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.
Equitable 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.
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 Justice, Creating 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.