The Building American Cities Toolkit, produced thanks to support from Enterprise Community Partners, helps practitioners think through strategies, identify specific tools to carry out those strategies, and learn about communities elsewhere that have used those tools, to improve the land, buildings, neighborhoods and other areas that make up a city’s built environment.
The Toolkit is a living, changing resource. We will continue to add new strategies and tools to each of the elements that make up the Toolkit. Also we look for users to contribute information about what they are doing, and about the projects and tools they use. Together, we will build a current Toolkit that can help people across the country change their towns and cities.
The Toolkit is divided into four elements. An element is a category of activities that further an overall community goal or mission, such as “building stronger neighborhoods” or “dealing with problem property owners.”
For each element a series of strategies has been identified. The strategies are different ways in which a local government, CDC or other entity addresses a problem, or tries to move forward the overall goal reflected in the element. For example, if the goal is to build stronger neighborhoods, one strategy might well be to build market demand for housing in the neighborhood.
Each strategy is then broken down into tools. The tools are the “how” of the strategies. So, if one of the strategies in dealing with problem property owners, for example, is to work with rental landlords and investors, one tool might be to enact rental registration and licensing ordinances. The Toolkit describes what the tool does, how to implement it and some of the key issues and questions that should be asked before putting it into effect.
Finally, with each strategy and tool are resources that will help the user get a feeling for how the strategy and tool work on the ground, and how others have used them. They include articles and chapters from books, reports, state statutes and local ordinances, case studies, and more.
The organization of the Toolkit is designed to encourage users to put these tools into a larger strategic context and use them to further larger strategies, rather than see them as isolated activities. To help encourage strategic thinking, each element opens with what we call a “thinking about…” section. This is a free-standing essay that discusses the issues and challenges associated with that element. We hope that users of the Toolkit, particularly for people for whom a particular subject may be relatively new, will begin by reading this section.
Another feature of the Toolkit is the toolkit typology. The typology is a library of performance metrics through which planners and policy-makers can look at the conditions of their city and other cities, and the mix of challenges and opportunities each city offers, as a tool to better applying strategies that are most appropriate to their community’s unique challenges and opportunities. It includes illustrations of how sample cities are doing on various metrics, and can help users compare their city’s performance with that of other cities.
The Toolkit is designed for users to start anywhere, and go anywhere. You can explore an element as a whole, study the typology, or go directly to the particular tool in which you’re interested. Whatever you do, though, please help build the Toolkit as well: use the share your stories to send us information, documents, suggestions and materials that will make the Toolkit a growing resource for the community of practitioners and policy-makers.