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Posts Tagged ‘community development’

Communities Invited to Apply for First Impressions

First Impressions Community Exchange Program “great reminder of what matters”

1st impressions logoAs a new holiday season approaches, most of us know how hard it is to take time off from our commitments and busy schedules to do something new. But recent research by organizational psychologists and neurologists finds that having new experiences – new sounds, sights, or smells – changes our perspective, sparks creativity and even builds new neural pathways in our brains. A new program called the First Impressions Community Exchange aims to bring these benefits to communities across the state by providing a “fresh set of eyes” on community challenges. The program, sponsored by the University of Connecticut-Extension (UConn Extension) in partnership with the Connecticut Main Street Center, is a structured community assessment designed to help communities learn about their strengths and shortcomings through the eyes of first-time visitors. Participation in the program requires a volunteer commitment and a $200 application fee. Applications are being accepted through December 15, 2016 for communities interested in participating in an exchange in the spring of 2016.

How It Works

Once communities are accepted they are matched with a similar community or neighborhood in terms of size, location, amenities or natural features. Both communities agree to recruit volunteer teams of 4-8 people, participate in training, conduct unannounced visits and report on their findings within a timeline of 3-4 months. Participants become “secret shoppers” for the day and follow procedures to document their visit using a guidebook and uploading photos and comments. The guidebook ensures that evaluations and reports are thorough and uniform and requires minimal training. Reports from the program are often used as part of broader community assessment or planning processes to inform community policy and action.

Hundreds of communities across the U.S. and Canada have implemented the First Impressions Program since it was developed by the University of Wisconsin, Cooperative Extension in the early 1990s. The program was introduced in Connecticut in 2015 and four communities – Canton, Putnam, Windsor Locks and Portland – have participated in pilot exchanges. As a result of the program, communities often gain a new perspective on their own assets, learn about small changes that can make a big difference, or replicate development projects that other communities have used successfully. According to one Connecticut team member it was “…a great reminder of what matters; of the opportunity for enhancing what we have. I’m reminded that one town shouldn’t try to be like another in all cases. Each town has its unique assets.”

Communities interested in participating can learn more and download the short application form at http://communities.extension.uconn.edu/firstimpressions/. For more information contact Laura Brown UConn Extension, laura.brown@uconn.edu, 203-207-0063 or Susan Westa, CT Main Street Center, susan@ctmainstreet.org, 860-280-2032. 

PEP Graduate Impacts Community

Daniella PierreDaniella Pierre was recently recognized at the United States of Women summit in Washington DC, and is currently being nominated for an award from Legacy Magazine, all this because of her dedicated work in affordable housing for middle class families and empowering young women. She currently works as an academic advisor at Miami-Dade and is a part of the executive board at her local NAACP chapter. During her participation in People Empowering People (UConn PEP) she said she recognized that, “it is my right as a citizen to be involved in local politics, especially on issues that divide us.” The work she does focuses on the development of people and “hopes for a better tomorrow today.”

Daniella is a graduate of the UConn PEP program offered in conjunction with Catalyst Miami.

Let’s Talk Trails

Originally Posted on October 23, 2015

By John McDonald, Extension Intern

 

Naugatuck Greenway

Naugatuck Greenway

The Let’s Talk Trails event held in October at Torrington City Hall was arguably a gathering of the most important people involved in trail development, construction and maintenance in the state of Connecticut. Bruce Donald, Chairman of the Connecticut Greenways Council and President of the Farmington Valley Trails Council, Clare Cain of the Connecticut Forest and Parks Association (CFPA), and Laurie Giannotti of the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) all participated, offering their collective experience in a series of brief presentations. Other panelists included Bruce Dinnie, Director of Vernon Parks and Recreation, a 30-year veteran of trail construction and maintenance, and Beth Critton, an attorney who sits of the Board of Directors for the Appalachian Trail Conservancy. I must provide the caveat that the following synopsis does not offer a comprehensive account of this event. Readers who wish to learn more should consult our trails resources page which should be up and running very soon.

Bruce Donald’s overview of the various benefits of greenways set the tone for the morning’s proceedings. Some of what he discussed, such as economic impact and preservation and amenity value, were examined at length in the recent literature review drafted by the UConn Extension. Important topics not covered by the review but explored in detail by Mr. Donald included the role of greenways in the transportation network and in pollution and noise abatement. As Mr. Donald reported, one important new development is that biking and pedestrian activity are now considered viable transportation alternatives by the Connecticut Department of Transportation and bike/ped projects are eligible for funding as such. A balanced transportation system is now seen as one in which biking and walking play a significant role. This is reflected in such programs as Safe Routes to School and Complete Streets. The pollution and noise abatement properties of greenways are directly related to their role in the transportation system, as every trip taken by bike or on foot equates to one less trip by a motor vehicle.

