Do You Have Innovative Smart Growth Projects That Need Funding?

Mike Lydon's picture

As the post-recession economy continues to plod along, those in the non-profit sector continue to face stiff funding competition. Organizations furthering the smart growth/new urbanism cause may find this to be particularly frustrating, as re-working how and where America builds has never been so important.  

Fortunately, The Fund for the Environment and Urban Life-a relatively new private foundation-has embraced those organizations who pursue a more sustainable built environment. Indeed, it's rare to find an environmental funder that so clearly supports urbanism as part of the solution to environmental degradation. 

Established in 2007, the Fund's formal name is The Oram Foundation Inc., which was established by Richard Oram, a 30-year veteran of the public transit industry and pioneer of the tax-free "transit benefit" field (how many planners are fortunate enough to become funders?!). 

I first learned about the Fund for the Environment and Urban Life in 2008 while working with the Miami-based Center for Applied Transect Studies (CATS) on the initial development of a middle school urban planning curriculum inspired by the "The Wacker Manual," as used 100 years ago in Chicago. At that time, Oram's organization primarily supported recycling and other smaller scale city greening projects. Yet, CATS applied and received funding from Oram's organization. Soon thereafter, the Fund made a conscious effort to focus on broader "sustainable urban development" initiatives. Indeed, over the next four years the Fund will allocate half of its annual resources to new urbanist and smart growth projects.

When I checked in with Oram recently, he told me that the Fund has already supported three projects of this kind, and is in the process of funding four more. The Congress for New Urbanism, an example of the former, received support in 2009 from The Fund for its strategic marketing activities. Additionally, Oram's organization became a lead sponsor of the American Makeover project, which is producing a series of six videos to promote new urbanism; building on the popular "Built to Last" video released in 2009 (109,000+ views and counting).

The first new video within the American Makeover series is "Sprawlanta,"which was released in conjunction with the CNU's 18th annual event held in Atlanta this past spring. 

Most recently, the Fund added four new projects to its growing roster of supported smart growth initiatives. One, in coordination with the US Green Building Council and Pace University's Land Use Law Center, will develop LEED-ND planning tools. Another, with Transportation Alternatives, is seeking national exposure for the street and pedestrian improvements recently put in place in New York City, tentatively titled: If you can green it here you can green it anywhere. Another funded project is helping Streetfilms produce a videoseries, "Ten Ways to Reduce Traffic." Last, CEO's for Cities has received support to promote walkability in its communication materials, which will include another book by Jeff Speck. 

If any of the above sound like a project your non-profit is trying to launch, you might consider learning more about the Fund for the Environment and Urban Life. 


Mike Lydon is Principal of the Street Plans Collaborative and co-author of Tactical Urbanism: Short-term Actions for Long-term Change (Island Press, 2015).


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