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.

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