Clare Cain, like Mr. Donald, emphasized the importance of trail connectivity as she discussed how the state Blue-Blazed Trail System has evolved since its inception in the 1920s. While suburban development has severed existing trails and makes it difficult to connect others, the end goal of the CFPA is an interconnected statewide network of hiking trails. Ms. Cain talked at length about the volunteer cadre that is the backbone of the CFPA, a sentiment that was later echoed by Bruce Dinnie of Vernon Parks and Recreation. Ms. Cain discussed important new technological developments that have changed the way CFPA works. All new trailhead kiosks feature a QR code, enabling smartphone users to download trail maps, access the CFPA website, and report trail conditions to the CFPA. These user-generated trail condition reports can then be used to direct trail maintenance activities. The trailhead kiosks serve as the CFPA’s public interface as well as a partial trail user counting system. The CFPA’s mapping database has also been overhauled. Much of this data is publicly accessible through Google-based interactive maps. These maps indicate trail locations and length and parking information such as location, type of parking facility and number of parking spaces. These maps also alert users to trail closures and restrictions and provide a more up-to-date accounting of the trail system than the CFPA’s traditional guidebooks, the latest edition of which came out in 2006.

Laurie Giannotti gave a specific presentation about constructing trails on DEEP property, but she also discussed the benefits that being recognized by the Connecticut Greenways Council can confer upon a designated trail. These benefits include official greenway signage at all trailheads and road crossings, a higher profile for grant requests, and inclusion in the Connecticut Plan of Conservation and Development. Most importantly, Ms. Giannotti stressed that providing ease of access is perhaps the best marketing strategy for a trail or greenway.

Bruce Dinnie discussed his lengthy experience in trail development and maintenance as Director of Parks and Recreation in Vernon, a community with three designated greenways, numerous town-owned hiking trails and a portion of the CFPA Shenipsit Trail. Mr. Dinnie praised his greenway volunteers and talked about the role of sponsorship in trail maintenance. He also discussed some of the technical aspects of trail construction and maintenance. Mr. Dinnie veered into environmental psychology topics when he mentioned how removing trees to improve visibility along trails led female trail users to feel safer, how signs should be welcoming and not a list of do-not proscriptions, and how a mural project led to a decrease in graffiti at an underpass tunnel on the Vernon trail system.

Beth Critton’s presentation centered on the potential risks for trail users and the liabilities assumed by trail owners and organizations. After listing, in an often-humorous fashion, most of risks trail users could face, she discussed the differences in liability between non-profit and for-profit trails organizations and mentioned several key court cases and the Connecticut General Statutes with relevance to trail construction and maintenance.

I was not able to stay for the following roundtable discussion.

Brownfield Revitalization as a Community Development Catalyst

Originally Posted on October 30, 2015

By John McDonald, Extension Intern

Bristol Babcock

Former Bristol Babcock complex in Waterbury. Photo: John McDonald

Brownfield redevelopment has become a hot topic of late. The issue can be examined through a number of different lens. A project in Middletown, Connecticut will focus on the health outcomes of brownfield conversion in inner-city neighborhoods. Middletown’s Department of Planning, Conservation and Development has been awarded a grant from the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR), a division of the Center for Disease Control. One of the aims of this initiative is to increase recreational opportunities on unused brownfield properties in order to address health disparities including childhood obesity and associated illnesses in several of Middletown’s urban areas. This is a very interesting take on the subject, and the process of creating playgrounds from brownfields can serve as a powerful symbol of neighborhood revitalization. The Middletown initiative also seeks to educate community residents about the potential hazards posed by contaminated buildings and land. This latter task is also being done in Waterbury through the Waterbury Environmental Health Fund.

As Hugh Bailey, a journalist for Hearst Media and urban planner who has researched brownfield revitalization in many communities across the nation and in Germany, points out, a paradigm shift is necessary when dealing with brownfields. It is not enough to see them in economic terms, but in how they can be redeveloped for the benefit of their communities. In his presentation, “Ruins Reborn”, developed from the short film and series of articles that were the product of his research, Mr. Bailey described the difference in how the Germans approach the issues of brownfields. The Germans have a more holistic view of the problem, unlike the case-by-case assessment typical of American brownfield redevelopment. Mr. Bailey discussed Landschaft Park in Duisburg, the focal point of a network of greenways and revitalized brownfields in the Ruhr Valley. This re-appropriation of the post-industrial environment is notable for its aesthetic and cultural significance. The Germans have taken what was once one of the most heavily industrialized regions of Europe, nearly rendered a wasteland by the departure of the manufacturing base, and transformed it into an area with a strong sense of place and community. This was achieved by tapping into the industrial heritage of the Ruhr Valley, which was not seen as a liability, but an important component of the region’s identity. The Germans were able to keep many buildings intact but gave them new purposes, ones that serve the greater good of the community and environment. Mr. Bailey noted that preserving buildings in place is a better solution than demolition, which releases large amounts of toxins into the atmosphere.

