Carolyn Hove, Projects and Office Manager, signing up local cycling enthusiasts to take part in Bike to Work Week, at the offices of the Lincoln Community Foundation

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Some of Our Current Projects

The mission of the Joslyn Institute for Sustainable Communities is to promote human systems in balance with the natural environment. For 25 years, we have accomplished this in our many initiatives through planning, design, education, collaborations and partnerships. We focus on waste avoidance, design for sustainability, equity and justice, rural-urban synergies, conservation of resources, long-term thinking/ planning, and holistic as opposed to silo thinking, and fostering vibrant, sustainable communities for quality of life for future generations. Underpinning every project’s planning and design is the consideration of measurable indicators in the sectors of public policy, environment, socio-cultural characteristics, economics, and technology. And we characteristically find ways to solve a series of problems with one holistic solution.

Here are some of the projects we are currently engaged in (click on the name to take you directly to the description of that project):

LNK Center for Resilience and Conservation

Lincoln Public Market


Resilient Planning for Equity and Justice

Arctic Cruise Tourism: Navigating Nature, Commerce, and Culture in Northern Communities

Ensuring Vitality and Sustainability for Older Populations Through Innovative Planning and Practices

Housing Security: Innovative Approaches to Workforce/Affordable and Low-Income Housing

Learn more about how the LNK Center for Resilience and Conservation will help the City of Lincoln to realize the imperatives in its recently-adopted Climate Action Plan. Click here to view the 10-page PDF.

The LNK Center for Resilience & Conservation


Our LNK Center for Resilience and Conservation is the product of more than six years of careful planning and design with these considerations in mind. The Center will incorporate two main anchors: Lincoln Public Market and EcoStore. Both are designed to foster healthier, more vital communities through waste avoidance, toxic materials avoidance, innovative reuse of food waste and building materials, ensuring that both foods and materials are used for best and highest purpose, diverting tons of waste from landfills, significantly shortening supply chains, and creating new markets for repurposed, recycled materials.

Supported by the City of Lincoln and Lancaster County, whose Plan Forward 2050 and Climate Action Plan both endorse our Center’s implementation and goals, the LNK Center project is designed to be both replicable and scalable in locations across the state and nation, and even globally. In fact, our long-term plans are to establish satellite locations in small towns in the region, and eventually, throughout the state. We believe in building upon rural/urban synergies, helping our bifurcated society to understand the interconnectedness and interdependencies that make us a thriving, dynamic, forward-looking nation.

The LNK Center is to be housed in a complex that includes the Lincoln Public Market, EcoStore center for resale of reusable building materials, a food forest, community gathering place, education and training center, and much more. The LNK Center complex is located within a food desert and Opportunity Zone, readily accessible to public transport and bike paths, near both the University of Nebraska and the popular historic Haymarket District. The site is also close to both the state capitol building and city and county offices and the downtown business district. The underserved residential neighborhoods nearby are home to both immigrant and low-income and minority residents, as well as students. Because of its location in the heart of the city and because of the services we will provide, we envision it as a lively social and business hub promoting sustainability, waste avoidance, recycling, fresh local foods, conservation, and civic engagement and pride.

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The Sustainable Feast, Episode 1


One of the main anchors in the LNK Center for Resilience and Conservation will be Lincoln Public Market.

Recent catastrophic events—massive flooding, drought, derecho, and the pandemic—have revealed in stark relief the fragility of our supply chains, the inequities of access to and distribution of resources, and the need to foster long-term thinking and a greater sense of community, as opposed to short-term, silo thinking, and a divided community. Food—fresh, healthy, local food—is a key element in community health and sustainability.

Our global food systems and the logistics that they rely on have grown increasingly complex, unsustainable, inequitable, un-resilient, and fraught with unconscionable waste. During the past year, we have witnessed millions of gallons of milk poured down drains, crops rotting in fields, empty supermarket shelves, hundreds of thousands of vehicles lined up to get a box of food. We have gained an understanding of the lived reality of a modern city’s ability to sustainably and equitably feed itself in a crisis situation or otherwise.

