A Window into the Opioid Crisis in Kentucky

NLC’s Jim Brooks shares an insightful and personal account of his recent trip to Kentucky with the National City-County Task Force on the Opioid Epidemic.

methodone clinic

Methadone is dispensed at NYK Med in Covington, Kentucky. (Tom Martin)

How do you take stock of human tragedy? Maybe it is wrong even to try. In a world overrun with numbers, is it still possible to understand suffering through statistics?

A few days ago, I learned first-hand the practical consequences of the opioid epidemic in northern Kentucky. I now have some faces to accompany numbers.

NKY Med, a northern Kentucky methadone clinic, serves 1,500 patients each day. They open before sunrise so that men and women going to work can receive their medication without fear of being late to work. Later in the morning, there is a time slot reserved for pregnant women.

The clinic is a busy place. Clients come with their children. The line moves purposefully as each dose is dispensed. The faces vary but all seem intense and focused, but also serene.

There is no shame here. The clinicians are business-like, yet attentive. Patient and care-giver get to know one another. These folks are in it for the long-haul. Methadone treatment lasts years. It may last a lifetime.

Those who walk through the doors of NKY Med are the lucky ones. Although it’s a for-profit clinic, the medication plus counseling plus peer networking — all paid for out of pocket — offers a haven in the midst of a region beaten down by opioid overdose deaths.

IMG_0672

Members of the City-County National Task Force on the Opioid Epidemic meet inmates in a peer-assisted treatment program at the Kenton County Detention Center. (Tom Martin)

Strangely enough, some other lucky people are not far away. They are the 107 men and women in the six-month substance abuse treatment program at the Kenton County Detention Center. To spend time with and talk to these men and women is to know the face of hope.

In an open plan dormitory absent cells or bars, the men gather together. The group huddle at the close of their morning talk-therapy session has all the feel of a college football practice session. They are young and old, mostly white. But they do not chafe or hang their heads when their day is interrupted by our band of well-intentioned city and county officials. With loud voice and clear eyes they welcome us. They talk to us. In this small space, for these few minutes, they share the hope of this facility’s extensive, complex, and interconnected addiction treatment program. A program that is both cost effective and medically appropriate.

IMG_0684

A door to a treatment room at the Kenton County Detention Facility in northern Kentucky. (Tom Martin)

In the days that followed I discussed what we saw at the clinic and the detention center with the city and county leaders in attendance. All are knowledgeable about the opioid crisis in their community, and all are devoted to finding answers. They all have been inside lots of jails in their roles as policy makers and planners. But this time, instead of beds counted, guard salaries allocated, and federal reimbursements accounted for, they too have faces and names to carry home.

The National City-County Task Force on the Opioid Epidemic will prepare a report with a set of recommendations and best practices to help local governments serve their communities. It was the preparation for that report that brought the task force to northern Kentucky, and the men and women serving on the task force will help to write this report.

I can only hope that by bearing witness to their determination to manage and eventually overcome addiction, all of us in some small way have contributed to a better outcome.

If you’d like us to send you the latest resources and tools for cities to tackle the opioid epidemic, please provide your email below:

Brooks, J.A. 2010About the Author: James Brooks is NLC’s Director for City Solutions. He specializes in local practice areas related to housing, neighborhoods, infrastructure, and community development and engagement. Follow Jim on Twitter @JamesABrooks.

Prince’s Death Adds to Opioid Epidemic’s Devastating Toll. Cities Are Determined to Fight Back.

For years, modern medicine has treated patients’ pain with a type of medication that has ultimately proven to establish and drive addiction.

(Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

Despite his immense wealth and access to the best doctors and healthcare options available, even Prince could not escape the risk of an opioid overdose. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

Reports have confirmed that world-famous artist Prince died from an accidental overdose of the opioid fentanyl. Like many people, Prince lived with physical pain for a considerable amount of time, and – despite his immense talent, wealth and access to resources – sadly succumbed to the same set of circumstances that might befall the average construction worker who falls off a ladder and requires prescription pain medication for injuries.

For years, modern medicine has treated patients’ pain with a type of medication that has ultimately proven to establish and drive addiction. And in many cases, this addiction to pain medications drives the user to seek out heroin or other dangerous opioids when they can no longer get or afford prescription pain killers.

Should Prince have known better? Should his doctors have known better? What are the lessons to be learned from his unfortunate death?

What we know is this: pain is real and pervasive. Everyone who uses prescription pain medication as the result of an injury is at risk for addiction and overdose. It is imperative that we speak out and take corrective action. I’m proud to say local government leaders are doing just that.

The National League of Cities and National Association of Counties has formed a joint national task force to address our nation’s opioid and heroin abuse crisis. The City-County National Task Force on the Opioid Epidemic is comprised of city and county leaders from across the country taking aim to enhance awareness, facilitate peer exchanges and identify sound policy and partnership solutions.

We look forward to sharing the work of the task force with you. But for now, here are actions your community should consider:

Talk About the Disease

Substance use disorder is a disease that needs to be treated like a disease not like a crime. The chorus from health specialists and chiefs of police is that we cannot arrest and incarcerate our way out of this epidemic. While we will continue to disrupt the supply of opiates from drug cartels and pill-mills, more work is required on the demand side of this equation. This means focusing on treatment of a disease not on stigmatizing addiction.

