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Smart Growth

Smart Growth and Equitable Development

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Note: This page focuses on the intersection of smart growth, environmental justice, and equitable development. More comprehensive information on environmental justice is available on EPA's environmental justice page.

Mission Creek Senior Community Project, San Francisco, CA
The Mission Creek Senior Community Project in San Francisco transformed a brownfield into an attractive, mixed-use community. It provides affordable apartments for seniors using green building techniques and materials. Photo courtesy of Mercy Housing California.

Smart growth approaches to development can help address long-standing environmental, health, and economic disparities in low-income, minority, and tribal communities. These communities face an array of challenges, including proximity to polluting facilities, barriers to participating in decision-making processes, disproportionate levels of chronic disease, neighborhood disinvestment, and poor or no access to jobs and services. Many of these challenges are related to how communities and regions are planned and built.

Smart growth approaches support:

  • Cleaning up and reinvesting in existing neighborhoods.
  • Providing housing choices for people of all income levels, household sizes, and stages of life.
  • Offering transportation options that are affordable, reduce air pollution and associated health impacts, and give residents who do not drive more mobility.
  • Improving access to jobs and services by creating development that is walkable and transit-accessible.

Low-income, minority, tribal, and overburdened communities across the country are using these strategies, along with environmental justice and equitable development approaches, to design and build healthy, sustainable, and inclusive neighborhoods.

EPA defines environmental justice as "the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies."

“Fair treatment” means that no group of people should bear a disproportionate share of the negative environmental consequences resulting from industrial, governmental, or commercial operations and policies. EPA and environmental justice organizations have expanded the concept of fair treatment to consider not only how burdens are distributed, but also how environmental and health benefits are shared. In other words, all people, regardless of race, ethnicity, or economic status, should have the opportunity to enjoy the positive outcomes of environmentally related decisions and actions, such as cleaner air and water, improved health, and economic vitality.

"Meaningful involvement” means that the public should have opportunities to participate in decisions that could affect their environment and their health, their contributions should be taken into account by regulatory agencies, and decision-makers should seek and facilitate the engagement of those potentially affected by their decisions.

Equitable development draws on both environmental justice and smart growth and generally refers to a range of approaches for creating communities and regions where residents of all incomes, races, and ethnicities participate in and benefit from decisions that shape the places where they live.

  • Equitable development emphasizes that all residents should be protected from environmental hazards and enjoy access to environmental, health, economic, and social necessities such as clean air and water, adequate infrastructure, and job opportunities.
  • To achieve this, equitable development approaches usually integrate people-focused strategies (efforts that support community residents) with place-focused strategies (efforts that stabilize and improve the neighborhood environment).
  • Equitable development typically calls for a regional perspective to reduce health and economic inequalities among localities and improve outcomes for low-income communities while building healthy metropolitan regions.

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EPA Resources

General Resources

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Technical Assistance Reports

EPA's Office of Sustainable Communities conducts technical assistance projects through the Smart Growth Implementation Assistance, Greening America’s Capitals, Building Blocks for Sustainable Communities, and Local Foods, Local Places programs, as well as ad hoc assistance, to help tribes, states, regions, and communities find solutions to development-related challenges. Some projects that have paid particular attention to equitable development issues include:

  • Saginaw, Michigan (2014): In this Smart Growth Implementation Assistance project, EPA worked with Saginaw to identify options for developing a land use and infrastructure strategy that stabilizes neighborhoods through the sustainable reuse of abandoned properties, supports redevelopment of abandoned properties as green infrastructure, and creates opportunities for long-term economic growth. The report provides information useful to any community seeking to return vacant and abandoned properties to productive use.
  • Equitable Redevelopment of Petroleum Brownfields for Zuni Pueblo and Other Tribal CommunitiesEquitable Redevelopment of Petroleum Brownfields for Zuni Pueblo and Other Tribal Communities (2013): EPA worked with the Zuni Environmental Protection Program to develop a step-by-step guide to redeveloping petroleum brownfields sites. The guide focuses on three sites on Zuni Pueblo in New Mexico but provides information useful to tribes nationwide.
  • Montgomery, Alabama (2012): This Greening America's Capitals project developed design options for a segment of the Selma to Montgomery National Historic Trail as it runs through a historic, diverse neighborhood. The design options would also improve the lives of the residents along the trail by providing sidewalks, bicycle paths, street lighting, and trees.
  • Lincoln, Nebraska (2011): This Greening America's Capitals project created design concepts to improve pedestrian and bicyclist safety and incorporate green infrastructure to manage stormwater runoff in the South Capitol neighborhood. The neighborhood is home to many lower-income residents and has not seen much public investment in recent years.
  • Washington, D.C. (2011): This Greening America's Capitals project developed redesign options for an area near the Anacostia Metro station. The neighborhood is primarily African-American, and the area around the station is home to several schools and churches. The design options focused on improving pedestrian access to the station and included improved crosswalks and signage and green infrastructure features to collect stormwater.
  • Las Cruces, New Mexico (2011): This Smart Growth Implementation Assistance project developed strategies to improve public engagement in community planning and design processes, focusing on ethnically diverse, low-income populations and others who have traditionally had limited involvement in decision-making.
  • Hartford, Connecticut (2010): This Greening America's Capitals project created design options for redesigning a mile-long portion of Capitol Avenue to better connect lower-income residents of the Frog Hollow neighborhood with the state capitol grounds and a proposed bus rapid transit center. Green streets designs were developed to help manage stormwater, improve pedestrian safety and comfort, and encourage revitalization.
  • Capitol Region Council of Governments, Connecticut (2009): Through Smart Growth Implementation Assistance, EPA helped CRCOG develop guidance for communities to site, plan, and develop affordable housing that incorporates smart growth approaches and green building techniques.
  • Atlanta Regional Commission, Georgia (2009): This Smart Growth Implementation Assistance project helped the ARC develop a land use strategy that accommodates the needs of older adults, including compact, walkable neighborhoods where seniors can live near services and social opportunities in existing communities.
  • Pamlico County, North Carolina (2006): This Smart Growth Implementation Assistance for Coastal Communities project helped rural Pamlico County develop a community vision for managing a state highway corridor while protecting the county's character.

National Award for Smart Growth Achievement

While many of the National Award for Smart Growth Achievement winners include equitable development strategies such as widespread public involvement, affordable housing, and transportation choices, the winners below focused particularly on low-income and underserved communities.