Over the past six years, the Joslyn Institute has done the hard work—viability studies, needs assessments, research and studies with stakeholders throughout the food system, planning, developing a large network of partnerships—to be able to sustainably design and build a regional food system that addresses massive waste, inefficient and wasteful long supply chains, public health issues, inequalities and injustices, loss of jobs and job training, carbon emissions, and other unintended consequences of the current “just-in-time” global model of food logistics and supply.

The Lincoln Public Market, located in what is now a food desert, promises to be a powerhouse in terms of building a strong sense of community around local foods, rural-urban synergies, strengthening equity and health among underserved neighborhoods and small towns in the region, addressing issues of food waste and carbon emissions, creating jobs and entrepreneurial opportunities, helping pave the way for a new generation of farmers of food, and much more.

At heart, Lincoln Public Market solves a common conundrum: Farmers who want to grow food need a reliable year-round market for their produce, and a year-round market needs enough farmers committed to growing food to supply its customers. In Nebraska, we have a growing number of young people, returning veterans, minorities and immigrants, women who want to farm and grow food. We have rich soils and ample water resources. What we don’t have is the kind of market these farmers need—yet. Lincoln Public Market will not only solve this problem, but will help build wealth through jobs, entrepreneurialism, rural-urban interconnectedness and interdependence, better health outcomes, and positive impact on the environment and our resources.

While Lincoln Public Market will be a 12-month market for fresh, local foods as well as cafés and food-related shops, it will also work with expert partners to help beginning farmers learn about innovative financing methodologies, regenerative agriculture, carbon sinks, and other sustainable, smart practices. The Market will also have partners who work with budding entrepreneurs in local-foods-based business enterprises, including processing, distribution, and transport, and in urban agriculture, including such things as community gardens, aquaponics, vertical farms and high-tunnel greenhouses. A commercial kitchen will enhance this capability at the Market. An essential aspect of Lincoln Public Market is the minimization of the food supply chain, with the explicit intention of being able to provide the region, and especially to underserved neighborhoods and individuals, with fresh, healthy, local foods.

A key element in the development of our innovative Public Market is the formative ways we intend to use data to maximize supply chain efficiencies and address food insecurity issues at all times, but particularly during emergency events, like a pandemic or in the aftermath of flooding or a tornado. Our nimble, AI-based web apps will help streamline supply and demand and transport and payment functions, and pinpoint emergency needs within the region in real time. The importance of quality data of the kind necessary to effect these capabilities cannot be understated. Our partner in web app development will be key in developing the technology that will propel these innovative aspects that will make this Market work for everyone.

With our app developer partner, we will develop a series of apps. Given the disproportionate effects of climate change-driven weather disasters and the pandemic upon the poor, elderly, at-risk kids, minority populations—Black, Indigenous, Latinx, Asian Americans, immigrant communities—one of our primary goals in working with our web app developer partner and our own expert in GIS and data mapping is to develop one web app that seamlessly integrates social services, food and housing accessibility, legal help, healthcare, and other needs on an emergency basis as well as on a regular basis, which, for some of these neighbors, can be a case of regular urgency. We intend to work closely with parters in the City and County agencies as well as community advocates in ensuring equity and quality of life for all our citizens.

Other web apps we plan to develop include AI- and machine learning-based supply-demand links for providers of reusable materials and our EcoStore and its clients; for providers of foods and our Lincoln Public Market and our partners and clients, including institutions, nonprofit food providers, and so on. Another app we have in the works helps beginning farmers and entrepreneurs to design, plan, execute, and assess the sustainability of their business plans, and enables long-term agile planning, obviating unintended consequences and greater success.

The Lincoln Public Market will take on the challenge of food waste in a vigorous way. We will create/find markets for “ugly” produce and for over-produced produce. We will work with both the City of Lincoln and private enterprises, such as local grocers and vermicomposters, to ensure all food waste is either turned into compost, fertilizer, energy generation, or used in other innovative ways. For example, we intend that bins and shelving in the Food Market will be made from 3-D printed plant-based materials. (Other fixtures in the Market may be constructed from repurposed building materials from EcoStore.) We have plans to partner with local entrepreneurs to provide beeswax and plant-based and recycled materials for food packaging in the Market. Among our other plans is a food forest and apiary on adjacent property, an initiative we will plan and grow with partners from the community and local schools.