President Obama has visited city after city listening to countless stories of opioid addiction. The grim realities of opioid overdose deaths have been given wide audiences thanks to major public broadcasting documentaries. Voices are bring heard. The practice of over prescribing opioids by doctors is already being reduced. Patients are asking about the addictive nature of pain medications. Parents are working to ensure that kids don’t get addicted to pain medications given for sports injuries. Every story told, every emergency proclamation made, and every community conversation held is one more step to draw attention to the issue and bring the nation closer to solutions.

Drug Take-back Programs

Large pharmacy chains like CVS and Walgreens as well as local independent pharmacies have programs to take back unused and unneeded medications such as opioid pain relievers. These programs cannot rely on a top down approach from the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) nor can they be implemented one or two times each year. Take back boxes need to be in every pharmacy and available every day. There also may be ways to manage take back programs from public buildings owned and operated by local governments.

Naloxone

A true wonder drug, Naloxone has the ability to reverse an opioid drug overdose. A simple syringe device which requires only a modest amount of training to use properly, Naloxone should be in the hands of every first-responder in America. Cities can even purchase a supply of Naloxone at a discount as part of the U.S. Communities Government Purchasing Alliance, of which National League of Cities is a national sponsor. In addition, state governments such as Connecticut have empowered pharmacists to provide Naloxone to any customer with a prescription for opioids.

Prescription Drug Monitoring Programs

Nearly every state has a prescription drug monitoring program (PDMP). Some are better than others in terms of ease of use and timeliness of the data. Not all physicians use the PDMP’s which makes even the best data incomplete. A November 2015 report from The Network in Excellence for Health Innovation has suggested a number of ways that PDMP’s can be made more effective. Good data is essential and knowledge from improved PDMP’s can become the most potent tool available to doctors and policy makers in the fight against substance use disorder.

Education and Prevention

The success of campaigns to reduce smoking and alcohol-related traffic deaths or to increase screenings for certain cancers and to live more active lives is driven by education. Reducing substance abuse disorder is no different. Whether the targets are children or adults, there are resources available to help prevent addiction from starting. While it is true that the experience with programs such as DARE (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) has not proven to be as successful has was forecast, that cannot deter communities from education efforts in schools, with families, and among work colleagues. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) has developed a list ofresources to support education and prevention.

Clean Syringe/Needle Exchange Programs

Implement a clean syringe program. Even in cases where individuals have a concern about an action which may empower addiction, realize that needle and syringe exchange programs protect the wider community from other diseases such as Hepatitis C. There is no better example of the usefulness of a harm-reduction strategy than the case of Austin, Indiana in Scott County. This community of less than 5,000 people witnessed not only a significant number of opioid overdose deaths from 2013-16 but also the added incidence of more than 150 new cases of HIV/AIDS infection due to shared needles. A needle and syringe exchange program had been prohibited in Indiana until that decision was reversed in March 2015 after considerable damage already was done.

Drug Courts

The first Drug Court was in Miami-Dade County, Florida in 1989. It was created by a group of forward thinking justice professionals determined to find alternatives to endless criminal justice interventions that did not address the underlying problem of substance use disorder. The Drug Court solution combines drug treatment with the criminal case discretion of a judge. Working as a team, law enforcement and medical professionals are able to reduce crime and costs to the justice system and change the behavior of Drug Court participants. Today there are nearly 3,000 drug courts operating nationwide.

To stay informed about National City-County Task Force on the Opioid Epidemic, visit the webpage. If you’d like us to send you the latest resources and tools for cities to tackle the opioid epidemic, please provide your email below:

Brooks, J.A. 2010About the Author: James Brooks is NLC’s Director for City Solutions. He specializes in local practice areas related to housing, neighborhoods, infrastructure, and community development and engagement. Follow Jim on Twitter @JamesABrooks.

7 Tools to Fight the Opioid Epidemic

On April 27, a variety of experts in the public health field provided testimony to the National City-County Task Force on the Opioid Epidemic, which brought together city and county leaders on this issue. Here are the tools they presented to local leaders.

(Getty Images)

According to the CDC, “more people died from drug overdoses in 2014 than in any year on record. The majority of drug overdose deaths (more than six out of ten) involve an opioid. And since 1999, the rate of overdose deaths involving opioids (including prescription opioid pain relievers and heroin) nearly quadrupled.” (Getty Images)

In the U.S., we have reduced the number of smokers, the number of teen pregnancies, and the number of new HIV/AIDS infections over time. The lessons from these public health challenges can be applied to the present opioid drug epidemic.

Although a comprehensive and longer-term solution to the many issues tied together under the term “substance use disorder” will take holistic and systemic changes, some short-term solutions are having success in cities, towns, and counties all across America today.

Talk About the Disease

Substance use disorder is a disease that needs to be treated like a disease not like a crime. The chorus from health specialists and chiefs of police is that we cannot arrest and incarcerate our way out of this epidemic. While we will continue to disrupt the supply of opiates from drug cartels and pill-mills, more work is required on the demand side of this equation. This means focusing on treatment of a disease not on stigmatizing addiction.

President Obama has visited city after city listening to countless stories of opioid addiction. The grim realities of opioid overdose deaths have been given wide audiences thanks to major public broadcasting documentaries. Voices are bring heard. The practice of over prescribing opioids by doctors is already being reduced. Patients are asking about the addictive nature of pain medications. Parents are working to ensure that kids don’t get addicted to pain medications given for sports injuries. Every story told, every emergency proclamation made, and every community conversation held is one more step to draw attention to the issue and bring the nation closer to solutions.

