EPA Smart Growth Awards Live Blogging, Part 1: EPA's Approach and the 2010 Winners

Miller's Court housing development after renovation in Baltimore, MD. Photo by Brigitte Manekin.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) annually sponsors the National Smart Growth Achievement Awards as part of its Partnership for Sustainable Communities with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT).  The smart growth achievements highlight the integrated issues of smart growth as well as the expertise and resources these agencies bring to ensure that development meets the housing, transportation and environmental needs of U.S. communities. Communities apply for the award and winners are selected by expert panels based on their “effectiveness in creating sustainable communities; creating a robust public involvement process; generating partnerships among public, private, and non-profit stakeholders; and serving as national models.”

Lisa Heinzerling, Associate Administrator for the EPA’s Office of Policy,  laid out some of the EPA’s key priorities as they relate to smart growth before the winners were introduced.

Inter-agency partnerships

Hines said that it is not enough for the EPA to stand alone in support of the environment – the agency must engage other U.S. agencies.  HUD, DOT and EPA are working to align funding programs and policies to better meet community needs and more wisely spend taxpayer money.  Hines said well-designed, water efficient, energy efficient and conveniently located housing that all people can afford is essential. The basis of the joint Partnership for Sustainable Communities is that coordination between government agencies that have different missions is essential “to create multiple, unified and interdependent voices for the environment.”

Multi-purpose policy

In all cases, environmental policy serves more than one purpose. It’s important to publicize and acknowledge all of the good things that environmental policy does and support it legally as well as politically,  said Hines. “This is something I think that the smart growth approach does particularly well. It brings together issues like climate, air pollution, water pollution and healthy communities.”

She summarized: “Show me a deep human impulse and I’ll show you a reason to care about smart growth.”

Beginning of the Pipeline Solutions

Hines also observed that environmental policy is often framed as tailpipe pollution control rather than as a systemic change.  The smart growth principles look at the deep, underlying incentives to environmental sustainability.

What are the Smart Growth Principles?

According to the EPA, the principles of smart growth are to:

  • Mix land uses.
  • Take advantage of compact building design.
  • Create a range of housing opportunities and choices.
  • Create walkable neighborhoods.
  • Foster distinctive, attractive communities with a strong sense of place.
  • Preserve open space, farmland, natural beauty, and critical environmental areas.
  • Strengthen and direct development toward existing communities.
  • Provide a variety of transportation choices.
  • Make development decisions predictable, fair, and cost-effective.
  • Encourage community and stakeholder collaboration in development decisions.

The Winners

Smart Growth and Green Building

Miller’s Court in Baltimore Maryland

The project reinvented an abandoned brownfield site surrounded by the Charles Village neighborhood in Baltimore. The project provides housing for teachers who work in Baltimore public schools. It’s also an affordable space for non-profits to locate. The building provides public meeting areas and builds a sense of community in a city that until recently was losing residents.  Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake sees it as a replicable example of reusing existing buildings to support the city’s work to improve the Baltimore public school system and neighborhood quality of life.

Programs, Policies and Regulations

Making the Greatest Place: Metro’s Strategic Implementation of the 2400 Growth Concept in Portland Oregon

Metro, the elected regional government of the Portland area, developed a policy and investment effort called “Making the Greatest Place” to direct growth towards development, employment and transportation corridors. Their aim is to manage growth and development for the next fifty years through an urban growth boundary.  Focusing density in the city core also establishes walkable, bikeable and transit friendly communities and spreads the benefits and burdens of growth and change equitably.

Rural Smart Growth

Gate 1 Corridor Action Plan in Maine

The Route 1 corridor follows the coast of Maine, traversing rural areas and acting as a key connector between communities and towns.  Over the years the road has become congested due to high usage by tourists, residents and businesses located along the road, negatively impacting the string of communities that depend on the road. The planning process was led by the 20 communities along the corridor with the goal of preserving rural and scenic resources.  The action plan directs growth toward designated core areas to protect the corridor’s “Main Street” feel and rural landscapes and recognizes public transportation as a viable option for the region.

Civic Places

Mint Plaza, San Francisco, California

A local developer and the city and county of San Francisco transformed a neglected city-owned alleyway now called Mint Plaza into a neighborhood public space that has become a model of a successful pedestrian-only area.  Of note, the city used tools to provide private companies the capacity to take on these public-oriented projects.

Overall Excellence

Smart.Growth@NYC: Policies and Programs for Improving Livability in New York City

New York City boasts a small carbon footprint relative to the rest of the U.S. with its small, compact and walkable neighborhoods and excellent and diverse modes of public transit.  In 2007, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg launched PlaNYC 2030, an ambitious initiative to help the city absorb future residents, tackle public health and environment challenges and continue to improve quality of life in the city.

You can find more information on the award winners here.

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