Free Press: The Journalism a Changing Morristown Needs

Posted on by Mike Rispoli and Fiona Morgan, Free Press




As Free Press’ News Voices: New Jersey project looks toward its second year, we’re excited to bring our experiment in community-based news engagement to Morristown.

On June 1, we’ll host a free public forum that will explore ways in which community members and local reporters can work together to strengthen Morristown. Business owners, students, faith leaders, activists and other residents will join journalists at the Neighborhood House, a nonprofit agency that provides after-school programs and other support services. All are invited to take part in this community-building event.

News Voices: New Jersey is helping to build deep relationships between newsrooms and communities across the state in ways that benefit both groups. Through this work, residents take a more active role in local journalism and better support newsrooms. And newsrooms produce better journalism when they listen to the concerns of everyday people and incorporate these perspectives in their reporting.

As more meaningful stories get told and people feel more connected and invested in their local media, our communities grow stronger.

We’re especially excited to bring News Voices to Morristown because it’s the hometown of the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation, a philanthropic organization that works on issues critical to New Jersey residents. Dodge is a major financial supporter of News Voices and is helping develop a network of journalism and community projects — all of which have helped News Voices succeed.

A changing Morristown

The June 1 event comes at a critical juncture for Morristown.

People who live in Morristown love its small-town feel and rich history and take pride in its diversity. But we’ve heard concerns from residents that ongoing and planned development will significantly change the makeup of the town. Those who are already on the margins are worried that they will be left behind or pushed out of the community.

More than a third of Morristown residents are Hispanic or Latino, one-third are foreign-born and approximately 14 percent are African American, making the town more diverse than New Jersey as a whole and significantly more than the surrounding areas. Tensions that flared in previous years between Latino newcomers and the rest of the community have calmed, but Latinos in Morristown remain geographically and culturally separated and lack political representation in local government.

One of the most significant challenges facing Morristown is the lack of affordable housing. Only 39 percent of the city’s housing units are owner-occupied, and the median rent of nearly $1,500 per month is 25 percent higher than the state average. And the average rent is likely to go up, thanks to the luxury condos being built in the predominantly Latino neighborhood of Speedwell.

Many residents have said that the things that make Morristown special and unique will be lost if the town tries to become trendier, pricier and, in the words of a few individuals, “Hoboken West.”

Lack of affordable housing leaves people financially vulnerable in every aspect of their lives. We’ve learned through our conversations that two-thirds of the guests at Morristown’s Community Soup Kitchen aren’t homeless, but don’t earn enough money to cover the cost of food.

Local journalists have a crucial role to play in raising awareness about how these changes affect the community’s most vulnerable residents, and in asking questions about how development is impacting Morristown as a whole.

News to shape Morristown’s future

For a town of three square miles and 18,000 residents, Morristown has a substantial number of media outlets. One of those is Morristown Green, an independent hyperlocal news site run by longtime resident Kevin Coughlin. Area newspapers like The Daily Record and Star-Ledger also cover the community. Many of these outlets provide consistent coverage of events and inform readers about local government and local arts and culture.

Yet the downturn in print journalism has reduced the number of local reporters doing enterprise and accountability journalism. And Morristown’s Spanish speakers — one third of its population — has few sources to turn to for local news.

Civic engagement is part of Morristown’s culture, and people here are participating in an important discussion about how the community is changing. The goal of News Voices is to bring those perspectives into local news coverage. It’s especially important for journalists and those who are active in civic affairs to hear from those who are struggling.

Every member of the Morristown community has a stake in its future, and journalists can help ensure that all voices are heard and that the public has the information it needs to make educated decisions. Local media can advocate for the public interest by uncovering truth, pressing for transparency and holding the powerful accountable.

At the June 1 forum, community members and local media will discuss important issues in small groups, and together they’ll brainstorm story ideas and collaborate on ways to give every resident a voice in Morristown’s future.

We’ve seen firsthand how these types of community-engagement events set the stage for lasting change.

Our first forum, held in New Brunswick last November, engaged more than 120 attendees in a brainstorming session about underreported local issues. The second, held in Atlantic City last December, featured a rich discussion about the ways in which local journalism can help revitalize the city. And the News Voices gathering held in Asbury Park in March brought together residents from opposite sides of the community to explore ways in which journalism can help unite the city.

In each of these communities, the groundwork has been laid for future projects and collaborations between local reporters and residents.

We’re hoping that the June 1 event will help identify how Morristown can grow as a unified community where everyone benefits and all residents are part of the conversation.

This is your chance to make your voice heard. Join us at the Neighborhood House on June 1 at 6 p.m. All are encouraged to participate.

Find out more about Free Press’ News Voices: New Jersey project by going to

Fiona Morgan

Mike_Rispoli_newFiona Morgan is Free Press’ Journalism Director; Mike Rispoli is the organization’s Press Freedom Campaign Director. Both oversee News Voices: New Jersey, a Dodge-funded Free Press initiative designed to create conversation and respond to the needs of both journalists and residents. Learn more and get involved at


Posted in Community Building, Free Press, Informed Communities, Morristown | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

2016 Dodge Poetry Festival Announcements

Posted on by Dodge Poetry Staff

Header for Web Pages

The 30th Anniversary Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Festival will be held October 20-23, 2016 at NJPAC and Newark’s Downtown Arts District!

Festival Exterior

    • Over 50 poets will participate in the 16th biennial Festival! Poets include:
      • Current U.S. Poet Laureate Juan Felipe Herrera
      • Former U.S. Poets Laureate Billy Collins, Kay Ryan and Robert Hass
      • Pulitzer Prize winner Gary Snyder and Pulitzer finalist Elizabeth Alexander, the inaugural poet at President Barack Obama’s first inauguration
      • A diverse array of poets ranging from established contemporary writers to emerging voices
      • For a more complete list, visit our Festival Lineup Page – more names to be announced by the summer!
    • Programming will include a special event called The Work to be Done: Poetry and Social Justice  – a poetry conversation with Martín Espada, U.S. Poet Laureate Juan Felipe Herrera, Katha Pollitt and Claudia Rankine.
    • The first reading by the winners of the Ruth Lilly and Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Poetry Fellowship, given to support emerging poets by the Poetry Foundation 
    • Special readings by poets from Kundiman, Cave Canem, and CantoMundo, as well as by poets from Warrior Writers and Newark’s exciting poetry scene
    • NJ TRANSIT Special $10.50 Round-trip Fare helps us to “Green” the Festival, and you to save some green! Transit tickets on sale soon.



Stay updated on the 2016 as information becomes available! #DPF16

Dodge Poetry Facebook | Twitter | Instagram |

Posted in Poetry, Poetry 2016 Festival, Poets | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

Trust for Public Land: Building Healthy Parks and Healthy Communities

Posted on by Anthony Cucchi, Trust for Public Land
School children enjoying Nat Turner Park Fun Day in Newark at its 2010 opening.