Dashboard 1

Use this interactive Tableau created by Socrata to select a year to see opioid deaths spread across the U.S.

Drug Take-back Programs

Large pharmacy chains like CVS and Walgreens as well as local independent pharmacies have programs to take back unused and unneeded medications such as opioid pain relievers. These programs cannot rely on a top down approach from the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) nor can they be implemented one or two times each year. Take back boxes need to be in every pharmacy and available every day. There also may be ways to manage take back programs from public buildings owned and operated by local governments.

Naloxone

A true wonder drug, Naloxone has the ability to reverse an opioid drug overdose. A simple syringe device which requires only a modest amount of training to use properly, Naloxone should be in the hands of every first-responder in America. Cities can even purchase a supply of Naloxone at a discount as part of the U.S. Communities Government Purchasing Alliance, of which National League of Cities is a national sponsor. In addition, state governments such as Connecticut have empowered pharmacists to provide Naloxone to any customer with a prescription for opioids.

Prescription Drug Monitoring Programs

Nearly every state has a prescription drug monitoring program (PDMP). Some are better than others in terms of ease of use and timeliness of the data. Not all physicians use the PDMP’s which makes even the best data incomplete. A November 2015 report from The Network in Excellence for Health Innovation has suggested a number of ways that PDMP’s can be made more effective. Good data is essential and knowledge from improved PDMP’s can become the most potent tool available to doctors and policy makers in the fight against substance use disorder.

Education and Prevention

The success of campaigns to reduce smoking and alcohol-related traffic deaths or to increase screenings for certain cancers and to live more active lives is driven by education. Reducing substance abuse disorder is no different. Whether the targets are children or adults, there are resources available to help prevent addiction from starting. While it is true that the experience with programs such as DARE (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) has not proven to be as successful has was forecast, that cannot deter communities from education efforts in schools, with families, and among work colleagues. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) has developed a list of resources to support education and prevention.

Watch the PBS Frontline documentary Chasing Heroin that originally aired on February 23, 2016 to learn more about the heroin epidemic.

Watch the PBS Frontline documentary “Chasing Heroin” that originally aired on February 23, 2016 to learn more about the heroin epidemic.

Clean Syringe/Needle Exchange Programs

Implement a clean syringe program. Even in cases where individuals have a concern about an action which may empower addiction, realize that needle and syringe exchange programs protect the wider community from other diseases such as Hepatitis C. There is no better example of the usefulness of a harm-reduction strategy than the case of Austin, Indiana in Scott County. This community of less than 5,000 people witnessed not only a significant number of opioid overdose deaths from 2013-16 but also the added incidence of more than 150 new cases of HIV/AIDS infection due to shared needles. A needle and syringe exchange program had been prohibited in Indiana until that decision was reversed in March 2015 after considerable damage already was done.

Drug Courts

The first Drug Court was in Miami-Dade County, Florida in 1989. It was created by a group of forward thinking justice professionals determined to find alternatives to endless criminal justice interventions that did not address the underlying problem of substance use disorder. The Drug Court solution combines drug treatment with the criminal case discretion of a judge. Working as a team, law enforcement and medical professionals are able to reduce crime and costs to the justice system and change the behavior of Drug Court participants. Today there are nearly 3,000 drug courts operating nationwide.

To stay informed about National City-County Task Force on the Opioid Epidemic, visit the webpage. If you’d like us to send you the latest resources and tools for cities to tackle the opioid epidemic, please provide your email below:

Brooks, J.A. 2010About the Author: James Brooks is NLC’s Director for City Solutions. He specializes in local practice areas related to housing, neighborhoods, infrastructure, and community development and engagement. Follow Jim on Twitter @JamesABrooks.

3 Innovative Ways Cities Can Curb Overdose Deaths

New strategies can empower city leaders to not only coordinate actions across multiple levels of government but stem the tide of addiction and substance abuse that is growing in urban, suburban, and rural areas.

Responding to record increases in prescription drug and heroin overdoses across America, the U.S. Communities Alliance made medications that can stop or reverse the effects of an opioid overdose available to the state and local government sector in October 2015. Now, a key medication is available to cities at a steep discount. (Photo: yanyong/Getty Images)

Deaths involving opium-based prescription pain-killers and heroin are increasing sharply, according to new data for all of 2014 recently released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Every day in the United States, 44 people die as a result of prescription opioid overdose. More Americans are dying every year from drug overdoses than from motor vehicle crashes. Communities across America have seen steady rise in the cost and impact of treating opioid related overdose. In the community of Middleton, Ohio, for example, the cost of treating opioid overdoses has exceeded 10 percent of the Middleton Fire Division overall operating budget. In Indiana, the Indianapolis Emergency Medical Services saw a 58 percent jump in Narcan® applications in just one year, from 2013 to 2014.

Responses are coming from the federal, state and local levels. Here are three notable ways cities can curb the sharp increase in overdose deaths:

1. Funding from President Barack Obama’s Fiscal Year 2017 budget proposal

The proposal includes $1 billion in new funding for states to expand access to medication-assisted treatments for opioid use disorders. Also included is funding for more addiction treatment providers under the National Health Service Corps.

