Velie-Velia Sando | November 29, 2022
When it comes to community development (and just about everything else in life), it boils down to one essential question: where is the money coming from? When funding opportunities are created to address the issues that plague marginalized communities, all that is left to do is to submit a compelling application and cross your fingers in hopes for an acceptance letter, right?
As it turns out, it’s not as easy as it seems!
When I started as a policy intern at Mobilify, the first project I worked on was in collaboration with the Congress of Neighboring Communities (CONNECT) and Pittsburgh Regional Transit (PRT) to promote transit-oriented development (TOD) to municipalities outside the City of Pittsburgh, primarily those with a busway or light-rail (T) station. This was intended to be a feedback and assistance follow-up effort to the 10 specialized TOD toolkits, with implementation recommendations for each municipality, created by CONNECT and PRT. These municipalities actively participated in that process, but there was one problem– with one exception, none had advanced to implementation. As I interviewed municipal leaders to understand the challenges they face, it became clear that the universally missing keys were still technical knowledge funding readiness. Moreover, different external factors hindered each municipality’s progress so a practical resource seemed necessary to support them in their efforts. This revelation birthed the idea of a Transit Improvement Seminar Series (TISS), to support municipalities in their efforts towards becoming transit-oriented communities even if they don’t have rapid transit or even frequent bus service.
TISS revolves around one important concept: applied learning. The TISS applied learning experience simulates the implementation process that municipalities found challenging and will provide an example for municipal leaders to follow as they apply the same steps in their respective municipalities. Ultimately, TISS relies on the simulation process to provide a blueprint for municipalities to replicate. Municipal leaders are given a municipal profile to complete the following activities: determine disconnects between the community’s aspirations and its governing zoning codes, simulate the funding preparation process, and brainstorm solutions to spur more transit-oriented communities.
Working on this project has brought back many memories of my own time as an educator. While students must apply what they’ve learned to enrich their learning processes, it’s the teacher’s responsibility to help them bridge the knowledge gap so they may understand how their current lessons connect and build on what they’ve learned. Similarly, I realized that while municipal leaders understand the needs of their communities, they need more dedicated support to help facilitate and implement processes that are technical, challenging, and not taking on the immediacy that something like public safety might. Moreover, they need to understand not just what funding exists, but how best to take advantage of the funds available to address mobility issues. As such, TISS is about empowering municipalities to advocate for their needs.
Mobilify’s mission, vision, and belief system is centered around supporting communities in securing affordable, reliable, and convenient transportation choices through 3 main elements, most pertinently education and advocacy. From TISS, we hope that community leaders can build capacity to address the mobility needs that so many want to see.