School children enjoying Nat Turner Park Fun Day in Newark at its 2010 opening.

It’s no secret that families in Newark’s Ironbound neighborhood shoulder an undue burden stemming from impacts of centuries of industrial and economic growth focused in the community.

Every day, parents worry how to keep their children healthy despite well-documented lead exposure, air pollution, and contaminated waterways — problems that require lengthy environmental study and complicated solutions.

A lesser known threat — and one that we can solve together in the Ironbound and other communities — is a severe lack of parks, playgrounds, and green spaces that negatively  impact rates of obesity, diabetes, depression and other ills. New outdoor play spaces do not require years of environmental study, and creating them can be community-building opportunities for kids, families, and neighborhoods.

Lafayette Street School - Before

This paved play area at the Lafayette Street School will become a dynamic playground with the help of the Trust for Public Land and partners.

At Lafayette Street School in Newark’s Ironbound neighborhood, young students from two classrooms are working with The Trust for Public Land and a landscape architect to help plan a desperately needed new playground and outdoor learning space for the school’s 1,100 students.

The Lafayette Street School neighborhood.

The Lafayette Street School neighborhood.

When the playground is completed, it will offer a rare resource in the Ironbound — a green playground where kids can get healthy and learn about nature. After hours, the playground will double as a community park in a neighborhood where green space is exceedingly rare.

Across New Jersey there are too many neighborhoods that, like the Ironbound, lack the parks and open space people need to get and stay healthy, experience nature, and forge the social bonds so important for community well-being. Finding places to create new parks in built-up cities can be tough, and raising money for them can often be a challenge. But creative ways can be found to build parks for healthier communities.

One key to developing high quality parks and outdoor spaces is to forge cooperation between city agencies, nonprofits, neighborhood groups, foundations, and other private funders. Nonprofits can pull together partnerships, raise funds, and coordinate park creation. With creative thinking, new, and sometimes unlikely, park sites can be found —paved-over schoolyards being a great example. To create successful parks that truly meet the needs of park users, neighborhood residents must be involved early, often, and deeply in planning — like those students at Lafayette Street School.

“Well-planned parks promote neighborhood cohesion and community-building. Enriched with arts and cultural elements, good parks express community identity. They are where neighbors come together. And the very act of helping plan and create a park can give residents a sense of empowerment to shape their environment and generate other civic improvements.”

Using this approach, the Trust for Public Land has worked with public agencies, the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation and other funders, and community stakeholders in some of Newark’s most vulnerable neighborhoods to create and refurbish parks and green space, including seven asphalt schoolyards converted to playgrounds.

Recent years have also seen the redesign of Newark’s Jesse Allen Park, the creation of Nat Turner Park in the city’s Central Ward and the development of Newark Riverfront Park on a former industrial brownfield along the Passaic River. In all, 96,000 Newark residents live within a 10-minute walk of a park we’ve helped to create or transform.

This work is important in many ways. Just last month, the National Park Service’s Parks RX Day highlighted the growing movement of physicians prescribing time in parks and nature for health and healing. Parks and greenways also support environmental health in a time of climate change, cooling the air, absorbing and cleaning stormwater, buffering communities from flooding, and serving as bike and walking routes for carbon-free transportation.

A happy boy smiles for the camera on the new playing field at the opening of a playground in Brooklyn.

A happy boy smiles for the camera on the new playing field at the opening of a playground in Brooklyn.

Additionally — and crucially — well-planned parks promote neighborhood cohesion and community-building. Enriched with arts and cultural elements, good parks express community identity. They are where neighbors come together. And the very act of helping plan and create a park can give residents a sense of empowerment to shape their environment and generate other civic improvements.

There is now a vital need to expand this work to more Newark neighborhoods, across New Jersey, and beyond. Nationally The Trust for Public Land has launched an effort to encourage cities nationwide to adopt a standard that every resident should be within a 10-minute walk of a park. As the nation’s most densely populated state, New Jersey’s cities should be at the forefront of this movement.

Park-building is tough work. But when government, funders, nonprofits, and — most importantly — neighborhood residents work together, we can create the parks people and communities need for health and an improved quality of life.

And even the planning can be fun. Just ask those kids at Lafayette Street School.


TPL Project Manager Anthony Cucchi in Morristown,

TPL Project Manager Anthony Cucchi in Morristown,

Anthony Cucchi is the New Jersey state director of The Trust for Public Land. He can be reached at In New Jersey, the organization’s land conservation and urban park development efforts have always focused on protecting and creating the places that make our communities more livable. Whether helping residents of tiny Andover Borough stave off an ill-thought-out development, protecting the watershed of Barnegat Bay, or completing the landmark Newark Riverfront Park in our largest city, the diversity of the TPL’s work matches that of the Garden State. To learn more, visit the Trust for Public Land’s New Jersey website.

All photos are courtesy of The Trust for Public Land.

Posted in Community Building, Environment, Green Ideas | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Sustainable Jersey: What are the Biggest Sustainability Challenges Facing NJ?

Posted on by Randall Solomon, Co-Director, Sustainable Jersey

New gold standards to be unveiled at the 2016 New Jersey Sustainability Summit



Sustainable Jersey will break new ground at the 2016 New Jersey Sustainability Summit with the much anticipated release of the first elements of the gold standard for sustainability certification in the foundational dimensions of energy and waste.

Defining a gold standard for municipalities in terms of measured outcomes rather than prescriptive actions represents a bold step that no other state-level program has taken. We anticipate it will lead to a lively discussion at the 2016 Sustainability Summit on June 15 and in communities across New Jersey that are serious about measuring progress toward sustainability goals.

Sustainable Jersey’s First Gold Star Standards

In our quest to secure a sustainable future we need to be able to say how much progress is being made; the Gold Star Standards set a course to do just that. For example, to determine the standard in the energy dimension, the primary goal is to have municipalities meet a target rate of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions reduction per capita from a baseline year.  In other words, we are asking towns to do their part of what is needed to act in time to avoid catastrophic climate impacts.  Reduction “in time” to avert the worst effects of climate change is taken to mean that it must occur at a rate pinned to the 2007 New Jersey Global Warming Response Act (GWRA). The GWRA mandates the entire state to decrease GHG emissions by 80 percent from 2006 levels by the year 2050.

Like the Energy Gold Star Standard, the Waste Gold Star Standard will require municipalities to meet a target reduction rate, in this case for the total amount of municipal solid waste generated per capita, along with other requirements, such as increasing the recycling rate.  Sustainable Jersey will roll out the Gold Star Standards for Energy and Waste at the Sustainability Summit and will then move forward to define gold for other areas in 2017.