2. Tools and resources from state and local organizations

Organizations representing state and local elected and appointed leaders (such as the National League of Cities, the National Association of Counties, the National Governor’s Association, and the U.S. Conference of Mayors) are educating their members and providing tools to turn back the tide of heroin addiction through strategies such as medication-assisted treatments.

Most notably, the U.S. Communities Government Purchasing Alliance (together with Adapt Phama and Premier, Inc., and acting in partnership with local and state associations) is now making available the life-saving Narcan® Nasal Spray (naloxone hydrochloride), which helps stop or reverse the effects of an opioid overdose, at a steep discount.

3. The creation of local policy solutions

For their part, individual cities are also taking important action steps along the same lines. Naloxone access was cited by New York Mayor Bill De Blasio as a major component of his city’s comprehensive effort to reduce opioid misuse and overdoses.

“By issuing a standing order for Naloxone and building capacity in our health network’s ability to treat people most in need, we will save more lives,” said New York City Health Commissioner Dr. Mary T. Basset in her comments with the mayor.

A creative response from law enforcement is also an important step.

The City of Gloucester, Massachusetts, is helping change the nature of municipal policing in the face of heroin and opiate addiction. In Gloucester, any person seeking help for addiction from public safety personnel will be connected to an addiction recovery program through a network of local and regional providers. “Gloucester is changing the conversation. Police officers exist to help people,” said Police Chief Leonard Campanello. “Drug addiction is a disease, and drug addicts need help.”

The National League of Cities will engage elected and appointed municipal officials on the many questions and challenges of substance abuse and addiction at the upcoming Congressional City Conference in Washington, D.C., which takes place March 5-9, 2016. Additional details about that program will be posted in this space in late February. City leaders with stories to share on this issue should add comments to this post or contact the author directly.

Brooks, J.A. 2010About the Author: James Brooks is NLC’s Director for City Solutions. He specializes in local practice areas related to housing, neighborhoods, infrastructure, and community development and engagement. Follow Jim on Twitter @JamesABrooks.

 

How the City of Newark is Leading in Historic Preservation

The city of Newark, New Jersey, has a strategy for historic preservation, multi-sector partnership, and the creation of new residential mixed-use development in the heart of downtown.

Newark is demonstrating that, while simple economic arithmetic may dictate demolition and abandonment when it comes to older downtown structures, those willing to see beyond the next fiscal quarter tend to reap far greater rewards. (photo: Harry Prott/Newark CEDC)

Is historic preservation only the crusade of upwardly mobile, urbanist Whites with a longing for a bygone era, or is it the essential strategy for every city and town that thinks creatively about place, the built environment, and the long-term prosperity of residents? Although that was not the intended question that was up for debate at the Legacy City Preservation forum, a gathering of preservation experts and legacy city practitioners in Newark, New Jersey, that was a recurring theme.

The participants themselves, some long-serving historic preservation professionals and many avid volunteers working vigorously in cities, were a mix of men and women from assorted races and ethnicities. They were all highly vocal, highly engaged, highly motivated, highly educated (even without counting the number of Ph.D.’s in the room) and highly entrepreneurial. More than this, many of the stories about first-hand experiences in cities demonstrated the importance of acquiring a certain adeptness at working “the system” to secure desired goals. Those telling the stories also were skilled at pushing for systemic change to advance a broad-based agenda that supports many avenues for community revitalization.

In truth, I felt right at home! Although I’m not regularly creating networking groups for home improvement do-it-yourselfers (Brick + Beam Detroit) or residential micro-development companies (Buffalove Development), the work being done by these folks is the bone marrow of cities. This is from where community strength and resilience springs.

(photo courtesy L+M Development)

Construction workers labor to restore the core of the Hahne & Company department store in downtown Newark. (photo courtesy L+M Development)

The Newark forum was partly a celebration of the rehabilitation of the historic Hahne & Company department store building, a collaboration among the City of Newark, Rutgers University – Newark, L & M Development, and J. P. Morgan Chase. Together these partners, along with several others, are reactivating the former department store as a centerpiece of Newark’s recovering downtown. A similar coalition of partners have nearly completed renovation of the former American Insurance Company tower at 15 Washington Street where the day’s events took place. These are transformative projects in terms of historic preservation, multi-sector partnership, and the creation of new residential mixed-use in the heart of downtown.

(photo courtesy L+M Development)

An architect’s rendering of the soon-to-be-finished Hahne & Company department store restoration. (photo courtesy L+M Development)

Once the grande dame of the local retail industry, the Hahne’s building was abandoned and in a state of disrepair for the past 30 years. During a hardhat tour of the renovation ($174 million, 400,000 sq. ft.), the development team highlighted the future for the building. By December 2016, the mixed-use, mixed-income space will be open to the first residents. A total of 161 rental units, 60 percent market rate and 40 percent for low income residents (at 60 percent of area median income), will be ready. The retail floors, with anchor tenant Whole Foods, will open in March 2016. Rutgers University – Newark will house their Department of Arts, Culture, and Media there, which will include classrooms, artist studios and gallery space. Nearly every relevant tax credit opportunity was leveraged for this project – historic preservation, new markets, and low income housing. For the coup de grace, the great skylight – 4-stories above the central atrium – is being meticulously restored to its former glory.

