Park and Bucktown neighborhoods. Photo: Sally Ryan Photography

Location efficient communities are dense and vibrant, with walkable streets, access to transit, proximity to jobs, mixed land uses and concentrations of retail and services.

Traditionally, housing affordability has been based on whether or not the cost of rent or mortgage exceeds 30 percent of a household’s income. But that measurement fails to take into account the cost of transportation, which is the second biggest expense for any household. CNT researches and promotes a concept in which the cost of transportation, based on location, is factored into the affordability equation.

CNT’s Housing and Transportation Affordability Index breaks the affordability equation down to the neighborhood level. When transportation costs are factored into the equation, the number of affordable neighborhoods for the average American household drops from 55 to 26 percent. You can use the H+T Affordability Tool on CNT’s website to see how your neighborhood compares to others.

When transportation costs are factored into the equation, the number of affordable neighborhoods in the U.S. drops from 55 to 26 percent.

The data provided by the Housing and Transportation Affordability Index can be used by planners, housing professionals and policy makers to make the case that creating location efficient places is economically desirable. Many regions have already picked up on this new measure of affordability and integrated it into their plans and/or performance metrics, according to Linda Young, CNT’s Director of Research and Project Management.

Click to access the Location Affordability Index

Click to access the Location Affordability Index

CNT created similar tools for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), called the Location Affordability Portal, which includes the Location Affordability Index and My Transportation Cost Calculator.

The Location Affordability Index provides the public with user-friendly data and resources on combined housing and transportation costs to help consumers, policymakers and developers make more informed decisions about where to live, work and invest.

Click to use My Transportation Cost Calculator

Click to use My Transportation Cost Calculator

This tool also has a feature called My Transportation Cost Calculator, which illustrates how transportation costs impact affordability. The goal is for these tools to help inform decision making on the individual level and at a larger scale.

All of these tools support CNT’s goal to reduce household vehicle miles traveled (VMT).

Cargo-Oriented Development

Cargo-oriented development (COD) is similar to transit-oriented development in that the goal is to reduce vehicle miles traveled. Rather than driving trucks to move cargo, COD promotes the use of trains.

Click on photo to learn more

Click on photo to learn more

[audioplayer file=”″ titles=”Young explains the benefits of cargo-oriented development.” height=”50%”]Young explains the benefits of cargo-oriented development.

Not only can COD promote fuel efficiency and less pollution, but inter-modal transit facilities can create an employment hub in cities that have them.

Affordable Housing as a Climate Change Mitigation Strategy

CNT has been working on climate change mitigation strategies for over over a decade, particularly in their home city of Chicago, where they worked on the Chicago Climate Action Plan.

Their most recent research project, however, explores affordable housing as a climate mitigation strategy in California. CNT prepared this research at the request of the California Housing Partnership and resulted in CNT’s contribution to the report, Why Creating and Preserving Affordable Homes Near Transit is a Highly Effective Climate Protection Strategy.

CNT calculated reductions in vehicle miles traveled (VMT) for five different income groups living in three types of locations. They found that lower income households drive nearly 50% fewer miles when living within a quarter-mile of frequent transit than those living further away, and higher income households drive more than twice as many miles and own more than twice as many vehicles as extremely low income households living within a quarter-mile of frequent transit.

Thus, providing affordable housing in location efficient places can be a strategy for reducing VMT, and reducing greenhouse gas emissions, making it an effective climate change mitigation strategy.

As a result of this report, the State of California passed a bill in 2014 to devote billions of dollars in cap-and-trade revenue to fund projects intended to further curb climate impacts. In addition to investments in high-speed rail and public transit, millions of dollars will support affordable transit-oriented development (TOD).

Right Size Parking Requirements

A fair amount of debate has surrounded the question of whether we are building the right amount of parking in urban areas, especially near transit.

“Do we really need that much parking near transit, when people are owning fewer cars, driving less, and is that a good use of our land resources near transit?” Young asked.

King County, Washington, engaged CNT to answer this question.

There is too much parking in King County, Washington, and it's underutilized

There is too much parking in King County, Washington, and it’s underutilized

During the course of their research, they found that on average, there was a third more parking than was necessary in all of the 200 buildings surveyed, according to Young.

CNT created a model of how much parking is really needed and created a website tool called the King County Right Size Parking Tool. The tool is a calculator that serves as a predictor of how much parking will be utilized in a certain location with a certain number of units.

This project has piqued the interest of cities across the nation. CNT has given presentations on the Right Size Parking Tool in six cities, and is currently working on a similar model for Washington, D.C.

CNT brings something special to the table by quantifying how much parking is really needed. Numerical data is helpful for policy makers, zoning administrators, development financiers and developers, in making decisions.

Data-Driven Tools

CNT’s core expertise is in being able to quantify the benefits of smart growth and produce data-driven information and tools for decision making.

In addition to the Housing and Transportation Affordability Index and the Right Size Parking Tool, CNT released a brand new product called All Transit.

All Transit is the largest single compiled source of transit stops and frequency data in America, and CNT presents it all in a digital format.

CNT will release shortly their analysis of the benefits of transit, based on their findings from the All Transit research, including how many jobs are accessible via transit within 30 and 45 minutes from homes, as well as what kinds of jobs are available.

CNT’s mission to create livable and sustainable communities for all people is accomplished by providing the public with the data and tools necessary to make the right choices in support of sustainable and equitable development in their communities.