The Energy and Waste Gold Star Standards will be the focus of two of the fifteen breakout sessions at the 2016 New Jersey Sustainability Summit. These two sessions will give community members and municipal staff the information they need to start making measurable change in energy and waste–arenas that are fundamental to a sustainable future. Attendees will also position their towns to be ready to apply for the first Sustainable Jersey Gold Stars in 2017.

  • Breakout Session: Achieving the Gold Standard in Energy: Speakers will include: Gary Fournier, Sustainable Jersey Energy Director, Tony O’Donnell, Sustainable Jersey Economist, Nancy Quirk, Sustainable Jersey Program Coordinator for Advanced Infrastructure, Randall Solomon, Sustainable Jersey Co-Director, Ashley Miller, TRC Solutions Associate Project Manager and Dennis Henry, the Director of Public Works for Woodbridge Township.
  • Breakout Session: Achieving the Gold Standard in Waste: Speakers will include: Gary Sondermeyer, Vice President of Operations for Bayshore Recycling, Melanie McDermott, Sustainable Jersey Senior Researcher and Randall Solomon, Sustainable Jersey Co-Director.

To support the Sustainability Summit discussions, the 2015 New Jersey Sustainable State of the State Report, which was released at the first Sustainability Summit, will be updated to reflect changes in sustainability trends over the past year. The report provides an important vision and baseline for New Jersey with 57 distinct goals. The yearly updates will frame a report card on our progress in New Jersey.

2016 New Jersey Sustainability Summit

If you have not registered yet, there are just 28 days until the New Jersey Sustainability Summit on June 15. The one-day event brings together over three-hundred thought leaders and community members for sessions that range from the philosophical, such as citizen engagement, to nuts and bolts of best practices in communities.

With 15 concurrent sustainability sessions, participants learn, listen and discuss issues ranging from energy, waste, economic development and education to the arts and creative culture. The Sustainability Summit includes more than 50 experts and practitioners and a keynote address by Dr. Benjamin Strauss of Climate Central. Summit breakout sessions include:

  • Achieving the Gold Standard in Waste
  • Build Your Green Team’s Brand
  • Creating Vibrant and Thriving Communities
  • Innovations in Sustainability Education
  • Municipal Role in Water Quality
  • Achieving the Gold Standard in Energy
  • Facilitating Business Engagement in Community Sustainability Initiatives
  • Municipal and School Collaborations for Sustainability
  • Planning for Sustainable Communities
  • Tools for Effective Communication and Civic Engagement
  • Health, Equity and Environmental Justice
  • Moving as a Society Toward Zero Waste
  • Next Generation Sustainable Energy – Emerging Technologies and Practices in Sustainable Energy
  • Resilient Inland and Coastal Communities: Actions to Take Today!
  • Regional Hubs Can Make You Stronger!



Randall Solomon, Sustainable Jersey

Randy Solomon is a co-director of Sustainable Jersey and a regular contributor to the Dodge Blog. Sustainable Jersey is a nonprofit organization that provides tools, training and financial incentives to support communities as they pursue sustainability programs. By supporting community efforts to reduce waste, cut greenhouse gas emissions, and improve environmental equity, Sustainable Jersey is empowering communities to build a better world for future generations. 

Posted in Community Building, Environment, Green Ideas, Sustainable Jersey | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

The Pro Bono Partnership Pundit: Treating Gender Diverse Individuals with Dignity and Respect Is Easy

Posted on by Christine Michelle Duffy, Pro Bono Partnership



In two weeks, Pride Month will commence. It was created to commemorate the June 1969 Stonewall Riots, which is considered a defining moment in commencement of the movement to protect the civil rights of people who are gender affirmed, gender diverse, and/or not heterosexual-only. As Susan Marine, Assistant Professor and Director of the Higher Education Graduate Program at Merrimack College, explains:

The Stonewall Riots, named for the New York City bar (the Stonewall Inn) where they originated, represented a key historical moment of resistance to police (and societal) mistreatment of LGBT people. When police raided the Greenwich Village bar for no reason . . ., aiming to “round up” and arrest the patrons, the patrons, along with hundreds of supporters, fought back, actively standing up to the brutality. Although the riots have frequently been attributed to gay men, it is now well documented that the resistance effort was largely led by Sylvia Rivera, a well-known transgender activist.

Much has transpired since 1969. Today, the vast majority of Americans believe lesbian and gay employees should have equal employment rights, and just last June the U.S. Supreme Court held that state laws barring same-sex marriage are unconstitutional. In the opening sentence of the Court’s decision, Justice Anthony Kennedy stated, “The Constitution promises liberty to all within its reach, a liberty that includes certain specific rights that allow persons . . . to define and express their identity.”

Despite such a broad, sweeping statement, people whose gender identity or expression transgresses gender stereotypes still face rampant discrimination.

However, the tide has begun to swiftly turn over the past few years. A growing number of administrative agencies and courts are holding that discrimination against transgender individuals is illegal. The good news for employers and other organizations is that it is very easy to treat gender-affirmed and gender-diverse people – my preferred way to refer to transgender individuals – with dignity and respect.

No special policies and procedures are needed when an employer has an ethos of treating people with respect and dignity. Just a little common sense, some training, and the usual tools of the trade of the human resource professional are all that are needed.

On Wednesday, June 8, from 12:00 to 1:30, I will be presenting the new Pro Bono Partnership webinar Gender Identity and Sexual Orientation in Today’s Workplaces, Schools, Shelters, and Other Environments. The webinar will provide an overview of the law relating to gender identity and sexual orientation (GISO) and an easy-to-follow roadmap for achieving compliant, welcoming environments.

Here are some of the key practical pointers I will be covering:

  • Avoid labeling people with terms such as “transgender.” As a standard business practice we don’t label employees as “black,” “disabled,” or “red-headed.”  So why call someone “transgender”?
  • The medical community and many in the legal community now recognize that “sex” isn’t binary. Like color, gender is a continuum.
  • If senior and middle managers model what is deemed acceptable behavior, other employees will follow suit. These managers need to ensure that others do not intentionally misgender an LGBT person.
  • An individual employee’s religious belief that LGBT people are “ungodly” does not trump an employer’s right and duty to provide a respectful workplace for all employees.
  • Medical information relating to a gender affirmation/transition is treated just like any other medical information.
  • All individuals should be allowed to dress and groom in a professional manner that is in accord with their gender identity.
  • All individuals should be allowed to use sex-segregated facilities, such as restrooms, in accordance with their gender identity. It’s the law and, contrary to the repeated claims of foes of LGBT rights, allowing gender-affirmed and gender-diverse people to “pee in peace” hasn’t presented any safety problems for other people.
  • Health insurance plans that exclude coverage for medically necessary gender-affirming medical procedures and/or for same-sex spouses (when coverage is provided for different-sex spouses) most likely violate the law.

