“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.

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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 views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.

From Bike Path to Career Path – Passing Through EPA’s Office of Sustainable Communities

By Jennifer Woods

Growing up in the small university and bike- friendly town of Davis, California, I had the joy of biking or walking to school, sports practice and work almost every day — from my first day of kindergarten until I graduated from high school. To be honest, my mom and dad didn’t give me an option. Despite my attempts at begging for a ride some mornings, my mom always told me that we lived in a safe town with plenty of parks, trails, sidewalks and schools close by, so there was no reason to drive. Over time, my complaints ceased and I became accustomed to riding my bike everywhere. Then, when I went off to college, eager to use my bike, I was surprised to find that my new home for the next four years wasn’t exactly bike-friendly… I had to use the car much more than I would have liked.

During my second year of college, I took a planning class and learned about this thing called “Smart Growth.” It all made so much sense to me….and I’ve been hooked ever since. At school I took as many sustainable planning classes as possible, and interned during the summers at an organization in California that works to promote sustainable communities.

As I finish up my time in school, I feel lucky to have had the opportunity to intern here at EPA in the Office of Sustainable Communities. It has been an amazingly fun, interesting and rewarding experience being surrounded by knowledgeable people, all working hard to help create more sustainable communities across the country. My work experience at EPA helped me realize that this is the career for me. I want others to have the same opportunity to grow up in a community that encourages people to bike and walk to school safely, just like I did.

For now, I’m eager to head back to Davis, park my car and put my bike to use every day. I’ll also thank my mom and dad for instilling in me the habits that put me on the path to appreciating the livable and sustainable aspects of my community.

About the author: Jennifer Woods just completed her internship in EPA’s Office of Sustainable Communities. She’ll soon be graduating from college with honors with a bachelor’s degree in Political Science and a minor in Urban Studies and Planning.

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 views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

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Healthy Communities Are No Accident

By John W. Frece

Would you simply like to be able to walk from your home to the store? Or, to the doctor’s office? Is it easy – or difficult — to cross busy streets in your neighborhood? Are there sidewalks where you live? Or, do you have to rely on a car to go anywhere?

A recent report by AARP found that 40% of persons 50 and older say their neighborhoods lack adequate sidewalks. Nearly half — 47% — feel it is unsafe to cross streets near their homes. And about half of those who reported problems in their neighborhoods said if these safety factors were fixed, they would bike, walk or take the bus to meet their needs.

The good news is that many of the obstacles to creating more walkable communities can be fixed.

I have been working for more than a decade on public policy at the state and federal level to help local governments build infrastructure so that our streets, sidewalks, homes and transportation projects do a better job protecting public health and the environment. As Director of EPA’s the Office of Sustainable Communities — part of the President’s Partnership for Sustainable Communities — we have learned that healthy communities do not happen by accident, but are designed intentionally. In partnership with DOT and HUD, our three agencies have adopted a set of principles that specifically support existing communities, in part by providing them with more choices in transportation and housing. Our office offers a wealth of publications to help communities become smarter about how – and where – they build.

A growing number of communities have begun to adopt complete street policies. Transportation planners and engineers employ complete streets policies to ensure that roadways are designed in ways that support all potential users — bicyclists, pedestrians of all ages and abilities, public transportation riders, as well as cars.

That’s because there is a direct correlation between how we design the transportation networks in our communities and public health and safety. This year’s theme for National Public Health week — “Safety is no Accident” – recognizes the importance of designing options into the built environment.

Designing our built environment with a focus on connecting us with the places we frequent – shops, health care, parks, grocers, entertainment — can make it easier for us to make the healthy choice of getting around by foot or bike. And this can make all the difference.

About the author: John W. Frece is the Director of the Office of Sustainable Communities, within the Office of Policy at EPA. The Office of Sustainable Communities represents EPA in its Partnership for Sustainable Communities with the U.S. Department of Transportation and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

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Playing Outside: Important For Children’s (And Adults’) Health

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I’m sure you’ve heard about the record amount of snow that the DC area got this past weekend. As a native Bostonian, and a recent resident of northern New England, I get excited about big snow storms, particularly an unusual one such as this!