With our immigrant residents, our Black and Latinx citizens, our Native American and Asian American neighbors, we hope to build a tantalizing variety of ethnic produce, ingredients, recipes and cooking and growing methods to share with the Public Market community. Indeed, the vast variety of foodways within Nebraska will be an everyday feature of the Market, nurturing a stronger reality of our diverse, vibrant community. The Lincoln Public Market will include cafés and beverage shops, outdoor dining and socializing areas, and an area where cooking demonstrations can be produced. We will also partner with the City Health Department and Nebraska Educational Television to produce videos featuring regional food farms and farmers, vineyards and brewers, chefs who use local foods, recipes, historic and cultural aspects of various ingredients, and so on. These will be prepared both for broadcast as a continuing series on statewide PBS stations as well as on digital media channels.

The television and digital video programs are part of the marketing plan. Marketing the Public Market will be multifaceted and ongoing. We will partner with local restaurants’ food trucks to visit food deserts on a regular basis for neighborhood “local foods celebrations”. In the long term, we would like to establish satellite Lincoln Public Markets in these neighborhoods as well as in some of the small rural towns in the region. We will have weekly events in-store, including gardening, farming, cooking, food safety and nutrition facts, food-related business opportunities, and more. We plan to have family kid-involved events on weekends. A series of regular press events, social media events, and a website/store are included in our plans. Regular social media posts and planned activities with our many partners throughout the region will be well-publicized.

Two vital carbon-neutral elements both EcoStore and Lincoln Public Market will share are a small fleet of electric delivery vehicles, and a 100% renewable microgrid for power generation. With the electric delivery vehicles, coupled with our web-based apps and EcoStore drop-off satellite sites, we will be able to both deliver fresh foods to towns within the region and return with loads of reusable building materials from those drop-off sites in one trip, creating further efficiencies. We also hope to establish three electric vehicle charging stations at the southern edge of the property, to be used by the two stores and their vehicles, but also for the public. These net zero aspects of the LNK Center will be the result of a public/private partnership. Well-trained EcoStore personnel will oversee the management of all waste, including food waste.

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Deconstruction vs. Demolition


Nine years after its founding, the Joslyn Institute for Sustainable Communities created a non-profit waste-reducing and -avoidance initiative, EcoStore, in 2005. Over a period of 12 years, EcoStore demonstrated an effective ability to divert thousands of tons of still useful material from the Lincoln/Lancaster County landfill, thereby reducing the pressure for new Lincoln landfill space and deferring new public investment in managing its waste stream, while also effectively conserving limited natural resources. EcoStore lost its lease in 2018, but the old site did not fit EcoStore’s lumber and building materials business well, and we’ve found a new site that fits perfectly within the LNK Center for Resilience and Conservation.

In its new iteration, EcoStore will continue to carry a robust inventory of doors, windows, hardware, flooring, lumber, electrical and plumbing fixtures, cabinets, latex paints and stains, landscape materials, and much more. We plan to build on our engaged, dedicated clientele and roster of contractors/donors.

The store became a community gathering place for our educational and social Think Green It’s Thursday events, and we plan to continue that tradition with guest speakers and group discussions about educational, technical, and innovative topics, along with locally-sourced foods and beverages. Enhanced outreach to and interaction with contractors and DIY builders throughout the city and county, more expansive and robust marketing, and greater educational and training opportunities are planned. Within EcoStore, we plan to establish a wood-working shop and repurposing center, where specialist personnel can demonstrate creative ways to reuse materials, as well as teach interested people the proper management and use of tools, particularly wood-working tools. In addition, the facility will allow EcoStore to create repurposed items for sale.

EcoStore has been dedicated to the conservation of natural resources by diverting construction and demolition waste from Lincoln’s landfills, while creating a consumer supply of affordable, reusable building supplies and material, available to community and regional customers, contractors and property owners, even craftsmen and artists. We worked closely with the City in keeping toxic wastes out of the waste stream.