As eloquently explained by Coretta Scott King in 1994, in the context of a proposed federal law to bar discrimination based on sexual orientation:

I believe that freedom and justice cannot be parceled out in pieces to suit political convenience.  As my husband Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”  On another occasion he said, “I have worked too long and hard against segregated public accommodations to end up segregating my moral concern.  Justice is indivisible.”  Like Martin, I don’t believe you can stand for freedom for one group of people and deny it to others.

Christine Michelle Duffy croppedChristine Michelle Duffy is a senior staff attorney with Pro Bono Partnership. Christine is editor-in-chief and contributing author of the critically acclaimed treatise Gender Identity and Sexual Orientation Discrimination in the Workplace: A Practical Guide, all royalties from which are being donated to the GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders (GLAD).  Several portions of the book, including its two forewords, Unfinished Business (by retired New Jersey Supreme Court Justice Virginia Long and National Center for Lesbian Rights Staff Attorney Asaf Orr) and With Fairness for All (by Delaware Governor Jack Markell), are available for free download at

Photo at top is courtesy Creative Commons


Posted in Technical Assistance | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

New Jersey Future: Infrastructure Matters

Posted on by Elaine Clisham, New Jersey Future


New Jersey Future is participating again this year, along with hundreds of other groups around the country, in Infrastructure Week 2016, to raise awareness about the need to invest in infrastructure as the backbone of our economy, locally and nationally.

Logo_IW_SmallInfrastructure matters, in countless ways large and small, to our economy, our quality of life, our health and safety, and the vibrancy of our communities. Infrastructure matters to companies that manufacture and ship goods, especially in our region, where 40 percent of the country’s population is within a day’s drive. It matters to our daily commutes and our summer vacations. Infrastructure determines if we can drink water straight from our taps and flush our toilets or do our laundry, or enjoy a meal at a restaurant. Ultimately, infrastructure matters to every aspect of our daily lives.

Despite its importance, we seem to accept crumbling infrastructure as the norm: Our bridges need repair, our potholes need filling, our transit service is increasingly unreliable and approaching capacity, and our water pipes can’t handle the demands placed on them. We complain about, but are not willing to spend the funds to fix, any of these problems.

Every year we fail to invest adequately in our infrastructure, New Jersey and the United States become less competitive, our economy grows more slowly, and families and businesses lose valuable time and money. Decades of underfunding and deferred maintenance have also pushed us to the brink of a national infrastructure crisis, and have inured us to completely preventable tragedies — including, here in New Jersey, poisonous drinking water; frequent water-main breaks; streets and waterways contaminated with raw sewage; and rail tunnels that can’t meet the demands of 21st-century transit — which should in fact be entirely unacceptable.

Because our roads are in poor condition and littered with potholes, drivers in New Jersey pay almost $800 in avoidable vehicle repairs and operating costs each year. We are the fourth-most road-congested area in the country, costing residents more than 40 hours each year in lost productivity and time with family or community. And our aging regional rail network, once a shining national example, now has a breakdown rate four times the national average.

The unfortunate truth is, all of this could have been prevented, if we had not been so conditioned to oppose infrastructure spending of any kind.

New Jersey Future is proud to be a founding member of Jersey Water Works, an innovative, cross-sector collaborative committed to upgrading the inadequate water infrastructure in our cities and towns, in ways that provide multiple co-benefits. The collaborative has brought together, sometimes for the first time, representatives from all sectors — government, regulated and investor utilities, community organizations and the private sector — to pursue the common goal of ensuring that 21st-century water infrastructure is available to serve all new Jersey communities. The collaborative recently released its 2016 work plan, and has already met several of the milestones outlined in it.

But this work is only just beginning, and there is much more to do. Our region needs and deserves a 21st-century transportation network; safe, clean, reliable water and wastewater service; broadband access in every community; and a freight network and ports that can keep pace in the global economy. Funds spent on infrastructure are not sunk costs; investing in our infrastructure is an investment in our future, and creates ripples throughout the economy. For every $1 invested in infrastructure, as much as $3 in economic output is created. New Jersey, suffering one of the slowest recoveries from the Great Recession of any state, could certainly use that boost.

As we look to 2016 and beyond, we are going to need continued collaboration among the private sector and all levels of government to identify and implement innovative solutions to our infrastructure crisis. And leaders at all levels are going to need to commit to building a long-term, sustainable plan to invest in robust infrastructure of all kinds, in order to keep us competitive on the global stage. Infrastructure, and our future, matter too much to do any less.


Elaine Clisham is the communications director at New Jersey Future, the state’s leading smart growth policy and advocacy resource and organization. Dodge has partnered with New Jersey Future, the backbone organization of Jersey Water Works, since 2013 to elevate the issue of deficient urban water infrastructure as a priority to sustainable communities and clean waterways in New Jersey, through research, convening, coordination and advocacy. 

Posted in Environment, Green Ideas | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

One Creative Solution to America’s Yard Problem

Posted on by Margaret Waldock, Environment Program Director
Courtesy of Creative Commons / Darron Birgenheier

Courtesy of Creative Commons / Darron Birgenheier


I live in a corner of New Jersey that was the epicenter for exurban, sprawling development that defined much of the late 1990’s up through the financial crash of 2008. The 5-acre lot subdivisions that dot the otherwise agrarian landscape of my community are great for bicycling detours with their expansive, paved streets and practically zero car traffic.

As I pedal through these neighborhoods of houses that all look the same surrounded by their moats of lush green, I marvel at the armada of riding lawn mowers called to service on any given Saturday during peak mowing season, and the fortitude it must take to give up one’s weekend to ensure compliance with the local homeowners’ association rules.

My suspicion of lawns as resource hogging wastes of time and space is confirmed by the EPA — one gas mower running for an hour emits the same amount of pollutants as eight new cars driving 55 mph for the same amount of time. That’s one hefty climate change impact, not to mention the money wasted trying to keep up with the Joneses.

But with market trends shifting in New Jersey, and baby boomers and millennials eschewing large suburban homes for more densely populated, transit friendly, walkable towns and cities, what is to become of these places? Who will live here over the next few decades, and will they continue to care about their expansive, expensive green lawns?

Erik Assadourian, senior fellow at the World Watch Institute, a leading nonprofit working to accelerate the transition to a sustainable world, has developed an intriguing project to reimagine the suburban model and address the significant barriers to long-term sustainability, like water-sucking, climate-change-impacting lawns, while meeting the multi-generational needs of families and communities.

Assadourian is a big thinker and has spent his career at the Institute pondering ways to influence cultural shifts. He noted the higher unemployment rate for young Americans and the reality that 36 percent of those between the ages of 18-31 live with their parents. He thought of the places many of those young men and women were moving back to, and what potential these places had to provide an economically and environmentally sustainable lifestyle for the modern multi-generational family.

His brilliant idea? Yardfarmers.