Mostly, I like snow storms because I like playing outside. As a kid, I’d often join up with friends at a favorite sledding hill or build forts for snowball fights. These days, I try to grab my skis (cross-country or telemark) as quickly as possible, though I sometimes settle for just tromping around. An important ingredient for these activities is some amount of nearby (ideally hilly) open space, parks or woods. These areas are also favorite spots for me during the non-snowy seasons for running, walking, birding, and biking. I’ve been really lucky to live in places where I could access public open space pretty easily. A lot of neighborhoods don’t have those areas available for kids and adults to enjoy.

Given that childhood obesity has tripled among adolescents and extensive efforts are underway to get kids to play outside more, providing open spaces for kids to be physically (and mentally) active should be more of a priority for developers, redevelopers and town planners. A lot of communities, particularly disadvantaged ones, could use more sporting fields, courts and playgrounds, so that every kid has one around the corner. Based on my experience, I think it’s important not to overlook the “informal” spaces for simply playing outdoors, too. Where else are kids going to sled when the snow falls? (No soccer field or baseball diamond I ever played on was steep enough for sledding!)

Folks here at EPA are promoting healthier communities that incorporate open spaces and recreational areas for communities. They’ve supported a lot of important research and community-level engagement efforts to promote open space and other elements of smart growth. Among other things, access to community space for recreation and outdoor exercise has been associated in some instances with declining levels of obesity, which is in part why open space provides economic benefits for communities.

I encourage you to enjoy your neighborhood’s open spaces and to ask your local officials and community leaders about getting an open space project off the ground.

About the author: Matthew H. Davis, M.P.H., is a Health Scientist in EPA’s Office of Children’s Health Protection, working there on science and regulatory policy as a Presidential Management Fellow since October 2009. Previously, he worked in the environmental advocacy arena, founding a non-profit organization in Maine and overseeing the work of non-profits in four other states.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

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EPA’s Green Symphony

About the author: Ken Sandler is Co-Chair of EPA’s Green Building Workgroup. He has worked for EPA since 1991 on sustainability issues including green building, recycling and indoor air quality.

Lots of people complain about government, and often for good reason. But few really dig deep to find the core problems with bureaucracies, and how to fix them.

Bureaucratic systems aim to solve problems by dividing these problems into steadily smaller pieces. This works, up to a point. The problem is that somebody has to make sure that all those individual instruments, while they’re playing their own pieces, also fit well into a broader symphony.

Here at EPA, we divide up problems at the broadest level into the issues of air, water, land & materials, and toxics & prevention. We then break them down into even finer levels of detail. This allows us to devote greater scrutiny to a whole host of issues, but the challenge is to ensure that, in the process, we don’t lose the big picture.

EPA’s Green Building Workgroup is one of our efforts to ensure that we’re all playing from the same sheet of music. Our agency has a lot of strong programs to deal with specific buildings issues, like Energy Star, WaterSense, Indoor Environments and Industrial Material Recycling. But a building is a whole system and if you only focus on one aspect of it, you may lose other opportunities or cause more problems. In the 1970s, when we started tightening buildings for energy efficiency, some of them starting having indoor air quality problems due to inadequate ventilation. We’ve since learned how to build and operate buildings that are both energy efficient and healthy.

Similarly, when we’re looking at buildings’ energy profiles, we need to take into account not only the energy used to power them, but also the energy used to manufacture building products, bring water to buildings, and convey and treat wastewater from them. Not to mention the energy we use to commute to and from buildings – which gets to an even larger issue, that buildings themselves are part of our development patterns – neighborhoods, towns, metropolitan areas. Here we get into the purview of another EPA program, Smart Growth, which focuses on how to design and manage communities that enhance the quality of life, health and nature.

These are all important programs, and the Green Building Workgroup works to coordinate them so that they all make great green music together. Please help us stay in tune by letting us know what EPA green building resources you would find most helpful.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

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Question of the Week: How has your community used smart growth for environment-friendly development?

Each week we ask a question related to the environment. Please let us know your thoughts as comments. Feel free to respond to earlier comments or post new ideas. Previous questions.

Communities grow to meet demand for homes, schools, shopping, offices, roads, and everything else. But community growth can affect the environment due to increases in traffic, energy and utilities, waste, and more.

How has your community used smart growth for environment-friendly development?

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.