Working for Smart Growth:
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Five Ways Social Entrepreneurship Could Disrupt Traditional Planning and Development

September 10th, 2013 by


This article was written by New Jersey Future intern Tim Schuringa, who authored the report.


How Civic Innovation Can Affect Smart Growth in New Jersey

Social innovation wordleOver the past few decades, a greater focus on accountability, impact, and sustainable revenue has led to the emergence of the social enterprise, a new breed of organization that employs business strategies to pursue a social or environmental mission. At the same time, many non-profits and local governments have sought out public-private partnerships and other innovative strategies to advance their social missions more efficiently.

A New Jersey Future report released today explores some of these recent social innovation trends and seeks to put them in conversation with the world of smart growth.  While many social innovation efforts have focused on direct services in areas like health, education, and employment, a number of new efforts in the last five years have the potential to affect smart-growth outcomes.

The report, a product of New Jersey Future’s graduate summer intern program, focuses on recent developments in four areas:

Crowdfunding

Start-ups like ioby, Neighbor.ly, and Spacehive are seeking to harness the power of crowdfunding for investing in civic spaces and public projects, stretching public dollars further and engaging a broader base of community members.  Similarly, efforts like Fundrise are seeking to facilitate more local ownership of real estate, capitalizing on pending changes to SEC regulations that will permit small-dollar equity investments in LLCs, including real estate projects. As the crowdfunding industry grows to a projected $3 billion this year, can these new efforts scale to a level that can shift development patterns at the neighborhood level?

Online citizen engagement platforms

While social media has revolutionized many of the aspects of modern life, most planning and development decisions are still made by a relatively small group of people—planning professionals, developers, and a few motivated citizens willing to show up at public meetings.  A number of new online platforms are seeking to change that.  Start-ups like MindMixer, Neighborland, and OpenPlans are attempting to foster broader citizen engagement on a variety of topics and improve the feedback loop between citizens and their governments. 

Open data and big data

While virtually every sector and organization has been affected over the past decade by the exponential growth of public and private data, the changes in the real estate and transportation sectors are particularly relevant to smart growth. Companies like Seattle-based Walk Score use existing data in creative ways to influence decision-making at both a consumer level and at the planner/developer level, with the ultimate goal of creating more livable cities.

Creative financing tools for infrastructure and transit-oriented development

With a faltering economy and the need to make long-overdue infrastructure repairs, many cities are seeking creative financing options for a variety of smart growth-related projects.  These include more sophisticated user-fee structures to fund transportation infrastructure, a variety of value-capture techniques to fund improvements, and a range of investment funds like the Bay Area Smart Growth Fund and Chicago’s new Infrastructure Trust.

If there is one thing that the past few decades of smart-growth efforts have revealed, it is that no single tool can be effective in enacting the major shifts in land use patterns that more sustainable development requires.  Land-use plans working in isolation from—and  sometimes in direct opposition to—private-market forces cannot be as successful as a holistic approach, where the latest innovations in both the public and private sectors are brought to bear on solving what is perhaps the greatest challenge of the coming century: How can humans live sustainably?  

Leave a comment below, or email Chris Sturm  (csturmatnjfuturedotorg)   to let New Jersey Future know what kinds of disruptive innovations to traditional planning can deliver the next generation of smart growth success stories.


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