Yardfarmers is a new documentary/reality TV series that asks: What happens when you take six young Americans and move them back in with their parents to farm their parents’ yards or neighborhood greenspace? The college grads will compete for a large cash prize and the title of America’s Best Yardfarmer. Imagine the fun of convincing one’s parents that this isn’t just another one of your hair-brained schemes, or battling the local homeowner’s association over your chicken coop.

While the show doesn’t air until Spring 2017, “yardfarmers” as a concept could help solve many of our current challenges — from growing food insecurity and the abuses of industrial agriculture to social isolation and climate change. It’s one step in the right direction in solving the challenge of converting those large suburban lawns I pass on my bike into productive spaces that can support families and provide entrepreneurial opportunities for young people.

Assadourian’s theory is interesting to ponder as we try to imagine what our suburban and exurban communities will be like and who will live there in the future. Will we find a new use for hulking lawn mowers, converting them into solar-powered tractors to plow our new yardfarms?

We need more creative solutions like this one to create sustainable, healthy communities. Time is a precious commodity, we might find more fulfillment refocusing the hours we would have spent mowing on harvesting yard vegetables and cooking, spending time with family, or getting engaged in our communities. Maybe the idea of yardfarmers will inspire you to clear part of your lawn for a raised garden bed.

I am looking forward to following Yardfarmers the series. Assadourian’s already recruited six young Americans from diverse communities for the first season of the show, and he’s got a filmmaker and producer.

Now he just needs a distributor. Note to National Geographic/Discovery Channel/PBS, this is a reality show I would watch.

Waldock Large

Margaret Waldock is the Environment Program Director at the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation. Prior to joining Dodge in 2011, Margaret was Executive Director of the Hunterdon Land Trust for eight years, where she oversaw an expansion in net assets, staff, members and donors and helped preserve over 5,000 acres of land.

Dodge’s environment grants encourage comprehensive thinking about how to safeguard our water and reinforce our natural systems in order to promote more sustainable communities. 


Posted in Environment, Green Ideas | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

ArtPride New Jersey: The Sticky Arts

Posted on by Ann Marie Miller, ArtPride New Jersey


The recent development of tax policy concerns in Trenton has raised a great deal of thought about where exactly the nonprofit arts sector fits in.

Senator Tom Kean has introduced legislation (S334) that would allow for charitable contributions to be deducted from state taxable income. Its underlying assumption is that such an incentive would bolster private individual contributions, particularly to New Jersey-based organizations, and of course, therefore, its arts groups.

Senator Kean’s intent and constant support for the arts are unquestionable, but what about the shifts of thinking and resolve in all four sectors of private contributions:  individuals, foundations, corporations, and government? I’ve listed them in order of magnitude within the budget of the average nonprofit arts organization when that data is aggregated. And individuals are by far the largest sector, as much as 60 percent.

Within the other three sectors, there has been, in the last five or so years, a fairly dramatic shift in the priorities of institutionally-based (and that includes government) charitable giving. The annual report of the New Jersey Center for Non-Profits, New Jersey Non-Profits 2016: Trends and Outlook Survey clearly shows this, and to the detriment of arts support.

First, charitable giving nationwide is down after having rebounded from the recession, which affects everyone. More importantly, where that money goes has shifted and is now concentrated in health, education, and social services, away from art & culture across all sectors of contributed income.

What concerns me is that policy and priority changes within foundations, corporations, and government have fueled that trend. I say “fueled” because report after report has demonstrated that those dollars help leverage individual charitable donations, not to mention the earning capacities of charitable organizations. This is especially true of government funding, which requires substantial private-sector match.

In other words, government as the smallest sector, less than 5 percent of budget, helps makes the other 95 percent reachable. And that dollar is often the first in the equation to leverage dollars from the other three. It is also what helps make arts programs financially accessible to the general public and protects them from returning to the pre-NEA era when the arts were largely the purview of wealthy individuals.

What this shift in funding priorities also does is ignore or at least under-recognize and under-value the undisputable ways that our charitable industry has enormous impact on the very issues the newly refocused corporations and foundations seek to support and empower.

sticky-bigThe arts are sticky….thank goodness. They can connect to, enhance, expand, and improve virtually every other field of human interest, or vital social issue. And they do both by design, and through dynamic outcomes.

New Jersey’s arts community is rife with examples, and I have listed below just five that came to mind quickly while writing this post. They do so independently and as part of programs embedded in other institutions. It is ironic to me that our cross sector partners seem to be getting it, while more and more of their funders do not.

So let me be blunt, because it is not about the arts pitting itself against other desperately important matters.

It is about remembering that the nonprofit arts are charitable by the virtue of their educational purpose. It’s also about state government fulfilling its obligations under existing law (NJ Hotel/Motel Occupancy Fee [P.L. 2003, c114] and the NJ Cultural Trust [S1328, 2000]), to support the nonprofit, charitable arts, historical, and cultural community, not just for their intrinsic worth to a healthy civil society, but for all the ways they are integral to pressing social issues: education, health, community and economic vitality, employment, and at-risk communities of all sorts.

So here is a battle cry moving forward — let the public charitable leverage live long and prosper so that government can once again drive private cultural philanthropy!


 Ann Marie Miller is the Director of Advocacy and Public Policy at ArtPride New Jersey and a regular contributor to the Dodge Blog. Email her at Click here to visit ArtPride’s website.  Photo at top: New Jersey Ballet’s Dancing for Parkinson’s Program.

Posted in ArtPride New Jersey, Arts, Arts Advocacy | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Arts Ed Now: It’s Time for New Jersey Governor’s Awardees to be Proud and Loud

Posted on by Wendy Liscow, Dodge Education Program Director


The 2016 New Jersey Governor’s Awards in Arts Education are just around the corner.  You can join the celebration of talent, creativity and leadership on May 26 at the War Memorial’s Patriots Theatre in Trenton.

Approximately 80 students will be recognized for their exemplary work in creative writing, speech, dance, music, theater and visual arts, along with 20 educators and leaders who will be honored for their exceptional commitment and contribution to arts education.

When I was growing up, my parents schooled me about the importance of humility. I still hear a voice in my head warning me that “nobody likes a braggart and certainly no one likes an immodest winner.” Yet, when I think back to when I received the 2015 Governor’s Award for Distinguished Service last year, I can’t help but let a silly smile creep across my face. And I want to share why I will forever treasure this award.

I was sincerely honored to be recognized by my peers for doing what I love, and humbled to be in the company of fellow honorees Larry Capo, honored for his lifetime commitment to arts education, and Bari Erlichson, for her work at the New Jersey Department of Education to ensure arts education data is part of the state’s School Report Card. I continue to be moved and overwhelmed by all of the talent represented on stage that day and by the palpable pride that families and friends were feeling as they watched teachers and students receive their awards.