Mariposa District - Denver, Colorado
Mariposa is home to a diverse group of residents who benefit from neighborhood events, nearby amenities, and proximity to public transit. Photo courtesy of the Denver Housing Authority.
  • Mariposa District - Denver, Colorado (2012): The Mariposa District, in Denver's historic and diverse La Alma/Lincoln Park neighborhood, is redeveloping an underinvested area into a vibrant, mixed-use community close to schools, jobs, and a light-rail station. Extensive community engagement and a Health Impact Assessment ensured that the development features green building and green infrastructure elements that protect the environment and residents' health. Video Exit
  • Northwest Gardens - Fort Lauderdale, Florida (2012 Honorable Mention): The Northwest Gardens development offers residents more affordable homes and new opportunities. The community is becoming a model for economic, environmental, and social sustainability with job training and education programs, a 7,000-square-foot urban farm managed by residents, and more than 550 LEED-certified, high-quality, affordable homes.
  • Bay Area Transit - Oriented Affordable Housing Fund - San Francisco Bay Area, California (2012 Honorable Mention): This $50 million revolving fund provides loans for investments in affordable, transit-accessible housing options in an area struggling with high housing costs. Video Exit
  • Old North St. Louis Revitalization Initiative - St. Louis, Missouri (2011): A locally driven redevelopment strategy transformed Old North, a historic St. Louis neighborhood, from a largely abandoned area into a flourishing community. Old North now offers a range of housing options and amenities such as a farmers' market, a neighborhood grocery co-op, a history trail, and new sidewalks. Video Exit
Silver Gardens - Albuquerque, New Mexico
At Silver Gardens Apartments, rainwater collected in an underground cistern irrigates the landscaping, and rooftop solar panels and a wind turbine provide electricity. Photo courtesy of Patrick Coulie.
  • Silver Gardens - Albuquerque, New Mexico (2011): Silver Gardens Apartments is a 66-unit affordable housing development located on a reclaimed brownfield site in downtown Albuquerque. Situated across the street from the city's primary transit hub, Silver Gardens is the Southwest's first LEED Platinum-certified affordable housing development and the first affordable housing project in the nation to sell carbon offsets. Video Exit
  • Smart.Growth@NYC: Policies and Programs for Improving Livability - New York City (2010): Smart.Growth@NYC includes four initiatives: a Street Design Manual that encourages transit access and bicycle use and enhances public spaces, Active Design Guidelines that encourage physical activity and healthier living, a Bicycle Parking Amendment that encourages biking by providing more bicycle parking, and the Food Retail Expansion to Support Health program that makes it easier for grocery stores to locate in underserved areas with low rates of car ownership and high rates of poverty and diet-related diseases like obesity and diabetes. Video Exit
  • Parkside of Old Town - Chicago, IL (2009): Parkside of Old Town, a HUD Hope VI development, replaced a failed housing project with a mixed-use, socioeconomically diverse neighborhood. Inside the neighborhood, rental, market-rate, and affordable housing units are indistinguishable, fostering a cohesive community, and safe and attractive parks, play areas, and community facilities meet the needs of residents. Video Exit
  • Egleston Crossing - Roxbury, Massachusetts (2008): Egleston Crossing helped renew a disinvested corridor in Boston's Roxbury and Jamaica Plain neighborhoods with two new buildings, built on cleaned-up, formerly underused parcels, that provide much-needed affordable housing, including apartments reserved for disabled and formerly homeless individuals. The buildings' energy-efficient design and materials, combined with their proximity to public transit, use less energy, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and save residents money.
  • Mission Creek Senior Community - San Francisco, California (2008): Mission Creek transformed a brownfield into an attractive, mixed-use, low-income senior community. The energy-efficient apartments are built to be accessible to everyone, including the disabled and ill. The project includes 139 affordable apartments for low-income elderly residents.
New Columbia - Portland, Oregon
Portland's New Columbia neighborhood is affordable to residents with a range of income levels and features amenities such as a grocery store, parks, an elementary school, and a Boys and Girls Club. Photo courtesy of the Housing Authority of Portland.
  • New Columbia - Portland, Oregon (2007): The Housing Authority of Portland worked with public and private stakeholders to redevelop an isolated and distressed public housing site into New Columbia. The new development offers more homes, including low-income rentals and market-rate single-family homes. A Community Advisory Committee conducted design workshops that gathered residents' advice on all aspects of the project. New Columbia improves on the environmental performance of the old development, and all residents are within a five-minute walk of public transportation. New Columbia remains one of Portland's most diverse neighborhoods.
  • Abyssinian Neighborhood Project - Borough of Manhattan, Harlem, New York (2007): The Abyssinian Development Corporation worked with many partners to develop a strategy to expand housing and commercial options for central Harlem. This project created commercial space for local businesses, established educational facilities and workforce training programs, cleaned up abandoned buildings and vacant lots, and helped to create and support block associations and a neighborhood leadership group.
  • High Point - Seattle, Washington (2007): The Seattle Housing Authority worked closely with community members to rebuild a hilltop neighborhood struggling with crime and disinvestment as a mixed-use, mixed-income, and environmentally sensitive community. Using green building principles, High Point's more than 1,700 new units are expected to consume less water, electricity, and natural gas than the old community's 716 units.
  • Bethel Center - Chicago, Illinois (2006): Threatened with the loss of its transit station, the West Garfield Park neighborhood catalyzed transit-oriented redevelopment with Bethel Center as the anchor and kept the station open. Bethel Center provides employment services, child care, and banking in a green building erected on a former brownfield.
Pennsylvania Fresh Food Financing Initiative - Commonwealth of Pennsylvania
In Philadelphia, the owners of the First Oriental Market received a $500,000 loan from the Fresh Food Financing Initiative to help purchase the property they had previously leased. Photo courtesy of The Reinvestment Fund.
  • Pennsylvania Fresh Food Financing Initiative - Commonwealth of Pennsylvania (2006): This initiative, a public-private partnership between the state and three nonprofit organizations, has provided over $7.3 million in grants and loans to help supermarkets locate in underserved communities. The program lets people shop for nutritious food in their neighborhoods instead of having to drive to distant grocery stores and brings economic development to lower-income communities.
  • San Juan Pueblo Master Plan - San Juan Pueblo, New Mexico (2004): The San Juan Pueblo, now known as Ohkay Owingeh, has been inhabited for over 700 years. A community planning process created the pueblo's Master Land Use Plan, the first tribal smart growth plan in the country. It provides a long-term growth strategy, coordinates existing infrastructure with housing and commercial development, preserves the walkable historic plazas, and includes design guidelines that preserve the pueblo's heritage.
  • Moore Square Museums - Raleigh, North Carolina (2003): The Moore Square Museums Magnet Middle School, in the heart of Raleigh's cultural and arts district, draws on the downtown's cultural institutions to provide students with a unique educational opportunity. The school, located where several blighted and vacant structures once stood and within walking distance of diverse neighborhoods, has helped strengthen and revitalize the surrounding area.

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Other Resources

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