Mr. Bailey proposes something similar for the Route 8 corridor, and spoke of Knowlton Park in Bridgeport as a beachhead on that city’s beleaguered waterfront. He stressed the importance of connectivity, a theme frequently invoked at the Let’s Talk Trails event. If all the elements of the project are not united by a single vision or master plan, the prospect for success and overall effect of redevelopment will be much lower. Mr. Bailey brought up the necessity of using available state and federal funding to leverage private monies, but acknowledged that in-demand locations such as Boston and New York are seen as lower risk to developers than communities like Bridgeport, despite the latter city’s harbor and transportation access. Towns like Ansonia and Waterbury are considered even riskier, and the issue of connectivity is of great importance in this regard. Mr. Bailey spoke of the catalytic effect, the process by which one successfully redeveloped property changes the complexion of the surrounding neighborhood and spurs further revitalization, and hoped that Knowlton Park and O’Sullivan’s Island in Derby, in conjunction with the Naugatuck River Greenway, would have this effect in starting the transformation of the post-industrial landscape in the Route 8 corridor.

 

Reflections on Community Development

By Laura Brown, Community & Economic Development Educator, UConn Extension

conference

The conference in September.

Anyone who’s been in this field will attest that community development takes grit. Sometimes the day-to-day work is monotonous, exhausting, and trying. We’re challenged by conflicting personalities, politics and bureaucracies and given the charge of changing the status quo when the tides seem turned against us.  That’s why a couple of times a year I make it a point to get together with colleagues, to reflect, and zoom out of my work and world and learn about amazing things happening around the state and beyond.  Almost without fail when I make the effort to get out of my routine, I find myself utterly in awe, humbled, and reinvigorated.   The Southern New England American Planning Association Conference held in Hartford last week did that for me, even if my time there was short.

The Thursday keynote speaker at the Southern New England APA Conference in September, Peter Kageyama has written several books about community place-making.  I haven’t read any of them but we got a good feel for his approach to place-making through the bits of advice he shared using examples from cities like Detroit, Michigan and Greenville, South Carolina.  Not having read the book I can’t say how much of this advice is based on actual research versus anecdotes but the stories from communities across the country were compelling and inspiring.  I’ve always found this kind of storytelling, viral education, between communities to be one of the most effective ways to share community development. Here are a few of the tidbits I took away:

  • We should ask ourselves are we asking more from our cities other than to be safe and functional?  We should be aspiring for cities that are safe and functional but also interesting and comfortable.
  • Cities will give us back what we put it- we can think of these as “love letters” 
  • Sometimes you have tho break the rules to get where you want to be.  Rule challengers can help us think in new ways and explore what might be if things were different.  Peter gave the example of a spectacular lantern release in Grand Rapids that involved thousands more lanterns than were approved originally by the city.
  • Think easy- garden hose solutions work.  Some times I think we tend to overthink the issues we face in our communities- assuming that we need big complicated solutions to simple problems. Simple solutions, like a garden hose sprinkler in a park, can make our communities better places to live and work, even if they don’t require thousands of dollars to implement.
  • People need to play– We love to be surprised and delighted by our cities. The Mice on Main campaign inspired people to look for tiny mouse sculptures all over Greensville, South Carolina. Anther fantastic example involved an artist in Seattle who painted this “graffiti” on sidewalks that only appears when it rains.
  • We cant look at everything through the lens of cost- Those of us with a bit more analytical than creative brain love to crunch numbers.  While there is certainly a financial realty to every project Peter inspired the audience to consider “what is the cost of ugly and boring cities?”  My artist husband has taught me that there is immense value in beauty and inspiration- if only that it makes the heart sing.
  • We usually get the big stuff right- we need to focus on the small stuff– In my mind this meant really engaging change makers; new people, unique minds, in thinking about our communities and the issues we face.

Study Underway to Assess the Economic Impact of the Naugatuck River Greenway Trail

Naugatuck GreenwayThe Naugatuck River Greenway (NRG) Steering Committee has initiated a 2015-2016 study to catalog the economic and quality of life impacts that will result from the construction of the Naugatuck River Greenway trail, a planned multi-use trail along the Naugatuck River. The study is designed to assist each of the 11 greenway municipalities and local greenway committees in furthering their work to complete sections of trail in their communities. The planned NRG route will follow the river for 44 miles bringing the trail through parts of Torrington, Litchfield, Harwinton, Thomaston, Watertown, Waterbury, Naugatuck, Beacon Falls, Seymour, Ansonia and Derby.