Wendy Liscow, center, receives the Distinguished Service Award at the 2015 New Jersey Governor’s Awards in Arts Education. Photos Courtesy of the New Jersey Arts Education Partnership


This kind of talent and leadership is why the Dodge Foundation is committed to ensuring that every New Jersey child, no matter their circumstances, has the opportunity to receive a sequential and well-rounded arts education. We believe that participating in the arts will help students discover their creative core, help them engage with others, and help them become comfortable with the pursuit of new ideas and the trial and error of artistic practice. They will be our future artists interpreting the world around them.  hey will become nation builders and leaders. We also know that adults have the ability to nurture or quash a young person’s creative spirit, so we support ways for teachers to infuse the arts in to their teaching practice, develop their own creativity, and, in turn, spark student creativity.

I believe if you want to see these kinds of positive outcomes for all teachers and students, you have to shine a spotlight on them. The Governor’s Awards recognize excellence and achievements in Arts Education that would otherwise go unnoticed. By honoring the good work of students and their teachers, award ceremonies help families appreciate their children’s gifts and ordinary citizens to see the power of the arts to change lives.

Recognition events can also inspire individuals to push themselves to new heights and mastery. I confess, when I attended the Governor’s Awards five years ago, I was so moved by the honorees that I remember asking myself, “Am I doing my best work, reaching outside my comfort zone, and having the intended impact on others?” I didn’t make it a goal to win an award in five years, but I did challenge myself to work harder and to be worthy of the efforts of the winners on that stage.

I realize that for every student receiving an award on May 26, there are countless others who have worked hard in pursuit of their art. Many are equally talented and must be encouraged to continue to follow their passion.

We must also pay tribute to the many parents, teachers, and dedicated adults who encouraged these students, helped pave the way for them, and nurtured their talents.  They too deserve to be honored, although I suppose the joy, so clearly seen on their faces, has its own reward.

Perhaps it is this awareness of all the noteworthy talent, teaching practice, and leadership in New Jersey that my parents wanted me to ponder when they cautioned me about arrogance. I realize now they did not mean I should not enjoy the recognition or not feel proud. They just wanted me to know that I was standing on the shoulders of my family, friends, and teachers.

So to all the past, present and FUTURE Arts Education awardees — revel in the limelight.  You represent the creative potential and sustainability of our state. Enjoy this recognition and spread the word about the power of the arts to transform individuals, schools, and communities.

We hope you will join us for the awards on May 26 and see for yourself!


Wendy Liscow is the education program director at the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation. Learn more about why Dodge funds education here. Photos are courtesy of the New Jersey Governor’s Awards in Arts Education.


Posted in Arts, Arts Ed Now, Education, Leadership | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Technical Assistance: Getting Your Nonprofit Budget Past ‘One Day (or Year) at a Time’

Posted on by Hilda Polanco, Dodge Board Leadership Facilitator

For a nonprofit organization, the annual budgeting process is typically the primary vehicle for financial planning.

Organizational leaders and stakeholders come to that process with a sense of plans and goals for the year, and (ideally) come to collective decisions about how resources will be allocated to advance and prioritize among them. Then, once the board gives its final approval and the new year begins, the team sets about putting those plans into action and monitoring results, until it’s time to do the whole thing over again next year.

Unfortunately, this “one year at a time” approach can often leave organizations vulnerable to longer-term trends, changes or challenges. Some trends or uncertainties may require years of advance planning and action to effectively hedge against them. And while a formal strategic planning process should always include financial plans and projections, those typically only happen every several years.

So between the year-by-year budget development process and the every-few-years strategic plan, we need some means of considering possible financial changes across multiple years. Otherwise, we risk not being able to make the adjustments necessary to address these long-term trends, perhaps until it is too late.

Examples of situations that can have long-term financial implications that may require significant pre-planning include:

  • Increasing personnel costs, especially associated with medical insurance
  • Relocation costs as a property lease nears expiration
  • Conclusion of a significant multi-year grant
  • Possibility of reduced revenue from public sources as government budgets shrink
  • Demographic or other social shifts that may affect the scope and nature of an organization’s programming

In addition to those external factors, many organizational decisions themselves have long-term financial implications — for example, a decision to increase staff wages by 3% is not a one-year expense but rather a long-term commitment.

To plan responses to these scenarios, organizations need models that can quantify the financial impact of future possibilities, showing how much of a gap will need to be made up by increasing revenues or reducing expenses (or, to take the optimistic case, how much profit will be available for investment in furthering the organization’s mission).

These models are generally constructed in Excel (so it helps to have someone on the team with facility using that program), and project out long enough to show the financial implications of the scenarios you want to understand—be that three years, five years, ten years, or even longer. Note that this doesn’t mean we’re building budgets for those years, but rather trying to understand the implications of changes to the status quo—this kind of model helps to inform planning and decision-making, but is not itself a detailed financial plan.

Following are a set of basic steps to multi-year financial planning:

  • Determine the main trends or uncertainties you need to understand and plan for. These will be the variables in the financial model.
  • Construct a financial profile of your organization’s current (or “baseline”) business model—basically a high-level version of the assumptions underlying your operating budget. What are the primary cost drivers? What are the relationships between types of expenses? What are the sources and levels of revenue?
  • Use the variables to show the impact to the baseline over time of the scenarios being considered. For example, what does a 4% annual reduction in government contract revenue combined with a 2% annual increase in health insurance premiums look like over the next five years? You may want to look at a few different constellations of factors, such as a best-case, moderate-case and worst-case scenario with varying levels of revenue and expense increase or decrease.
  • Discuss and develop plans for mitigating any financial risks demonstrated by the scenarios, including specifying “triggers” for implementing plans.

(A more comprehensive and very useful guide to scenario planning from the American Institute of CPAs and Chartered Institute of Management Accountants is available here.)

While we can’t predict the future—much less control it—looking at the financial possibilities that exist beyond the current budget can at least help us to better plan for it.


Hilda Polanco is the Founder and CEO of Fiscal Management Associates, the go-to advisor foundation and nonprofit leaders seek when addressing nonprofit financial management capacity. Hilda provides capacity building, training and coaching services to foundations and nonprofits throughout the country.  

Posted in Technical Assistance | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Poetry Friday: Festival Video – Saeed Jones

Posted on by Dodge Poetry Staff

saeed jones 3Today’s featured Festival film is a reading by Saeed Jones from the 2014 Dodge Poetry Festival. Enjoy his poems “The Blue Dress in Mother’s Closet” and “Boy in a Whalebone Corset.” For more information about Saeed Jones, you can follow him on Twitter @theferocity.




Check back with us each Friday for more Festival videos!