For Rutgers University – Newark’s burgeoning campus, building preservation and reuse has been a religious calling. Moreover, the imagination and creativity that has gone into rethinking what a university campus is and ought to be is remarkable. University Chancellor Nancy Cantor spoke in almost lyrical terms about the future use of historic spaces both for students and residents. For her, and for many others in the room I suspect, the process of historic preservation has taken on poetic qualities. It is as if the buildings themselves, being returned to productive use, will not only stand more proudly but will instill in those who see and use the space a sense of achievement and hope, and fortify the community for the work ahead.

Heady stuff and quite a challenge for any individual much less a historic structure. After all, we are not talking about the Pyramids at Giza or the Parthenon. But, in effect, the point of the projects are to connect present needs with past capacity. This theme runs through the entire “Action Agenda for Historic Preservation in Legacy Cities” produced by the Preservation Rightsizing Network – an agenda for cities having considerably more infrastructure than needed for the smaller population base now present.

Some of the most interesting work in cities today is in those places at the center of headlines about depopulation, disinvestment, dilapidation, dysfunction, despair, and general disaster. But the headlines never tell the full story nor even the right story. The truth about legacy cities, or any city seeking growth for that matter, is that the social and civic infrastructure (government, residents, philanthropies, neighborhood associations, faith institutions, businesses and schools) are at the heart of setting a vision and implementing the plan to reach the goals.

In legacy cities, preservationists are taking full advantage of the assets they have available – 60 to 100 years of growth in the built environment that yielded homes, factories, shopping arcades, warehouses, transportation systems, public utilities, parks, schools, and neighborhood residents. Although simple economic arithmetic may dictate demolition and abandonment, those willing to see beyond the next fiscal quarter tend to reap far greater rewards. It is for this reason, for the creation of a more prosperous and distinctive place – a place that people want to live in or go to rather than drive through – that historic preservation needs to be an essential strategy for every city and town.

Brooks, J.A. 2010About the Author: James Brooks is NLC’s Director for City Solutions. He specializes in local practice areas related to housing, neighborhoods, infrastructure, and community development and engagement. Follow Jim on Twitter @JamesABrooks.

The Hottest Item of the Holiday Season May Also Be Illegal

Hoverboards are anticipated to be a trending Christmas gift this year. City officials will need to anticipate how this very popular device fits into the mobility plans in their respective community. (Image via YouTube screen capture)

“You’re a mean one, Mr. Grinch.” That’s what residents are singing in Great Britain this Christmas after the government interpreted the Highway Act of 1835 to ban the hoverboard (also known as the self-balancing scooter) from streets and sidewalks. In London, Mayor Boris Johnson is seeking an exemption, characterizing the law as a “ludicrous and nannying prohibition on the electric scooter-surfboard gizmos.”

And it’s not just London in this fight. On this side of the pond, what may prove to be the hottest item of the holiday shopping season may also prove to be illegal in some locales across the United States.

New York and California are the early adopters in terms of state or local actions for or against hoverboards. A new law in California will, after January 1, 2016, treat the motorized two-wheeled devices more like skateboards and bicycles than like the larger handlebar Segway or the motorized scooter. Riders will need to gear-up with personal protection such as a helmet and obey traffic laws just like bicycles. Private land and pedestrian-only zones will remain closed to the devices.

In New York State and New York City the current legal climate is imprecise but bending toward illegality. Because the state legislative language is unclear about applications to devices such as hoverboards, New York City has chosen to adhere to an outright ban. Although enforcement may be nearly impossible, those that do tangle with the NYPD can expect a hefty fine.

Across the country, especially in southern and warmer climate states, the response to the new toy de jeur is mixed. Back in September, a Harris County Texas Sherriff Deputy found himself the subject of a viral YouTube video of his arrest of a youth riding a hoverboard in a local shopping mall.

Over in Tempe, Arizona, the campus of Arizona State University is treating the hoverboard like a skateboard. Neither are allowed in “walk only” zones. If the state legislature is going to act, they will need to wait until after January 1, 2016 when they return to session.

The technical specifications of the hoverboard seem to be at the center of the debate. Many of the boards have a top speed of up to 6 or 7 miles per hour (MPH). However, the higher-end models have a top speed closer to 12-15 MPH. Accidents impacting the rider or another pedestrian can be serious. Worst case scenarios involve large adult riders hitting an infant stroller or plate glass window.

City officials who do not relish the role of Scrooge or any other infamous Christmas villain will need to anticipate how this very popular device fits into the mobility plans in their respective community. Unfortunately, governing does not get a holiday break.

Brooks, J.A. 2010About the Author: James Brooks is NLC’s Director for City Solutions. He specializes in local practice areas related to housing, neighborhoods, infrastructure, and community development and engagement. Follow Jim on Twitter @JamesABrooks.

How Jackson Hole Became a Model of Successful Growth

NLC’s James Brooks visits the outdoor mecca of Jackson Hole, Wyo., and uncovers the risks and promise of successful place making.

The streets of Jackson, Wyo., with ski slopes in the background. (WitGorski/Getty Images)

Jackson, Wyo., is an excellent example of successful place making. Blessed with supreme natural beauty, the town of Jackson and surrounding Teton County have married an iconic western culture with sports and leisure opportunities such as skiing and hiking and easy access to Grand Teton National Park, the Snake River, and a national elk refuge.