The NRG Economic Impact Study is being conducted by The Naugatuck Valley Council of Governments (NVCOG) in partnership with the UConn College of Agriculture, Health and Natural Resources Extension program in Community & Economic Development (Extension), the UConn Connecticut Center for Economic Analysis (CCEA), and the Northwest Hills Council of Governments (NHCOG). The project will be guided by the NRG Steering Committee, a group made up of representatives of the 11 greenway communities, state and federal representatives, and other key stakeholders. Funding to conduct the study has been received from The Connecticut Community Foundation, The Valley Community Foundation, The Eva M. Coty Fund of The Community Foundation of Northwest Connecticut, and The Katharine Matthies Foundation.

“It is important that each community have a detailed analysis on how both trail construction and the completed trail sections will impact the local economy,” said NRG Steering Committee Co-Chair Ingrid Manning. The study was designed to give municipalities information they need to make a stronger case for funding greenway construction, and findings will help them make stronger applications for state and federal grants. The study will determine the effects the NRG will have through local spending by trail users, changes in property values, construction related expenditures, the health and quality of life of residents, and potential tie-ins with brownfield redevelopment. Information gathered will also help them capitalize on the trail once it is a reality. It will look at how municipalities can maximize benefits through enhanced citizen participation, proper construction planning, trail management, marketing strategies, residential and commercial development and zoning changes.

UConn Extension’s staff in Community & Economic Development conducted an extensive literature review, detailing similar projects around the country. This is being used to inform ongoing data collection and analysis. Over the past several months, NVCOG staff and volunteers have been working to collect trail user data on the open sections of the NRG in Derby, Ansonia, Beacon Falls and Naugatuck, as well as on other comparable multiuse trails, namely the Middlebury Greenway in Middlebury and the Sue Grossman Trail in Torrington. Automated counters have been set out on trails throughout the summer and into the fall to track trail use. Trail users have also been greeted by staff and volunteers at several trailheads and asked to complete a short survey aimed at determining their demographics and spending patterns. Over the winter, the study partners plan to collect more information through multiple focus groups of trail administrators, recreation and land managers, adjacent property owners, area business owners, and local policy makers. CCEA will be completing the economic analysis that will include an analysis of property values, local spending patterns, a cost/benefit analysis, and construction spending from building sections of the trail.

As part of the process, the NRG Steering Committee and project partners will present study findings to municipal officials, developers, development agencies and the public both electronically and via an outreach forum. It will also solicit comments and suggestion from stakeholders in this regard.

The NRG corridor has been officially designated as a greenway by the CT Greenways Council and the CT Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP). The entire greenway trail is identified as a trail of statewide significance in the Connecticut Recreational Trails Plan, and it was designated as one of 101 America’s Great Outdoors projects in 2011 by the U. S. Department of the Interior.

More information can be found at www.NaugatuckRiver.net , at www.nvcogct.org, and at http://communities.extension.uconn.edu/.

More PEP Graduates

Congratulations to our most recent UConn Extension People Empowering People (PEP) graduates from Meriden! The People Empowering People Program is a personal and family development program with a strong community focus. Created by Cheryl Czuba, UConn Extension Educator, the PEP program builds upon individual life experiences and strengths to encourage growth in communication and problem solving skills, parent/family relationships and community involvement. The PEP program is coordinated by Cathleen T. Love, Ph.D, UConn Professor of Extension [more].The PEP program has graduated over one thousand people in over fifteen years.

PEP Meriden PEP Meriden2 PEP Meriden3 PEP Meriden4

 

Bloomfield PEP Graduates

Congratulations to our UConn Extension People Empowering People (PEP) Bloomfield graduates. The ceremony was on April 6th at the Laurel Elementary School.

PEP graduate group

Communication Skills with PEP

A UConn Extension People Empowering People (PEP) class in March 2015. Madre Latina Inc., a Community organization from Waterbury visited. We were happy to have them because their experiences and knowledge help us to continue the process of help others. At another class, students made a game out of active listening and communication through crafts.

PEP16 March15 PEP12 March15 PEP11 March15    PEP9 March15

PEP Facilitators Impact Communities

Gloria Mora speaking

UConn Extension People Empowering People (PEP) facilitator Gloria Mora from Danbury Children First speaking at the Parent Trust Fund Rally 2015 at the Capitol in Hartford on Wednesday.