In addition, through the store we created another of our characteristic “solve several problems with one solution” programs: deconstruction of blighted properties. Through this program, we were able to help create safer and healthier neighborhoods; teach at-risk youth a useful trade—teaching them how buildings are constructed by carefully deconstructing them; save thousands of tons of C&D waste by recycling it for resale and repurposing; and provide a positive addition to the local economy and City budget.

In its new home, we propose an expanded deconstruction program, one that provides good jobs for transitioning formerly incarcerated people, working with partners in the Department of Corrections. We also plan to locate satellite building materials drop-off sites in small communities and rural properties in the region, and to extend our deconstruction efforts to those areas as well. In addition, we hope to partner with a private enterprise for electric vehicle transport of these materials to the EcoStore.

Outreach to Lincoln Public Schools’ vocational programs, and Southeast Community College’s building contractor educational classes will help foster skills training as well as the importance of sustainability, waste reduction and avoidance.

We are in the midst of compiling a comprehensive database of contractors in the region—large and small—and will use that database to create an app that will allow contractors and DIYers to communicate with EcoStore when they have questions about materials they have or need, and for EcoStore to communicate with them about products we have for reuse. In addition, we are producing videos to show them how best to deconstruct for reuse when remodeling, among other videos. Our regular weekly social/educational gatherings, including woodworkers, artists, and artisans, will help build a good, well-educated network.

Our marketing efforts will expand to include big box stores, hardware stores, paint stores, and others, and a wide-reaching social media marketing and information campaign will be deployed. A dedicated website will be continuously updated to include new inventory, announcement of events, and local resources of use to interested stakeholders.

EcoStore is a program that is both scalable and replicable, creating numerous opportunities for waste avoidance through recycling and reuse, new jobs, new businesses, and more, for cities, towns and villages throughout the state. We believe that such waste avoidance creates new opportunities for programs on design—design that has waste avoidance as its goal.

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The American Planning Association defines equity as “just and fair inclusion into a society in which all can participate, prosper, and reach their full potential. Unlocking the promise of the nation by unleashing the promise in us all.”

The inclusive, holistic nature of this definition provides the foundation for considering and applying equity and justice in all facets of planning and policy. Planning for equity and justice is intended to challenge those practices that result in policies, programs, regulations, and behaviors that disproportionately impact and impede the progress of certain segments of the population more than others. Done with intention, equity and justice form a thread that is woven through the fabric of all plans, regulations, developments, and policy options in civic life.

The Joslyn Institute for Sustainable Communities (JISC) is working with Legal Aid Nebraska to identify and address inequities that exist today in urban, suburban, rural, and Tribal settings and to prevent the creation of new inequities. Disparities or inequities in health, income, education, opportunity, mobility, and choice are apparent in every community irrespective of size or location. As a result, entire groups of people, due to their income, race, age, gender, sexual orientation, immigration status, religion, and/or disability experience limited access to opportunity and advancement.

Inequity, which is measurable, is marked by two key attributes that often work together:

Disproportionality When the outcomes of a project or plan create or amplify disparities in only part of a community, the disproportionate impacts can lead to further social and economic impairment of some groups while others receive the full benefit of the effort.

Institutionalized Inequity is often embedded in methodologies that justify systemic policies, ignore negative outcomes and disproportionate impacts, and do not extend adequate support to the affected areas and their residents, not even giving them a voice.

The history of modern discriminatory practices—from zoning regulations and banking practices to policies that “ghettoize” people with disabilities, elders, people of color, the poor and underserved, LGBTQ individuals, and immigrants—are widespread in every state and city in the union. Technically illegal per federal law, coded language in policies and practices which perpetuate exclusionary behavior create a legacy—a “slippery slope”—that ensures difficulties and often insurmountable hurdles for people to secure a foothold in the economic mainstream.

In recent years, the gap between the rich and poor, between Whites and Blacks, Latinos, Asians, Native Americans, and other minority populations, between Christians and people of other faiths, between young and old, between city dwellers and rural residents, between the educated “elite” and the less educated working poor—that gap has become an abyss, shifting the very baselines of what our nation’s founding tenets proclaim.

