rural communities

Smart Growth: Creating New Opportunities in Rural Communities

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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EPA and America's Rural Communities

By Administrator Lisa P. Jackson

Yesterday I was in Warwick Township and Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, a rural community that has been a model for resource conservation and sustainable economic growth. This was one of many visits EPA officials have made to connect with rural communities. I have had the chance to sit down with growers in Georgia, visited California’s Central Valley and toured farming operations with Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack in Iowa. Along with my fellow EPA officials, we have connected with hundreds of farmers, business owners, local leaders and rural residents to talk about commonsense efforts to strengthen their economies and protect their health and the environment.

American farmers and ranchers depend on clean air, safe and abundant sources of water and healthy lands. That’s why farming communities have taken incredible steps to steward the environment their jobs and economy thrive on.

In the last 30 years, agricultural producers have worked with government officials and local conservation groups to reduce soil erosion by more than 40 percent. At the same time, agriculture has gone from being the leading contributor to wetland loss to leading the entire nation in wetland restoration efforts. In Lancaster, local efforts have managed to preserve upwards of 80,000 acres of farmland, and Warwick Township was named Conservationist of the Year by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation for its work to prevent runoff from polluting the watershed.

These are just a few of the examples I’ve seen. In California’s Central Valley — an area responsible for some $24 billion in agricultural activity — I visited a farmer who re-vamped his irrigation system to reduce water use and save money, while another grower who was transitioning to new irrigation pump motors that reduced air emissions on his farm.

In Iowa, I joined Secretary Vilsack at a cattle operation where a rotational grazing system helps protect soil and water quality, and met a farmer who has used no-till farming and a precision sprayer for years to minimize pesticide use and runoff from his soybean fields.

America’s rural communities have also been part of innovative solutions for our entire economy. The Renewable Fuel Standard EPA finalized last year will encourage farmers to continue to work with industry to innovate and produce clean renewable fuel. It will help secure our nation’s energy future, replacing our dependence on foreign oil with clean, homegrown fuels produced by America’s farmers. At the same time, it will create jobs, and is expected to increase farmers’ income by an estimated $13 billion annually.

These meetings with farmers on their land are also a great opportunity to get outside the Washington, DC echo chamber and address myths and other inaccuracies they might be hearing about the EPA. For example, months ago rumors flew around that, under a law passed by Congress, EPA was considering treating spilled milk like an oil spill. This was never the case; in fact, our efforts were focused on exempting dairy producers from regulations that should not apply to them. Thanks to work with the dairy industry and the agricultural community, we obtained a formal exemption for all milk and milk products, a change that could save farmers up to $140 million.

As we confront the major environmental challenges of our time — combating climate change, reducing soil erosion, and ensuring an ample supply of clean water for our families and food production — farmers have an important opportunity to lead the way. That is why I will continue to visit with communities like Lancaster to see the best practices at work and speak directly with the local residents.

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.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.