The downtown commercial district, surrounding a much-visited town square, is chock-a-block with western outfitters, native craft shops, restaurants, art galleries, hotels, adventure tour operators, and real estate agencies. From the classic old west architecture to the elk antler arches flanking the square, Jackson boasts a heritage and cachet that draws four million visitors each year.

But what happens when a community is too successful? What is the downside when the owners of Snow King Mountain Resort invest in the most advanced snow making equipment available in order to extend the skiing season by two or three months? What is the risk in having multiple major air carriers arrive at Jackson airport from a dozen hub cities and a second home market incentivized by state tax breaks? The risk, according to year-round residents, is that today Jackson populated by two kinds of people: those with two jobs and those with two houses.

The municipality of Jackson (pop. 10,000) and Teton County (pop. 23,000) don’t have much land available for development, hemmed in as they are by park land and wildlife sanctuaries. The last new road was built in the town in 1985. The airport actually sits inside the National Park. New residents to this mountain paradise have embraced a “slow growth or no growth” mentality which has pushed the cost of housing out of the reach of the middle class residents who work in the hotels, restaurants, ski lifts and shops, protect the ski slopes, and lead the wildlife treks and raft trips. As it turns out, paradise is an expensive place to live. Even the U.S. Forest Service is making things worse by proposing to sell 10 acres of land in downtown Jackson, zoned for dense workforce housing, to developers for large-lot homes that could price for nearly $1 million per acre. (As of this writing, the immediate danger is past — but not gone entirely.)

It’s an unfortunate situation for a city and county that have taken solid steps to work together on a common sense agenda. The two governments share a planning director and collaboratively managed a five year process to rewrite a comprehensive land use plan. There are joint departments for animal control, parks and recreation, START (the regional transportation network), fire and EMS as well as 911 emergency dispatch for town police and county sheriff. The operational model is “one vision, one valley, one voice.”

Both the municipality and the county are primed for growth. Water is plentiful and a high-grade (tertiary) regional sewer system is not anywhere near capacity. Demand for the amenities of the Jackson Hole valley remain strong. Yet, as each new home parcel increases in price, the pressures to keep unspoiled vistas and free-standing homes grows stronger. Building a desirable place has been transformed into protecting individual slices of paradise at the expense of the small business owner and long-term residents that created the value proposition in the first place.

Finding the right balance has been the challenge for the municipal and county leaders. Jackson does not have a property tax. State coffers have funded transfer payments of various kinds thanks to the revenues from coal. However, those revenues are projected to decline over time as renewable energy sources come on stream nationwide. Local leaders, who do get sales tax revenues, have been pushing for a real estate transfer tax with a high exemption floor to protect small, moderately priced homes.

Private sector partners have found ways to construct new middle class housing. The master plan for Jackson Hole Mountain Resort and Teton Village produced new workforce housing both in Teton Village and in Jackson. Nonprofit organizations such as Habitat for Humanity also brought new low income home construction to the area. This public, private and nonprofit partnership has produced some success — but more still needs to be done.

The Jackson Hole valley is as desirable a place to live as anywhere on the planet. The community weaves a rich tapestry of natural landscapes, abundant recreational options, historic and cultural distinctiveness, ease of access, and high quality of life. This success has triggered the natural reaction to pull up the draw bridge and keep “others” from spoiling what brought recent residents to the area.

Longtime residents, particularly those holding elected or appointed offices in local and county government, are more sanguine. They continue to envision a community that is not restricted by income and that frames reasonable growth within the scope of a thoughtful comprehensive plan. This seems to be the harder work of place making — ensuring that this unique destination remains a haven for a pool of residents that are as diverse as the shades of pink and red reflecting off the Teton peaks at sunrise.

Brooks, J.A. 2010About the Author: James Brooks is NLC’s Director for City Solutions. He specializes in local practice areas related to housing, neighborhoods, infrastructure, and community development and engagement. Follow Jim on Twitter @JamesABrooks.

Sandy Recovery Highlights Resilience Lessons

Graffiti in New York following the devastation cased by Hurricane Sandy. (photo: Ayasha Guerin/inhabitat.com)

Graffiti in New York following the devastation cased by Hurricane Sandy in 2012. (photo: Ayasha Guerin / inhabitat.com)

The Chen residence in the Midland Beach neighborhood of Staten Island is occupied once again. During the 2012 superstorm known as Hurricane Sandy, the Chen home was inundated with 10 feet of flood water, as were other residences in the Midland and New Dorp Beach areas. As of March 2015, the Chen family is back in a restored home thanks to New York’s Build It Back program and the partnership with IBTS (Institute for Building Technology and Safety), an National League of Cities Corporate Partner.

The completed Chen house. (photo: james Brooks)

The completed Chen house. (photo: james Brooks)

The Chen home and others like it have new siding, enhanced insulation and better fire resiliency measures. The property is also raised twelve feet above the ground. The critical measure is that the property is well above both the Base Flood Elevation (BFE) and the Design Flood Elevation (DFE). This means that even if the property is on a flood plain, flood insurance is not required.

The City of New York, working through its Office of Management and Budget (OMB), the Mayor’s Office of Housing Recovery Operations, and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), established the Build It Back program to coordinate, streamline and evaluate the recovery effort. IBTS is one of the largest contractors serving the city in the areas of architectural and structural assessments, rehabilitation or reconstruction design, contract management and reporting, and final inspections for single family homes.