Dodge Poetry Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | dodgepoetry

Posted in Poetry, Poetry 2014 Festival, Poetry Archives, Poets | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Free Press: How an Organizing Mindset Can Serve Newsrooms

Posted on by Mike Rispoli, Free Press



Newsrooms are experimenting with different ways of engaging their audiences — and over the last few months Free Press has been on the ground figuring out the best ways to connect Garden State journalists and residents via our News Voices: New Jersey project. We’re busy learning from community-engagement specialists, listening to community members, and drawing on organizing tools to discover what types of engagement work for newsrooms and benefit the public.

While the practice varies from newsroom to newsroom, engagement involves interacting with an audience to further a newsroom’s mission. It reflects the recognition that journalism is better when it engages communities through meaningful and thoughtful conversations, whether online or in real life.  Some newsrooms are even creating new positions and adopting new tools dedicated to the practice.

Engagement can bridge the gap between journalists and audiences. It can also heighten community investment in local reporting.

Advantages of community engagement

Seeking and reporting the truth is essential to a journalist’s work. Community engagement is a powerful way to deepen a journalist’s ability to do so.

Here’s how community engagement can serve newsrooms:

  • Listening to residents enables newsrooms to report on the issues that are most on people’s minds. That means stories draw greater interest and attention.
  • An engaged audience is like an army of sources. Conversation with knowledgeable members of the community can help a reporter learn quickly, gather facts and get stories right.
  • Engagement helps reporters be transparent about how they do their work and how they know what they know. This approach builds trust with audiences and makes readers more critical news consumers.
  • When people feel journalists are listening to them and representing their perspectives, they’re more likely to become avid readers and listeners. They’re also more likely to share journalists’ work with others.
  • With so many forces competing for people’s attention, engagement helps ensure that hard-hitting journalism has the impact it should.
  • Engagement is an opportunity to convey the value of journalism to the community. When people see that value, they’re more likely to support journalism financially.

Deepening community investment

With News Voices, we’ve adapted strategies commonly used in organizing and brought them to the newsroom.

By “organizing,” we don’t mean “activism.” Here’s how reporters can adopt an organizing mindset to engage communities:

Start with the person: People can tell whether you care about them. Community members should be treated with dignity and respect, even if you remain skeptical about their stories or motives. Residents’ interactions with reporters shape how willing they are to engage. If you approach people with a spirit of openness and engage in active listening, the community will be more likely to trust you.

Embrace the community: Some of the most meaningful engagement happens when journalists stop thinking of themselves as being apart from the community, and instead start seeing themselves as part of the community. Discussions then go from being transactional or one-sided to being emphatic and reciprocal. This is something that all reporters, even the ones without “engagement” in their titles, should recognize.

Shift into a  “reporting with” approach: Journalists play invaluable roles when they provide information and hold the powerful accountable. But members of the media themselves have significant power, especially over the communities they report on. The mindset of reporting with rather than reporting for is an attempt to dismantle this power dynamic. Adapted from theories in civic technology, it attempts to draw on residents’ knowledge and power, respond to community needs, and create stories that are useful to the audience.

Acknowledge the whole person: Residents are not simply sources of quotes: They have a range of concerns and intersecting perspectives. Developing stronger relationships with everyday people allows reporters to tap into a community’s collective knowledge. This not only informs how a journalist approaches individual stories but also how the reporter covers the community as a whole.

Some of these points may seem intuitive. Some may seem foreign. But don’t let the term “organizing” turn you off. Organizers know how to mobilize communities to address long-standing problems and get people to take collective action.

As local newsrooms seek to build their relationships with the community, they need to look to other fields that have had success in forming those bonds.


Mike_Rispoli_newMike directs Free Press’ campaigns to protect press freedom and oversees the organization’s News Voices: New Jersey project. He also teaches journalism as a part-time lecturer at Rutgers University. Before joining Free Press, Mike worked for the human rights organizations Privacy International and Access. Mike also served as the technical editor on the 2015 bookYou: For Sale, a look at protecting user data and privacy online. In a past life, Mike was a journalist for the Newark Star-Ledger and Gannett Newspapers. Mike received his master’s degree in media studies and media management at the New School in New York City and his bachelor’s degree in journalism at Marist College. Follow him on Twitter @rispolimike.

Posted in Community Building, Informed Communities, Media | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Creative New Jersey: Celebrating Community at Creative Hammonton

Posted on by Kacy O’Brien, Program Manager, Creative New Jersey


On an alternately rainy and sunny April 12th, Creative Hammonton’s second Call to Collaboration – a town-wide, cross-sector gathering of people from local business, environmental, social service, arts and culture, faith-based, education and government sectors, among others – welcomed participants to St. Joseph High School, our venue host, for a day of network weaving, action-oriented problem solving and collective impact.

This day-lCHammonton2ong meeting of collaboration and creative thinking was the continuation of the Creative Hammonton Call to Collaboration in January 2016 (you can read more about that from an earlier blog here), tackling the central question:

“How can we creatively strengthen and expand the connections of our increasingly diverse community, improve collaborations, and capitalize on our economic, cultural and natural resources to cultivate a thriving Hammonton?”

At the top of the day we heard from members of the community about ideas that had gained fuel or formed since our January gathering, including:

  • A group of individuals with representatives from the local MainStreet organization, Stockton University, Chamber of Commerce, as well as a local artist, restaurateur, and faith-leader formed a task force focused on capitalizing on the Hammonton train station through tourism, marketing & branding to increase ridership, and coordinating events with the train schedule for added convenience. In the two months between January’s and last week’s convening, this group created a working agenda, met several times, and found new members during our second day in April.
  • A Welcoming Committee formed during the first day of Creative Hammonton to help tourists and new residents get connected to the town. This group of people will act as ambassadors to introduce newcomers to area restaurants and attractions, family activities, and neighborhood groups and committees. In the two months between sessions, this group met several times and attracted new participants last week.
  • A local artist and studio owner had the opportunity to take over a disused 3,000 sq. ft. space which will be called the “Art Mart” and will include artist studio space, classroom space and community gathering space, which she offered for future Creative Hammonton and other group meetings. The space is under renovation and is scheduled to open in May 2016.

Creative NJ Hammonton_marketplace topics

Many of those groups continued to build out their ideas and projects over the course of the day while others proffered new topics for discussion, which ranged from helping to prepare autistic children for college and beyond to fostering community service and youth involvement, from using multi-media platforms such as podcasting, blogs and video blogs to solidify Hammonton’s identity for tourism and businesses to protecting and maintaining the health of and access to Hammonton Lake, among many more.

A compendium of the Complete Notes from the January and April convenings are available here on Creative Hammonton’s section on CNJ’s website.

We were also joined by statewide partners and colleagues from NJ Future, Media Mobilizing Project, New Jersey Community Capital, and the Pinelands Preservation Alliance, who were able bring knowledge of resources and demonstration projects from around the state to lend to the conversations in Hammonton.