It is a cleavage exposed and heightened most shockingly by such events as the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis in 2020, and by the devastating impacts of climate change calamities and the COVID-19 pandemic. To say that inequity and injustice are rife and unsustainable is to greatly understate the matter. These inequities threaten our very foundations as human beings in a civilized democratic society.

Today, the American Planning Association, many cities and counties, some states, and thousands of agencies, organizations, and private enterprises are renewing and deepening their resolve to address the systemic, institutionalized discrimination and biases that are the roots feeding the inequities and injustice throughout our society.

The time is right, right now. The Joslyn Institute for Sustainable Communities is studying the equity and justice projects and programs of several cities and counties in the United States to gauge the effectiveness and reach of each program, learn about its failings and its successes, its best practices and caveats. Attention is given to the processes and methodologies used to implement the programs, practicalities, and unique aspects of each.

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The Joslyn Institute has joined partners in Juneau and Nome, Alaska; Bergen, Norway; Visby, Sweden; and Akureyri, Iceland, to study the effects of cruise ship tourism in these locations and their adjoining regions, in a project funded by the National Science Foundation. The goals of this research are to better understand how cruise ship tourism is impacting destination communities in the Arctic and to develop a set of data-driven indicators to help local decision makers define policies to increase local adaptive capacity for identifying, monitoring, forecasting and responding to effects from cruise ships.

The Joslyn Institute’s Five Domains of Sustainability and Sustainometrics© tool provide the framework for the study. Partners in the study are gathering baseline data on stakeholder perceptions, develop indicators for indigenous and socio-cultural effects, as well as economic, environmental, technological, and economic and public policy aspects. Indicators for noise, air, water, wildlife will be developed, and those for destination port infrastructure, energy and waste will likewise be determined.

The group will conduct workshops in the use of Sustainometrics© and will use the indicators determined at the workshops to begin a case study of comparison of the Alaskan and Scandinavian cruise destinations, and then develop methodologies for transforming the indicators into policy recommendations.

All of the communities involved in the study are economically dependent on the tourism from cruise ships visiting their ports and fjords, but what are the other effects of these ships on the environment, socio-cultural quality of life, and related aspects of each region?  This study aims to find best practices and recommendations for sustainable co-existence of cruise ship tourism and high quality of life in these regions. Resiliency planning, strategizing, management and long-term visioning are critical aspects of the study.

The Joslyn Institute has also been providing detailed GIS mapping and data that are helping the participants to better understand each port, region, and their characteristics and practices.

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The developed world is consumed with talk and even some action with regard to underserved populations—minorities, immigrants, the poor. But older populations are even more isolated, especially so among minority, immigrant, and poor populations.

Yet our elders cut a throughline across every sector, every challenge we face in our quest for a more vibrant, vital, sustainable future: affordable housing; access to transportation, healthy food and water; bias and discrimination related to gender, ethnicity, and age; short-term thinking and silo-thinking, especially with regard to public policy; issues of resilience and public safety related to climate change and population migration, among others.

The United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development sets out a universal plan of action to achieve sustainable development in a balanced manner and seeks to realize the human rights of all people. It calls for leaving no one behind and for ensuring that the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are met for all segments of society, at all ages, with a particular focus on the most vulnerable—including older persons.

Preparing for an aging population is vital to the achievement of the integrated 2030 Agenda, with aging cutting across the goals on poverty eradication, good health, gender equality, economic growth and decent work, reduced inequalities and sustainable cities and more vibrant rural areas.

So while it is essential to address the exclusion and vulnerability of—and intersectional discrimination against—many older persons in working toward the new agenda, it is even more important to go beyond treating older persons as simply a vulnerable group. Older persons must be recognized as active agents of societal development in order to achieve truly transformative, inclusive, and sustainable development outcomes.