Visiting the hardest hit neighborhoods on Staten Island and in the Gerritsen Beach area of Brooklyn is an experience both similar and different from visiting neighborhoods in New Orleans hit by Hurricane Katrina 10 years ago. The topography is familiar, and it’s the first sign that these beach bungalows are susceptible to a rising tide. Although the beach dunes rise up from the shoreline, once the waters crest the dunes and flow across Staten Island’s Father Capodanno Boulevard, the landscape drops away another 10-20 feet. Flooding in this area continued nearly a mile inland to Hylan Boulevard.

Build It Back is a massive project. Through March 2015, nearly 26,000 registrants have applied for the program. From Queens, where Breezy Point is located, there are 11,374 registrants. Staten Island has 5,782 registrants, and Brooklyn has 7,968. Eligible homes can have both exterior and interior storm damage repaired. Where appropriate, homes and utility lines are elevated above flood levels as well.

To date, the IBTS team has received contracts to carry out 483 housing elevations. Of these, 253 have received home owner reviews, 198 have received elevation designs for approval, 139 have had construction documents turned over to the city Department of Buildings, and 106 have received permit approvals.

Mr. & Mrs. Slaven with the contractors. (photo: Jim Brooks)

Mr. & Mrs. Slaven with IBTS contractors. In the background sits the Slaven house on cribbing. (photo: James Brooks)

The drama in the story is not in the numbers, but in the first-hand accounts told by residents such as Mr. Francis and Mrs. Lauren Slaven of Gerritsen Beach, Brooklyn. Today, their house sits atop 12-foot timber cribbing waiting to be permanently set on its new foundation. A gregarious and talkative woman, Mrs. Slaven is vivid in her recounting of swimming to safety in the face of Sandy. She even managed to save her dog, but lost a pet bird in the ordeal. They will return to their renovated home shortly.

The results of the recovery work thus far have helped drive some innovations both in the management of CDBG Disaster Recovery funds and in the design specifications for home elevations. For example, with support from HUD, IBTS developed a unit price contractor procurement model for CDBG-DR housing rehabilitation and/or reconstruction. IBTS is applying these lessons to the balance of their Build It Back work, bringing a considerable level of savings to New York City storm recovery efforts and also to new work awarded by the Governor’s Office of Storm Recovery (GOSR) on Long Island.

Brooks, J.A. 2010About the Author: James Brooks is NLC’s Director for City Solutions. He specializes in local practice areas related to housing, neighborhoods, infrastructure, and community development and engagement. Follow Jim on Twitter @JamesABrooks.

How: (Cities) + (Science) = Resilient Communities

For city leaders preparing for floods, droughts, air and water contaminants, rising sea levels and other potential disasters, scientists are essential partners.

Testing-Water-BlogTesting water level levels with a measuring pole.

If pushed to their intellectual limits, most people will be able to name one great living scientist. At the top of any list is either Stephen Hawking (theoretical physicist and cosmologist) or Jane Goodall (anthropologist). Beyond these two, the next most famous scientist is either director of the Hayden Planetarium and host of Cosmos Neil deGrasse Tyson (astrophysicist) or Sheldon Cooper, the fictional physicist on the television sit-com The Big Bang Theory. For those of a certain age, Bill Nye the Science Guy rounds out the top five.

Stephen Hawking of course is the great mind behind A Brief History of Time and other cosmic works that broke all sorts of New York Times best seller records. Alas, it is also true that hundreds of thousands of folks may have purchased his books but only small fractions have actually read them. On the other hand, in any given week, the antics of Dr. Sheldon Cooper are watched by anywhere between 15 and 20 million viewers.

The point is not to disparage our general lack of knowledge about scientists and scientific breakthroughs. Rather it is to highlight how little credibility is paid to good science produced by working scientists who are solving problems of disease, starvation, environmental degradation and species collapse in universities, labs and garages all over America.

Scientists deal in facts, data, observations, experiments, testing and retesting, and vigorous analysis. In big ways and small, scientists are pushing the limits of human understanding and working to solve problems that face the Earth’s population each day. They are the friend and ally of anyone seeking to make life better in communities around the world, and in the present era they are armed with the most sophisticated tools ever invented for measurement and evaluation.

For city leaders preparing for floods, droughts, air and water contaminants, rising sea levels and other potential disasters, scientists are essential partners. They bring a methodical approach to local priorities and work to define research questions, collect and analyze data, and apply results to make local-level predictions.

Working through the American Geophysical Union (AGU), an international coalition of more than 61,000 scientists, a project called the Thriving Earth Exchange (TEX) is advancing human and environmental resilience. The project brings scientists together with community leaders to provide participatory scientific methods and research to local challenges. In short, TEX helps a community imagine and launch innovative projects that leverage Earth and space science for the public good.

Examples of such collaboratives already exist. Five diverse Denver neighborhoods are in the midst of a TEX project to investigate environmental factors that influence health and wellbeing in their communities. Operating under the umbrella of Taking Neighborhood Health to Heart (TNH2H), the neighborhoods of Park Hill, Northeast Park Hill, East Montclair, Northwest Aurora and Stapleton are the target research zones. These areas are bounded by two major interstate highways, transected by three of the metro areas’ busiest thoroughfares, and are near shuttered military installations with defense industry-related dump and waste sites. The research is exploring issues of geohazards, water and soil quality and climate change.

