EPA Offers 'Smart Development Decisions' for the Next Half Century

June 18, 2013 - 9:04 AM

smart development

New homes under construction in a development in Carlsbad, Calif., on Jan. 17, 2012. Tuesday, Jan. 17, 2012. (AP File Photo)

(CNSNews.com) - Is there a "compact, mixed-use community" in your future? Probably. But it won't be near a "sensitive area" -- lakeside, riverside, seaside, forest or farm.

Many Americans may find themselves living in a TOD -- a "transit oriented development" -- where people can walk or bike from their (compact) homes to their jobs or the shopping center.

The advantages of such planned, future development include membership in political organizations and community groups, according to an EPA report released on Monday.

In 148 pages, the EPA advocates locating new development away from "sensitive areas," choosing previously developed sites near transit hubs instead. It advocates the construction of "compact, mixed-used communities" that are convenient for bicyclists and pedestrians; and the use of "green building" techniques, such as natural lighting to conserve energy.

The report accepts "climate change," exacerbated by "human activity," as an undisputed fact (page 65); and it includes a section on "Emotional Health and Community Engagement," which outlines the "benefit to communities when its members participate in political organizations, charitable activities, community organizations, and group recreational activities"(page 73).

“This report will be useful for communities across the country looking to make smart development decisions,” said EPA Acting Administrator Bob Perciasepe. “Whether it’s housing, transportation, or environmental issues, this report can help communities protect public health and the environment by avoiding harmful development strategies.”

The EPA says its report is "important and timely" because population growth and demographic changes will substantially change the way the United States is developed over the next half century and beyond. The report "provides information that can help state and local governments decide how to accommodate expected population growth within their borders in the most environmentally responsible manner."

The EPA notes that the U.S. population is projected to grow 42 percent between 2010 and 2050, from 310 million to 439 million. "These new people will need additional housing and infrastructure," it says. It estimates that as much as two-thirds of the development that will exist in 40 to 45 years does not exist today.

"These projected trends present an opportunity to improve the environmental performance of our built environment. Where and how we build new housing and infrastructure needed to accommodate projected population growth will have important environmental impacts."

According to the report:

Where we build involves locating development in a region or land area. It includes safeguarding sensitive areas such as riparian buffers, wetlands, and critical habitat from development pressures; directing new development to infill, brownfield, and greyfield sites to take advantage of existing infrastructure and preserve green space; and putting homes, workplaces, and services close to each other in convenient, accessible locations.

How we build includes developing more compactly to preserve open spaces and water quality; mixing uses to reduce travel distances; designing communities and streets to promote walking and biking; and improving building design, construction, and materials selection to use natural resources more efficiently and improve buildings’ environmental performance.

The report is the second edition of a document first published in 2001.

Just last week, the EPA announced it will offer "technical assistance" to three towns or cities interested in "smart growth" strategies.

-- In Rhode Island, EPA officials will help North Kingstown and other R.I. communities "prepare for rising sea levels and reduce the potential impact of climate change on major public infrastructure, private sector investments, and other key economic assets."

-- In Arkansas, EPA officials will help Mississippi County capitalize on the potential redevelopment opportunities related to new steel manufacturing jobs coming to the region. "The project will identify neighborhoods that are best suited for expanding housing opportunities and minimizing commuting time to new jobs. The planning effort may also focus on updates to existing infrastructure, reuse of existing buildings, and development of new public spaces for existing residents and new employees moving to the region."

-- In Washington State, the EPA will work with local governments to a'identify infrastructure, workforce training, and other economic development strategies for encouraging redevelopment in a neighborhood and industrial area south of downtown Kelso, and to create guidelines for public investments that will improve health and equity for residents.a'

Since 2005, EPA says it has supported 36 "Smart Growth Implementation Assistance projects" serving 49 communities.