Between 2015 and 2030, the number of people aged 60 years or over is projected to grow by 56 percent, reaching 1.4 billion in 2030, which will be nearly 16.5 percent of the global population. By 2030, older persons are expected to account for over 25 percent of the population in Europe and Northern America, 17 percent in Asia and in Latin America and the Caribbean, and 6 percent in Africa. At the same time, what matters here is not only the growing number of older persons but also the heterogeneous and complex nature of aging in view of older persons’ health, family and socio-economic status, among others. By 2050, the world’s population of people over the age of 60 will double. As people grow older, their health outcomes, needs ,and what they value can change. This demographic change has strong implications for sustainable development.
To that end, the Joslyn Institute for Sustainable Communities is working to provide a framework and best practices, as well as policy recommendations, for inclusion of older people in a multisectoral approach that promises to address several issues concurrently: inclusion, cultural recognition, housing, civic participation, transit, access to healthy food and water, and, especially, engagement with young people, particularly children who might otherwise be equally isolated and disenfranchised.

The Joslyn Institute has many years of partnership, engagement, and assistance in creating the United Nations World Urban Campaign (WUC). Joslyn Institute President/CEO W. Cecil Steward has been elected to chair the WUC’s Partners Constituent Group for Older Persons. As part of our work for this global endeavor, we will survey cultural distinctions for the living environments of older persons in the following nations: USA, Canada, China, India, Japan, Sweden, Denmark, Norway, England, France, and Germany. Our research will identify key demographic, economic, cultural, and public policy distinctions and comparisons for aged livability in these nations. With the help of 5 Media, we will be able to effectively activate our extensive connections with the global urban community who are part of the WUC to engage international partners in our project.

One primary idea we will explore is urban design characteristics and cooperative resources, including neighborhoods, housing, and the concept of co-housing—providing older people and young families with common affordable housing that also provides a food garden for residents, learning and care space for children being overseen by the older residents. Our idea of WEE-LDER Care Housing could help children living in poverty, working adults who need to find reliable care for their young, older people who are too often isolated in nursing homes, ways of connecting children and elders educationally, socially, spiritually, intellectually, and much more.

This is just one of the ideas we have, and our research into other best practices and innovations across cultures will provide more.

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Before the COVID-19 pandemic, the crisis in affordable housing, and particularly in rental housing for low-income citizens, was nearing an emergency. In early 2020, the National Low Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC), reported a shortage of 7.2 million affordable and available rental homes for extremely low income (ELI) renter households, those with incomes at or below the poverty level or 30% of their area median income. NLIHC called for for expanding investments in affordable housing programs that serve those with the lowest incomes.

The study found there are just 35 affordable and available units for every 100 ELI renter households nationwide and that 71% of ELI renter households are severely housing cost-burdened, spending more than half of their income on housing. After paying their rent, these households have insufficient resources left for other necessities like food, medicine, transportation, or child care. They are often one financial setback away from eviction and homelessness.

NLIHC conducts this research each year to assess the availability of housing affordable to renters at different income levels throughout the country. “This analysis includes a look at who are the lowest income renters,” said Andrew Aurand, vice president for research at NLIHC and lead author of the report.  “We tend to hear misinformed stereotypes about poor individuals when in fact the vast majority of the poorest renter households are seniors, people with disabilities, or individuals who are working, enrolled in school, or caring for a young child or for someone with a disability. The wages of those who are working are too low to afford rent without assistance.”

The report was based on American Community Survey data. It presents the availability of affordable homes for renter households in each state, the District of Columbia, and the 50 largest metropolitan areas. The lowest income renter households face a shortage of affordable and available rental homes in every state. The supply ranges from 15 affordable and available homes for every 100 ELI renter households in Nevada to 59 for every 100 ELI renter households in Maine. For the 50 largest metropolitan areas in the U.S, the supply ranges from 10 affordable and available rental homes for every 100 ELI renter households in Las Vegas, NV, to 47 in Providence, RI.

The lack of access to an affordable home has devastating long-term impacts on the lowest income families. Affordable homes provide vulnerable families with the stability they need to thrive, to improve their health, education, and economic outcomes. Housing instability increases the likelihood of job loss, eviction, and homelessness, negatively affecting a family’s physical and mental well-being throughout their lives.

The Joslyn Institute has been conducting research into low-income housing, as well as affordable and workforce housing over the past several years, often while working concurrently on projects with Nebraska Investment Finance Authority, among other collaborators.

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