CNT Celebrates 30 Years of Innovative Urban Sustainability

<p>Delicious, sustainably sourced and prepared food and drink, a jazz combo complete with standup bass, strings of colorful beads freely bestowed to the revelers in attendance, all set against the backdrop of a star-filled evening sky , among exotic plants from around the world. An upscale Mardi Gras f&ecirc;te? Not exactly, but a celebration nonetheless. On September 17, 2008, the staff and board of the <a href="http://www.cnt.org">Center for Neighborhood Technology</a> (CNT) gathered along with more than 375 supporters to celebrate its 30th anniversary in the beautiful Garfield Park Conservatory on Chicago&rsquo;s Near West side, fittingly located adjacent to an elevated train stop which bears the name of the conservatory. <br /> <br /> The celebration also featured three awards. Two Champions of Sustainability Awards were presented, one to Adele Simmons and Sadhu Johnston for the development of the Chicago Climate Action Plan, the other to Illinois State Representative Julie Hamos for her role in preserving and expanding transit funding for the state. A Planting the Seeds for Sustainability Award was presented to the Al Raby High School, represented at the ceremony by the principal and two students. The school is the only secondary institution in the country which includes a two-year Geographic Information System (GIS) mapping technology sequence in its curriculum.<br /> <br /> When CNT opened up shop in Chicago in 1978, the staff immediately puzzled observers by growing tomatoes &ndash; <strong>in the office! </strong>&ndash; as well as promoting such outlandish ideas as putting <strong><span style="text-decoration: underline;">dirt </span></strong>on the rooftop for a garden. CNT was at the forefront of expanding the concept of conservation beyond the traditional realm of preserving pristine nature to promoting diverse ways of &ldquo;living lightly on the land,&rdquo; including land which had been settled and developed, namely, the built environment. CNT has promoted urban sustainability in Chicago and worldwide since the days when we called it &ldquo;ecology.&rdquo;<br /> <br /> Remember ecology?<br /> <br /> CNT has always maintained that cities provide assets which enhance the quality of life for their residents. Public attitudes are finally catching up, perhaps aided by escalating gas prices which has made living in far-flung suburbs increasingly costly, if not, well, downright unsustainable. The innovative Housing and Transit Affordability Index, originally produced in 2006, measures housing affordability in light of the costs of commuting and other transportation expenses. The index was recently updated to reflect the impact of the recent sharp increase in gasoline prices. <br /> <br /> Transit-focused urban development has been a major area of focus as well. In 1998, CNT introduced the U-Pass system in which offers discounted rides on public transit to students at area colleges and universities. CNT also created the I-GO shared car program as a link within a seamless transportation scheme of walkable neighborhoods, bicycle friendly thoroughfares, reliable public transit &ndash; and cars for those instances where there are no alternatives. I-GO has proven to be ground-breaking, with nearly half of its participants who owned cars when they joined reporting that they sold their cars after six months of participation in the program.<br /> <br /> Throughout its existence as a self-labeled &ldquo;think and do&rdquo; tank, CNT has investigated (and initiated) new ways of thinking about pressing issues pertaining to urban development, such as energy use, housing costs and the role of plants in water management. Highlights among its accomplishments include building solar greenhouses in low-income neighborhoods throughout Chicago in the 1970s and rehabbing a former weaving factory into its own non-toxic, energy efficient headquarters in 1987. <br /> <br /> Thirty years after planting those first tomato vines, CNT is positioned to continue its work in sustainable urban development for another 30 years and longer. <br /> <br /> Thank goodness.</p>