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Smart Growth: Creating New Opportunities in Rural Communities

2011 October 28

By Brett Schwartz

Prior to beginning my internship in EPA’s Office of Sustainable Communities this past summer, my interest in smart growth was focused primarily on urban infill and suburban retrofit projects.  Having lived in or visited places such as Atlantic Station in Atlanta, Washington DC’s Columbia Heights neighborhood, the Rosslyn-Ballston corridor in Arlington, Virginia, and the Roxbury neighborhood in Boston, my view of sustainable community approaches had a predominantly urban flavor.  However, during my time at EPA, I was fortunate to work on a number of projects that introduced me to a variety of smart growth strategies being pursued by small towns and rural communities throughout the country.

Through my research and writing, I have learned about places like Greensburg, Kansas, where residents are rebuilding after a devastating tornado in 2007 that destroyed 95percent of the city.  Following the tornado, the city passed a resolution requiring all new buildings to achieve a LEED Platinum rating, widely recognized as the highest standard for green building.  Today, Greensburg serves as a model for other communities recovering from natural disasters that seek to rebuild in a sustainable way.  I have followed the progress of Howard, South Dakota (pop. 850) which recently opened the first phase of the Maroney Commons, a mixed-use project located on the town’s Main Street.  The development will serve as an education and training space for rural residents to learn about green jobs and technology in the new rural economy.  I learned how providing efficient and reliable public transportation for small communities through innovative projects such as Montana’s Opportunity Link is crucial in connecting rural residents to jobs, health care, and educational opportunities.  These rural communities, and many others throughout the country, have adopted creative strategies to stimulate economic development, improve the environment, and ensure a better quality of life.

While I still consider myself a “city person,” through my internship I developed a newfound respect and interest in smaller towns that have embraced the principles of sustainable design as part of their future.  Smart growth can be applied in any community – urban, suburban, or rural – where residents wish to build safe, welcoming neighborhoods, create a sense of community, and be environmentally and fiscally responsible during these challenging times.

About the Author:  Brett Schwartz was an intern in EPA’s Office of Sustainable Communities and is a third year law student at the University of Baltimore, where he’s focused on land use and community development issues.  He holds degrees from Georgetown University and Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland.

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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3 Responses leave one →
  1. John MacFarlane permalink
    October 31, 2011

    I live in Fort Worth, about 30 miles from the Region 6 office in Dallas. I live in the “near Southside”, an area just south of downtown Fort Worth, bounded roughly by I-35 to the east, the hospital district to the west, I-30 to the north, and Berry St to the south. This area is seeing a revitalization. And with that revitalization, smart growth and sustainability are seen as important and necessary issues. Through efforts of lots of people and groups, bike lanes were installed all over the near southside to promote bicycling. There are several events in the area that try to showcase smart growth, new urbanism, and walkable city concepts. Some events are: Arts Goggle

    A great website about urbanism and sustainable cities is:

  2. Carolyn Browne permalink
    November 4, 2011

    I recently attended a lecture on the 50th anniversary of the Peace Corps. It seems to me that many of the techniques that are working well here, might be beneficial in some of our host countries.

  3. July 27, 2012

    Thank you Brett Schwartz for giving your views on sustainable communities. My university has recently introduced this as a subject and are encouraging students to take keen interest init. What is your insight on “sustainable communities” as a subject? Will its degree offer good employment prospects?Many thanks.

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