On the Pine Ridge Sioux Indian Reservation in South Dakota, Native American and non-Native scientists are working to identify aquifer water quality within the local watershed in order to understand the cause of an extremely high rate of cancer (600% higher than the U.S. average) in Pine Ridge residents. A team working for almost 4 years in close harmony with the Tribal Council and a local cancer survivor group collected samples and ran tests on different water filter models to determine which tool might serve the community best.

Cities with a capacity and willingness to make use of geoscience information in planning or operations are ideal candidates for a TEX project. Community leaders can reach out to AGU staff directly to engage with the Thriving Earth Exchange Program. The program director is Raj Pandya, rpandya@agu.org, 1-303-999-7112.

Brooks, J.A. 2010About the Author: James Brooks is NLC’s Director for City Solutions. He specializes in local practice areas related to housing, neighborhoods, infrastructure, and community development and engagement. Follow Jim on Twitter @JamesABrooks.

A 20-Year Shift in Neighborhood Investing

brooklynA new condo building stands in the the lower east side of Manhattan. Source: Getty Images.

Where we live, the kind of homes we occupy and the quest for a place of our own remains closely tied to that goal on the horizon we call, The American Dream. Consequently, our nation’s leaders, including those at the local level, devote tremendous energy to issues relating to housing and neighborhoods.

A scan of the last twenty years illustrates some significant and notable shifts in approach to these issues – with implications for the kind of housing that gets built, who pays for development and at what level and who has choices in the marketplace and who does not.

For example, let’s look back at 1994 when the Home Investment Partnership Program (HOME) was in its fourth year. The HOME program provides formula grants to states and localities that communities use – often in partnership with local nonprofit groups – to fund building, buying and rehabilitating affordable housing for rent or ownership or providing direct rental assistance to low-income residents.

This program remains a staple of the local landscape and a bulwark in support of housing opportunities for those seeking to reach a critical rung on the ladder to the middle class. In fact, during evaluations of this program during 1994, the value and scope of HOME was not in question; the debate centered on the ease and efficiency of program administration and reporting.

PullQuoteIn the same year, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) launched a bold effort called the National Community Development Initiative. Brought to the table was a coalition of 10 major corporations and foundations collaborating to raise $87.65 million in partnership with HUD to accelerate central city neighborhood renewal in 23 cities. Through this remarkable partnership, $20 million from HUD was matched by $15 million from Prudential, $15 million from the Rockefeller Foundation and $12 million from J. P. Morgan, among other partners.

By 1998, research from the respected Urban Institute, and its team of researchers Christopher Walker and Mark Weinheimer (Weinheimer & Associates), offered the first solid evidence of program progress. For community development corporations in the 23 target cities, the report found that housing unit production was up, budgets were larger, management structures were vastly improved and funding sources were more diversified.

Views about community lending also were different in 1994. At that time, the Community Reinvestment Act (CRA) was being lauded as a valuable tool to ensure access to credit throughout a community.

Passed into law in 1977 and amended several times, there remained an expectation that this measure increased the ability of advocacy groups, researchers, and other analysts to “perform more-sophisticated, quantitative analyses of banks’ records,” to paraphrase Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke some years later.

There was an expectation that over time, community groups and nonprofit organizations would establish “more-formalized and more-productive partnerships with banks,” thereby influencing the lending policies of banks.

A Different Kind of Partnership

Jumping forward to 2004, you can hear the alarm bells sounding. The HOPE VI program was coming under considerable criticism as a tool to build affordable housing for those most in need. Public housing advocates increasingly needed to rely on private sector investment to serve those who were not able to pay market rates for rent.

Charles Lyons of Arlington, Mass., President of the National League of Cities that year, was so concerned about the “inequality in our communities due to a lack of affordable housing,” that he launched the Divided We Fall campaign to focus on the growing disparities in cities.

partnerpullDisparities continue to confront Americans today, not only in housing and neighborhood amenities but in educational attainment, income and wealth generation, poverty rates, and criminal sentencing.

Despite these disparities, a lively, engaging federal-local partnership on national priorities remains absent. Rather than a partnership with the federal government, all that localities have now is the prospect of federal leverage. This leverage comes in the form of small pools of dollars offered mostly on a competitive basis and encumbered with enough restrictions and conditions to all but eliminate the possibility for experimentation and truly creative thinking from local decision makers.

If we accept the fact that government alone cannot solve the significant challenges that confront communities and that partnerships are the essential ingredient to success, then the only operative question to ask is, ‘What type of partnership will yield the greatest success?’ To that question, the balance of historical fact argues for a partnership of equals, dedicated to achieving consensus, led by those with the proximity and the experience to mobilize community resources in order to achieve positive outcomes for all the stakeholders. It is this recognition and acknowledgement of a wider shared responsibility to the public interest, rather than to any private interest, that is the required component to establish “a more perfect Union.”

It can only be hoped that by the time the National League of Cities stands to celebrate its centennial, the much desired federal-local partnership will be a reality.

Brooks, J.A. 2010About the Author: James Brooks is NLC’s Director for City Solutions. He specializes in local practice areas related to housing, neighborhoods, infrastructure, and community development and engagement.  Follow Jim on Twitter @JamesABrooks.