smart growth

Turning Lemons into Lemonade: Resilience, Smart Growth and Equitable Development on Long Island

Destruction and debris on Oak Beach in Suffolk County, NY after Superstorm Sandy

Destruction and debris on Oak Beach in Suffolk County, NY after Superstorm Sandy

By Joe Siegel and Rabi Kieber

Last of a five-part series on climate change issues.

It has been nearly two years since the shores of Long Island were battered by Superstorm Sandy, leaving behind devastation across Nassau and Suffolk Counties. What emerged in the aftermath was an unprecedented collaboration that went beyond simply rebuilding by incorporating the principles of resilience, smart growth and equitable development into long-term planning for Long Island.

Within months after Hurricane Sandy, EPA, FEMA, New York State Department of State, Suffolk County, Nassau County and the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) formed the Long Island Smart Growth Resiliency Partnership to discuss options to help Long Island rebuild in a smarter, stronger and more resilient fashion. This group was, in part, an outgrowth of a broad collaboration through the National Disaster Recovery Framework, Presidential Policy Directive/PPD-8 and the Recovery Support Strategy that was written for the Sandy recovery process. One of the key goals of the Partnership is to encourage economically, environmentally and socially sustainable development in low risk areas away from flood zones and along transit corridors in Nassau and Suffolk Counties.

Over the past year, the Long Island Smart Growth Resiliency Partnership has embarked on a number of projects to achieve its goal of merging resilience, smart growth and equitable development. It organized a ground-breaking conference, Accepting the Tide: A Roundtable on Integrating Resilience and Smart Growth on a Post-Sandy Long Island, which took place last May and brought together a wide variety of stakeholders. The Partnership also trained communities in community outreach and stakeholder engagement, and Health Impact Assessments (HIA) for recovery. Additional training for communities and federal recovery workers is being planned on tools such as Community Viz, a participatory scenario planning tool for decision-making on smart growth andEPA’s National Stormwater Calculator.

As part of the Partnership, EPA is working with FEMA to support sustainable rebuilding in specific communities such as Long Beach, Long Island. Long Beach received technical assista

nce from Global Green which was funded through a grant from EPA’s Building Blocks for Sustainable Communities program. The Partnership also helped to secure law students from Touro College’s Land Use and Sustainability Institute to assist Long Beach in implementing some of the recommendations from both the Global Green Technical Assistance and a New York University study on green infrastructure and storm water management.

As an outgrowth of the May 2014 Roundtable, the Partnership has begun to focus efforts on ecosystem services valuation and health impact assessment to guide post-Hurricane Sandy redevelopment and recovery on Long Island. In doing so, the Partnership has added to its cadre of experts, representatives from Stony Brook University and The Nature Conservancy. At a meeting in July, the group launched a number of projects including a pilot that will not only generate important ecosystem-related economic data on improving resilience, but will also encourage green infrastructure and promote strategies to maintain and enhance ecosystem resilience. Ecosystem services valuation is a very useful tool because it can help us better understand, for example, the economic benefits of restoring wetlands to prevent impacts from future storms.

EPA Region 2 has already begun working with EPA’s Office of Research and Development and the Partnership on an island-wide ecosystem services assessment, a pilot health impact assessment in Suffolk County, and a project to develop a set of health indicators that can be used for long term evaluation of health impacts of projects, polices or plans. Health impact assessment is an important decision-making tool because it can illustrate how a particular plan, action or policy under consideration, will impact the health and well-being of a community. Health indicators can be used to evaluate the long-term health impact of the project, policy or plan.

Hurricane Sandy was devastating for Nassau and Suffolk Counties, but the Long Island Smart Growth Resiliency Partnership has turned lemons into lemonade by incorporating not only climate change resilience but smart growth and equitable development into long term planning on Long Island. The groundbreaking work of the Partnership will no doubt serve as a model for other recovery efforts in Region 2 and beyond.

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: Making a Visible Difference in Communities Across the Country

Marian Wright Edelman, President and Founder of the Children’s Defense Fund, once said “We must not, in trying to think about how we can make a big difference, ignore the small daily differences we can make which, over time, add up to big differences that we often cannot foresee.”

Making a visible difference in communities is at the heart of EPA’s mission of protecting human health and the environment. It is what drives our workforce to go above and beyond to find that “difference” that improves the lives of individuals, families, and communities across the country. Last month, I invited EPA employees to share stories of the creative and innovative approaches that they have used to educate, engage and empower American families and communities in environmental protection. I’d like to share some of their stories with you with the hope that you too will be inspired to make a difference in your community. More

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

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Dynamic Redevelopment for Everyone

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Mariposa is home to a diverse group of residents who benefit from neighborhood events, nearby amenities, and proximity to public transit. Photo courtesy of the Denver Housing Authority.

By Brett VanAkkeren

Since the mid-1990s, communities have used smart growth development strategies, such as reinvesting in areas that have been neglected or abandoned, to improve the health and welfare of residents.  These strategies make fiscal sense because communities can reuse existing infrastructure, such as roads and utilities, for new construction; environmental sense because communities can clean up and reuse abandoned sites instead of paving over farms and open space; and  economic sense because new development can attract new jobs and investment.

While reinvestment can create desirable places that attract new residents, it can also displace existing residents who can no longer afford to live there. The question in underserved communities is how to grow in ways that benefit both new and existing residents.  The answer lies in equitable development.

denver light railEquitable development is the integration of environmental justice with smart growth development strategies. (See Carlton Eley’s blog post from December 18.) Ideally, the result leads to affordable housing, easy access to nearby jobs and services, affordable public transportation, the removal of environmental health hazards, access to healthy food, and safe ways to walk and bike to everyday destinations.

In Colorado, the Denver Housing Authority supported equitable development by building an affordable housing complex called the Mariposa District near a light rail station. While planning for the Mariposa project, the Authority conducted a Cultural Audit, a health Impact Assessment, a pedestrian quality audit, and three environmental design charrettes that led to intensive community involvement. These tools allowed community members to have meaningful input into decision-making in their community. Other cities can use these tools to replicate Mariposa’s success.

(Watch a video about the Mariposa District, winner of EPA’s 2012 National Award for Smart Growth Achievement in the category of Equitable Development.)

The 2014 New Partners for Smart Growth Conference, February 13-15 in Denver, will offer opportunities for activists, community developers, local government officials, and many others to learn how communities can integrate environmental justice approaches into smart growth and community development programs. The conference kicks off with a half-day equitable development workshop on February 13.  Tours on February 13 and 16 will take participants to see a variety of equitable development projects in the Denver area, including the Mariposa district. Several conference sessions also will focus on equitable development.

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Click to read the report

You can find other useful resources on equitable development and smart growth strategies in a report  by EPA’s Office of Sustainable Communities (OSC) and Office of Environmental JusticeCreating Equitable, Healthy, and Sustainable Communities:  Strategies For Advancing Smart Growth, Environmental Justice And Sustainable Communities, as well as OSC’s Smart Growth and Equitable Development web page. Using equitable development approaches, smart growth practitioners all across the country have helped address the challenges of redevelopment in disadvantaged communities. By attending the New Partners for Smart Growth conference to hear from leaders in this work, you can learn new approaches to take back to your community to help it flourish in ways that benefit everyone.

About the author: Brett VanAkkeren, EPA Office of Sustainable Communities, has worked on smart growth issues at EPA for more than 15 years. 

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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The Bronx’s Via Verde Wins a Well-Deserved Smart Growth Achievement Award

The exterior of Via Verde, showing off its stepped roof

The exterior of Via Verde, showing off its stepped roof

By John Martin

For people old enough to remember, it’s hard to believe how far the Bronx has come since the 1970s.

Between 1970 and 1980, the South Bronx lost over 300,000 residents, as crime spiked and people made way for the suburbs. The borough became synonymous with urban decay, a stigma it continues to fight decades after it began its dramatic rebound.

Today, the Bronx is flourishing, as the public and private sectors continue to make the borough a healthier and more pleasant place to live. It’s hard to find a better example of how far the borough has come than Via Verde— the mixed-income housing development in the Melrose neighborhood that opened in 2012. Since then, it has earned international acclaim for its bold design and its focus on creating a green urban environment for its residents.

The project, which sits on a cleaned-up former rail yard, provides 222 units of living space, views of the Manhattan skyline, and healthy-living amenities galore. A string of green roofs dot the building’s terraces, as do solar panels, which provide electricity to all the building’s common spaces. Residents have access to shared gardening beds, a children’s playground, a fitness center, and an outdoor amphitheater. Throw in the building’s easy access to subway and bus lines and it becomes easy to understand why Via Verde has been held up as a model for environmentally sustainable development.

As of today, we can add the EPA to the list of those who have officially recognized Via Verde’s accomplishments. This morning, the EPA announced that Via Verde received an Honorable Mention for the 2013 National Award for Smart Growth Achievement in the category of Built Projects. Of the 77 Smart Growth Achievement applications the EPA received from across the country, Via Verde was just one of seven to be recognized.

For a borough that has come so far and fought so long to create livable, thriving communities, Via Verde is a crowning achievement and an inspiration to urban areas everywhere.

To read more about Via Verde and the other projects receiving National Award for Smart Growth Achievement, visit: http://www.epa.gov/smartgrowth/awards.htm.

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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Planning for People: Smart Growth Strategies for Equitable Development

By Sara James

I’ve always taken note of the world around me, particularly how the built environment meets – or fails to meet – the needs of the people who actually live in that environment. Even before I decided to study urban planning, I questioned why environmental and public health issues and access to jobs, services, and other daily necessities were a challenge faced by some communities but not by others.

During my urban planning studies and my internship with EPA’s Office of Sustainable Communities (OSC), I’ve learned that traditional planning focuses on the built environment (e.g., buildings, roads). Too often, a project’s main goal is to minimize the developer’s financial bottom line, not to maximize the residents’ quality of life. Effective planning also requires understanding a community’s social, economic, and cultural diversity. The most successful planning processes today include comprehensive community engagement, advocacy for community members most in need and an eye toward equitable development. In its recent publication, Creating Equitable, Healthy, and Sustainable Communities, EPA identified smart growth strategies that planners, developers, and community leaders can use to build healthy, sustainable, and inclusive communities.

Community engagement event in Mariposa

The Denver Housing Authority facilitated over 120 public meetings and community engagement events and translated documents into three languages.

The Mariposa District in Denver used these strategies and was recognized last year for its accomplishments in equitable development by EPA’s National Awards for Smart Growth Achievement. (Watch the video.) Planning for redevelopment of the Mariposa District, a 17.5-acre public housing site, included more than 120 meetings, discussions, group consultations, workshops, and information sessions. Planners conducted door-to-door interviews, translated outreach materials into multiple languages, facilitated training sessions for public housing residents, and conducted a cultural audit to fully understand the DNA of the neighborhood as a whole.

Katrina Aguirre, a Mariposa resident, said she “learned how the concerns of residents could become part of the plan for the redevelopment as long as [they] voiced [their] thoughts.”  As the new buildings are constructed, Ms. Aguirre sees the effect of the residents’ involvement in the process. “Our goals and ideas have been included – which will make this a place where we want to continue to live.”

Successes like the Mariposa District are ripe with lessons that can be captured and shared with practitioners and stakeholders. That’s why OSC has been working closely with the Office of Environmental Justice to develop a new webpage, Smart Growth and Equitable Development. The resources on this page explain the challenges underserved communities face in relation to the built environment and land use decisions. They also point to approaches, like in Mariposa, that can be used to ensure that planning and development processes are unbiased, inclusive, and result in a better quality of life for everyone. Resources like these have helped me better understand and answer some of my initial questions about the built environment’s effect on the people it serves. I hope they will help you answer your smart growth, equitable development, and environmental justice questions as well!

Sara James is studying to obtain her master’s degree in sustainable urban planning at George Washington University and interning with EPA’s Office of Sustainable Communities. She assists EPA in researching and promoting innovative, sustainable, smart growth and equitable development strategies in communities across the country.

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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Help Us Find the Winners! National Award for Smart Growth Achievement

2012 Winner for Overall Excellence in Smart Growth: The BLVD Transformation, Lancaster, CA Photo courtesy of EPA

By Sarah Dale

Do you know a community that has made its downtown more walkable, bikable, and accessible to public transit? Used policy initiatives and regulations to improve the local environment? Turned its public parks into a driver for economic development? Then you might know a community that could apply for the National Award for Smart Growth Achievement. If so, please pass this blog post along!

Communities across the country are making choices about how to grow and develop while improving environmentally, socially, and economically. Through this award, EPA recognizes and supports communities that use innovative policies and strategies to strengthen their economies, provide housing and transportation choices, develop in ways that bring benefits to a wide range of residents, and protect the environment. This year, EPA is

2012 Winner for Equitable Development: The Mariposa District, Denver, CO Photo courtesy of EPA.

recognizing communities in four categories:

  • Built Projects
  • Corridor and Neighborhood Revitalization
  • Plazas, Parks, and Public Places
  • Policies, Programs, and Plans

Additionally, the review panel will choose one Overall Excellence winner.

Past winners are enthusiastic about the award: here’s what a few of the 2012 winners had to say:

  • “We’ve received an outstanding response from winning this award, and our project has received attention from throughout the state, across the nation, and even internationally.” Marvin Crist, Vice Mayor, Lancaster, CA
  • “Receiving the award increased awareness about what the Denver Housing Authority is doing among many different policy makers and stakeholders.” Kimball Crangle, Denver Housing Authority, Denver, CO
  • “I think the Smart Growth Award is a part of what solidified our position to the point where partners decided they wanted to be a part of this.” Scott Strawbridge, Housing Authority of the City of Fort Lauderdale, Lauderdale, FL

2012 Winner for Programs and Policies 2012: Destination Portsmouth, Portsmouth, VA Rendering courtesy of Urban Advantage.

If you know a community that is doing amazing things, encourage them to apply today! The competition is open to both public- and private-sector entities that have successfully used smart growth principles to improve communities. The application process is outlined here; the application deadline is April 12, 2013.

About the author: Sarah Dale is a special assistant with the Office of Sustainable Communities, which manages EPA’s Smart Growth Program. This is her third year managing the awards.

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 DOL Support For Auto Community Redevelopment

Cross- posted from the Department of Labor Auto Recovery Blog

By Mathy Stanislaus

As I meet with mayors and talk with community leaders throughout the country, I witness first-hand the significant challenges communities face as they work to rebuild their economies. Taking action to support economic development and community revitalization while protecting public health and the environment is a long-standing commitment at the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Our assistance and funding to support redevelopment and economic recovery is helping communities, on the ground, to revitalize their neighborhoods.

EPA’s Brownfields program provides funding and technical assistance to help communities in assessing, cleaning up, and redeveloping former manufacturing facilities. Brownfields may be contaminated properties, but, once cleaned up; they can be transformed into important community assets. Often, these properties are in key locations with existing infrastructure. With the Brownfields program, we are making investments to help leverage redevelopment at these sites. I believe that removing blight and redeveloping the industrial properties that often sit at the heart of a community’s downtown can renew both the spirit and the economy of our cities.

Since the program’s inception, EPA’s brownfields investments have leveraged more than $18.3 billion in cleanup and redevelopment. Over the years, this relatively small investment of federal funding has leveraged more than 75,000 jobs. This year, our grants were targeted to communities that experienced auto and other major plant closures, and in the last three years alone, EPA’s Brownfields Program provided more than $15 million in financial support to auto communities.

The Brownfields Program is about rebuilding communities. Today, EPA is partnering with the White House Council on Auto Communities and Workers and other Federal agencies to identify opportunities to target federal government grant resources specifically to the needs of auto communities.

Under my leadership, EPA is working closely with the Department of Labor (DOL) to help bring necessary coordination and resources to these communities. We are working with our state partners and local officials to identify opportunities for flexibility within EPA’s regulatory programs to encourage the revitalization of these former auto plants. We are also working closely with The Manufacturing Alliance for Communities on a series of auto community roundtables that are structured to allow for local officials to identify their resource needs, as well as their visions for the revitalization these sites in their communities. These auto community roundtables bring together economic development leaders, elected officials and investors from the public and private sectors that are committed to redeveloping former auto properties.

Moving forward, DOL and EPA will continue to coordinate with The Manufacturing Alliance for Communities and the Mayors Manufacturing Coalition, the RACER Trust, and charitable and philanthropic organizations such as the Funders Network for Smart Growth and Livable Communities, to assess needs and to deliver resources, and to develop a comprehensive toolbox of technical assistance available including the timelines and processes for applying for these competitive resources. By developing this comprehensive tool box we are working to identify potential ways for private foundation money to provide coordinated technical assistance that will leverage available federal and state resources. We also ask that communities continue to identify priority properties and work in partnership with EPA and other federal, state, local, public, private and philanthropic partners to identify their resource needs and garner their community assets.

At EPA, many of our programs and efforts focus on ways to improve the quality of life in local communities. We realize that to move projects forward it takes a variety of resources. In 2012 EPA is looking forward to continuing to make investments in communities through all aspects of our Brownfields program so that this Administration’s efforts on behalf of American communities will continue to support redevelopment and economic recovery, and help rebuild and revitalize neighborhoods and communities across the country.

About the author: Mathy Stanislaus, Assistant Administrator for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response (OSWER)

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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Join the National Conversation on the Future of Our Communities

By Susan Conbere

Over the next 15 years, how do we create communities that are green, inclusive, and economically robust — and also cool places to be? Can we breathe new life into city centers that are rundown and in desperate need of an economic injection? Will rural areas find ways to grow that also retain their rural character, or are subdivisions and parking lots the future of our open space? Do we want to build auto-dependent suburban communities or walkable suburban communities?

Lest we arrive at the future without having given much thought to these issues, the Smart Growth Network—a group of 40 organizations, including EPA— is asking everyone with an interest in communities to join a national conversation on smart growth. What is your image of the ideal community and what will it take to get us there by 2027?

I had been tangentially involved in the “National Conversation” until recently, when I learned that I will be coordinating EPA’s support to the Network in the fall. So, EPA, let’s get the conversation going!

  • Submit a short paper by June 30 about a community planning, design, or development issue you believe communities will be facing in the next 15 years. Visit http://smartgrowth.org/nationalconversation for details.
  • Submit blog posts, videos, and photos describing your image of the ideal community. This portion of the conversation will launch in late summer 2012. Submission details will be available by July 9 at http://smartgrowth.org/nationalconversation.
  • Share this invitation with your contacts. The Network is seeking input from people who work on smart growth every day and from people who don’t. EPA staff work on a lot of issues that touch on community design, planning, and development (environmental justice; brownfield development; water; air quality; urban, suburban, and rural development; health; green buildings; the list is very long). But even if these issues aren’t a part of your daily work, you live in a community and probably have opinions about what a good one looks and feels like. All voices are welcome.

Select submissions will be posted on http://smartgrowth.org/nationalconversation and shared widely among smart growth organizations. Submissions may also be featured at the National Partners for Smart Growth Conference in Kansas City, MO, Feb. 7-9, 2013.

About the author: Susan Conbere is a Communications Specialist with EPA’s Office of Sustainable Communities in Washington, DC.

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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99 Days to Prom

Did you know that between 16 and 33% of teens in the U.S. are considered obese? Part of the reason is not enough physical activity. How do I know?  I’m one of them.

My mom and I moved from the city to a subdivision in the suburbs a few years ago so she could be closer to work and we could live in a nicer neighborhood, an environment created for families. Growing up, I realized it wasn’t kid friendly like my grandmother’s house in the city –where I could walk or had access to the “green limousine” (what everyone else calls public transportation) to get around in the city.   In the suburbs, my mom has to drive me to get to school, practice or the mall. This is called sprawl because everything is so spread out that there isn’t much choice but to use an automobile to get around.

The combination of un-pedestrian friendly towns or neighborhoods and less physical activity contributed to the rise in obesity, diabetes and asthma.  We’re living “large” but it’s taking a toll! Some of us are struggling to fit into prom dresses this spring!  Let’s face it; we build our communities in ways that discourage daily physical activity like walking and bicycling. I didn’t think I had much of a choice and neither did many of my friends. 

But we do.

Town governments and planners call it smart growth.  Growth is “smart” when new development gives us great communities, with more choices, personal freedom and diversity. When communities choose smart growth, they can create new neighborhoods and maintain existing ones that are convenient and healthy. Public transportation is more readily available to use, but walking is also convenient. When a community is designed to be easier to get around, people can more easily incorporate and encourage social and physical activity. It also reduces air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions because people can choose to walk, bike, or take public transportation instead of drive.  Most of all, we can create more choices for kids, families, and older adults. These choices include where to live, how to interact with the people around them and how to get around!  

If it was easier to walk to school or travel to the mall instead of having my mom drive me, we’d save on gas and I wouldn’t have to think about fitting into my prom dress.  Smart growth is good for our health and our carbon footprint. 

Gabriella is a senior at Wheaton Warrenville High School in Illinois.  She’ll be attending SIU next fall to major in environmental forensics science.

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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“Mom, Will You Drive Me to the Mall?”

Are you sick of having to ask your parents to drive you everywhere? Sick of sitting in traffic on the way to school, in the carpool dropoff line, and to every weekend activity? My kids were.

For 10 years, we lived in the outskirts of Silver Spring, Maryland, outside Washington, DC. We were far from everything, except a park and a pool. We spent at least 10 hours a week in the car, driving back and forth between school, fencing class, and running meets. I also drove to work downtown, which should have taken 20 minutes, but regularly took up to an hour in traffic.

My boys are both runners, but they couldn’t run very far from home without hitting a major road. If they wanted to visit friends or go to the mall, they had to rely on me to take them. (Since I’m not always punctual, that drove them nuts.) I couldn’t stand it, and five years ago, I decided to look for a house downtown that was closer to work, fencing, and school.

For years, downtown Silver Spring was ridden with empty storefronts and empty streets. Then the city turned to smart growth. Smart growth strategies can help a community develop so that it’s walkable, and convenient to stores and public transit. People walk more, so they get more exercise. They drive less, so there’s less traffic and air pollution. They shop downtown, which helps the local economy.

In 2003, a large corporation put its headquarters near the Silver Spring subway station. The city built an outside pedestrian mall, with stores, restaurants, movie theaters, and a green community center, which has a skating rink in winter.  Three supermarkets are within walking distance and there’s a farmer’s market every weekend. Now people come downtown all the time.

We moved to a neighborhood right across the street from my office and my boys immediately loved it. They took the school bus to school and the city bus back after practice. They often hopped on the subway to visit friends or go to the mall.

Five years later, my younger son often runs the six miles home from his high school on a nearby bike trail. My older son is at the University of Maryland studying environmental policy; he can take the subway home on holidays. And I walk 5 minutes to the subway to get to my new job at EPA’s Office of Sustainable Communities, which manages EPA’s work on smart growth.

Organizations across the country are working to help communities revive or grow using smart growth principles. If you’re interested in a career in this field, consider environmental policy, planning or architecture. Learn more about smart growth at www.epa.gov/smartgrowth.

Susan Conbere is a Communications Specialist with EPA’s Office of Sustainable Communities in Washington, DC.

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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