The Hammonton business community also lent their impressive support for the day by providing participants with a wonderful variety of breakfast and lunchtime food, including eclectic dishes from newly-opened restaurants La Cubana (whose Chef also attended both Calls to Collaboration) and Touch of the Caribbean, alongside established purveyors such as Marcello’s Restaurant and Annata Wine Bar.  We also could not have done this Call to Collaboration without very generous support from Stockton University and Lucca Realty.


CHammonton5We saw connections and collaborations deepen during the day, and the energy around new spaces, new endeavors, and new appreciation for the power of individuals to make a difference.

One participant, a long-time resident and commercial developer in the area, remarked during the closing circle that she was originally skeptical of our community engagement model though willing to give it a try. She announced to all that her opinion was completely changed by the end of the convening. She affirmed our values of creativity, collaboration and inclusivity, and stated the best way for Hammonton to realize a prosperous and sustainable future is by including as many residents, workers, and students as possible in the strategizing and decision-making.

“You all — everyone in this room,” she said, “Are going to make change happen.”

We’ll celebrate that!

Kacy O'Brien

Kacy O’Brien is Creative New Jersey’s Program Manager and is a Lead New Jersey 2015 Fellow. Creative New Jersey is dedicated to fostering creativity, innovation, and sustainability by empowering cross-sector partnerships in commerce, education, philanthropy, government, and culture in order to ensure dynamic communities and a thriving economy.

Creative New Jersey’s leaders and partners are regular contributors to the Dodge blog.

Photo credits: Kacy O’Brien

Posted in Arts, Community Building, Creative NJ | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Poetry Friday: Festival Video – Robert Pinsky

Posted on by Dodge Poetry Staff


Pinsky WebIn preparation for tonight’s performance of PoemJazz at NJPAC, today’s featured Festival film is a reading by Robert Pinsky from the 2014 Dodge Poetry Festival. Enjoy his poems “Rhyme” and “Samarai Song.” For more information about Robert Pinsky, check out his website or follow him on Twitter @RobertPinsky.



Check back with us each Friday for more Festival videos!

Dodge Poetry Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | dodgepoetry

Posted in Poetry, Poetry 2014 Festival, Poetry Archives, Poets | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Sustainable Jersey: Creating a National Network of State-level Sustainability Programs

Posted on by Randall Solomon, Co-Director, Sustainable Jersey

SJ Report

Sustainable Jersey releases Statewide Sustainability Report

Imagine what we could accomplish if we worked together. The idea of starting a multi-state conversation about state-level sustainability programs originated during a national American Planning Association session in 2014.

A group of us who lead state-level sustainability programs sat around a table and realized the potential impact of sharing best practices and leveraging resources.

Within the year, we reconnected over a series of phone calls to design and plan a larger face to face convening for 22 representatives across 10 states. The convening was held this past December in New Brunswick, New Jersey. Representatives came from Energize Connecticut, Florida Green Building Coalition, Green Tier Legacy Communities (Wisconsin), Massachusetts Green Communities, Minnesota Green Step Cities, New York Climate Smart Communities, Sustainable Jersey, Sustainable Maryland and Sustainable Pennsylvania.

Most of us had never met each other despite running very similar programs. One participant said, “I’ve been running this program for years and I never knew there others were out there working to solve the same problems.”

This comment and many others were generated during a session when the group was asked: Why form a network? Although this question was prominent throughout the convening, it wasn’t the only focus. We also tried to provide space for each of us to share knowledge and experience and build relationships with each other. The state programs agreed that it would be beneficial to form a national network to set common standards and share resources and best practices.

Sustainable Jersey Releases National Study of State-Local Sustainability Initiatives

OneCommmunityYesterday, Sustainable Jersey released a study on a new breed of bottom-up meets top-down state-local sustainability programs in the United States. Municipal certification or recognition is a signature element of these programs; yet, certification is merely the visible tip of an iceberg of collective action aiming to coordinate priorities, policy, and resources among state and local, public and private actors.

Funded by the Surdna Foundation, this study was guided by a working group comprised of representatives of five state-local sustainability programs including: Minnesota GreenStep Cities, Sustainable Maryland, Sustainable Pennsylvania, Wisconsin Green Tier Legacy Communities and Sustainable Jersey. Key personnel from Green Cities California, Clean Energy Communities (CT), the Florida Green Building Coalition, Massachusetts Green Communities, Michigan Green Communities, Climate Smart Communities (NY) and Go Green Virginia also contributed to the report.

“This study sheds light on a growing trend where organizations operating at the statewide level form partnerships to amplify the role of local government to make change,” said Helen Chin, director of Sustainable Environments at the Surdna Foundation. “This is a growing model where statewide organizations, including state government, engage communities to set standards together and cooperate to identify needed resources that enable the communities to make measurable change on the ground. Hundreds of local governments are now placing sustainability on the policy agenda and implementing thousands of discrete sustainability projects within a short span of time.”

Melanie Hughes McDermott, Ph.D., a senior researcher at Sustainable Jersey and one of the report authors said, “This report is the first part of a multi-year effort to support the growth of state-local sustainability programs for the certification or recognition of municipal sustainability and evaluate their potential. In addition to providing insights across the board, the report includes program profiles of each of the 12 state-sustainability programs. We hope to show a path forward toward collaboration across the United States to move these local efforts to the next level.”

A few themes emerge from the comparative analysis of the 12 state-local sustainability programs:

  • Most of the programs set standards and rate community performance on dimensions related to sustainability and/or energy, and provide a form of certification or recognition to local governments.
  • Most of the programs go beyond rating communities and work to provide resources in the form of grants or technical assistance to help communities make progress.
  • Some programs are led by NGOs or universities, while others are led by state government. The organizations generally embody some kind of public-private cooperative relationship.
  • State-led programs as a whole tend to have larger budgets and higher rates of entry-level participation.
  • A higher proportion of participants in programs led by NGOs and universities attain certification (or equivalent recognition).
  • Funding available to the programs is a key driver of local participation, but is not the only driver.  Funding for operations and direct grants to local governments is the number one need cited by respondents.
  • All twelve programs strive to demonstrate widespread impact. Thus, the participants in this study expressed a keen interest in networking to engage national partners, attract resources, and learn from each other how best to make (and measure) impact – one community at a time.

We see great potential in the programs coming together to learn from each other, share resources, and also to engage national partners. We agreed that it would be beneficial to form a national network to set common standards and share resources and best practices. We continue to meet and plan to have a second convening this September.

Imagine what we will accomplish if we work together — stay tuned!

Randall Solomon, Sustainable Jersey

Randall Solomon has 20 years of experience working in government, academia, and the non-profit sector. He is one of the principals that founded and directs the Sustainable Jersey Certification program.

For more about Sustainable Jersey:

Website   Facebook  Twitter  Instagram   LinkedIn


Posted in Community Building, Environment, Green Ideas, Public Policy, Sustainable Jersey | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment