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Dynamic Redevelopment for Everyone

2014 February 4

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.

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(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.


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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7 Responses leave one →
  1. Bouchakour permalink
    February 4, 2014

    The most interesting in this strategy is that it allows citizens to put at ease. The improvement of living conditions of citizens increases the chances of profiting from their activities.
    Best regards

  2. Jane permalink
    February 4, 2014

    Thanks for this information. I particularly liked finding out about the report “CREATING EQUITABLE, HEALTHY, AND SUSTAINABLE COMMUNITIES” it seems like equity often gets lost in the conversation around smart growth and sustainability. In my research on environmental justice it seems like they have been asking for “equity” to be a part of the equation for years, so I’m glad the rest of the EPA and other Federal agencies seem to be catching up.

  3. Mirabel Weriwoh permalink
    February 5, 2014

    Thanks for sharing this wonderful piece of information. I like the outcomes of equitable development. How nice to see people live in renovated homes that exist in environments that are safe and healthy especially free from environmental health hazards.
    Good job and more power to your elbow!

  4. Rick Rybeck permalink
    February 7, 2014

    Excellent start for this important discussion. However, as regarding many aspects of “smart growth,” the tone of the document focuses too heavily on “intention.” If only people understood the benefits of smart growth, they would do more of it. If only people understood the importance of equitable development, they would do more of it.

    Efforts to educate us about the benefits of smart and equitable development are great. But too little attention is paid to economics. There is some recognition that improving disadvantaged communities can lead to higher land values that then displace the residents and businesses who were the intended beneficiaries. But too often, the recommendation is that, after subsidizing better transit or some other neighborhood improvement, the public must now subsidize commercial and residential rents so that the occupants of the neighborhood can afford to access the improvements that their taxes have already paid for.

    When the public improves a neighborhood, increases in land values should be returned to the public, rather than be siphoned off by private landowners. Implementing “value capture” would reduce land speculation, thereby keeping land more affordable to users. Also, doing so would provide the funds necessary to help ensure the equitable distribution of benefits to existing residents and businesses. (In spite of claims to the contrary, tax increment financing is rarely “value capture” and is more frequently simply “revenue segregation.”)

    For more information, see “Funding Infrastructure for Growth, Sustainability and Equity” at

  5. Liam permalink
    February 8, 2014

    It is refreshing to hear someone actually admit that displacement does happen and should be considered in the planning process. I think that is a positive step in truly creating an opportunity to create healthy, equitable and sustainable communities for all.

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