Why Smart Growth Communities are Best for the Environment (in honor of Earth Day)

Why Smart Growth Communities are Best for the Environment (in honor of Earth Day)

From the US EPA

Here are a few reasons why Smart Growth Communities (like the Pike District) are so good at protecting our environment:

  • They conserve resources by reinvesting in existing infrastructure and rehabilitating historic buildings.
  • By designing neighborhoods that have homes near shops, offices, schools, houses of worship, parks, and other amenities, communities give residents and visitors the option of walking, bicycling, taking public transportation, or driving as they go about their business.
  • A range of different housing types makes it possible for senior citizens to stay in their neighborhoods as they age, young people to afford their first home, and families at all stages in between to find a safe, attractive home they can afford.
  • Through smart growth approaches that enhance neighborhoods and involve residents in development decisions, these communities are creating vibrant places to live, work, and play.
  • The high quality of life makes these communities economically competitive, creates business opportunities, and strengthens the local tax base.

Development guided by smart growth principles can minimize air and water pollution, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, encourage cleanup and reuse of contaminated properties, and preserve natural lands. Where and how we develop directly affects natural areas and wildlife habitat and replaces natural cover with impervious surfaces such as concrete or asphalt. Development patterns and practices also indirectly affect environmental quality since they influence how easily people can get around.

Smart growth practices can lessen the environmental impacts of development with techniques that include encouraging compact development, reducing impervious surfaces, safeguarding environmentally sensitive areas, mixing land uses (e.g., homes, offices, and shops), promoting public transit, and improving pedestrian and bicycle amenities.

For more information on the environmental effects of development and the benefits of smart growth, see Our Built and Natural Environments: A Technical Review of the Interactions between Land Use, Transportation, and Environmental Quality (2nd edition).

light rail train in a station with people

Air Quality

Compact communities with a mix of uses and transportation options make it easy for people to choose to walk, bicycle, or take public transit instead of driving. People who choose to drive generally can drive shorter distances. Less travel by motor vehicles can reduce air pollution by smog-forming emissions and other pollutants.

Climate Change

new colorful multifamily housing along a street

Transportation options and land use patterns that reduce air pollution also cut the emissions of greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change. Using energy-efficient, green building techniques can reduce greenhouse gas emissions from energy use. Smart growth strategies can also help communities prepare for the impacts of climate change.

Water Quality

plants in a rain garden next to a sidewalk

Compact development and open space preservation can help protect water quality by reducing the amount of paved surfaces and by allowing natural lands to filter rainwater and runoff before it reaches drinking-water supplies. Green infrastructure techniques, which mimic natural processes to capture, hold, absorb, and filter stormwater, can be incorporated into streets, sidewalks, parking lots, and buildings.

Open Space Conservation

dirt path leading through the woods

Preserving natural lands and encouraging growth in existing communities protects farmland, wildlife habitat, outdoor recreation, and natural water filtration that ensures clean drinking water.

Amy Ginsburg

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