Last month, RPA, in collaboration with the Partnership for Strong Communities (PSC) and Make the Road Connecticut, kicked off the inaugural Leadership Institute for Thriving Communities. The Institute convened Connecticut towns in Fairfield County to thoughtfully approach the challenges they face in remaining economically competitive and becoming more inclusive.
These challenges are more urgent than ever given the changing economics for Connecticut’s residents. Today 35% of Connecticut households in the RPA region spend more than 35% of their income on housing. Statewide more than 40% of Connecticut’s millennial population (ages 20 – 36) live with their parents. And in the past three years, large employers like GE, Aetna and Cannon have left the state for more dynamic places with skilled workforces, taking both jobs and workers with them.
At the Leadership Institute, first selectmen, planning and economic development staff, and planning and zoning commissioners from the towns of Bethel, Fairfield, Ridgefield, and Trumbull came together with respected experts in the fields of urban design, land use planning, economic sustainability and development to exchange ideas and learn about best practices and tools for creating thriving, sustainable communities. These towns have similar demographics but each faces its own unique challenges. These challenges range from housing affordability and transit connectivity to effectively engaging with community residents and addressing ‘NIMBY-ism’. The towns selected to participate have all exhibited the kind of care, proactivity and leadership that should serve as a model to the rest of the region and the state. Each has recognized the need to create a range of housing options, taking advantage of opportunities to develop areas that make the most sense: near transit, services, shopping, town centers and other resources that residents will need.
The day and a half event provided a relaxed forum for town leaders to learn how others are addressing these challenges, where they’ve experienced success, and what solutions are out there for creating more economic investment and housing choice in their communities.
While the main program only lasted two days, we view the Leadership Institute as much more. We hope to engage these communities as they work to meet the needs of their residents in the coming months and years. The Institute is intended to both help individual towns advance sustainable economic development and to foster a community of town leaders who can support one another in these efforts.