A San Diego Showcase for Equitable Development and Environmental Justice

By Megan McConville

Earlier this winter, I stepped off a bus into the brilliant sunshine. As I walked into a brightly painted neighborhood, I was greeted by residents wearing traditional Samoan clothing. They led me to an outdoor amphitheater where I enjoyed a performance of joyful Samoan dance and song.

I was not in Samoa, but in San Diego, California, participating in an educational tour at the New Partners for Smart Growth Conference. The largest smart growth conference in the U.S., New Partners explores all aspects of the field, from community revitalization, affordable housing, and small town livability to green building, health, climate change adaptation, and more. The tour I was on highlighted equitable development—a focus of the conference—in the Village at Market Creek.

The Village at Market Creek, a predominantly low income and minority community, shows how smart growth and environmental justice principles and goals can be integrated to achieve development that is healthy, sustainable, and equitable. Built on a cleaned-up former industrial site 5 minutes from downtown San Diego, the neighborhood offers convenient access to the city’s trolley and bus systems, is home to Market Creek Plaza, the first major grocery store in the community in 30 years, and the community’s ethnic diversity is celebrated throughout its public spaces. The village is projected to create 1,000 affordable homes and more than 1,000 jobs, many for residents.

A hallmark of the project is that it has been truly resident-led. The community guided the overall planning as well as the design of Market Creek Plaza. Now that it is built, hundreds of residents have bought shares of the project, earning returns on their investments while revitalizing their neighborhood.

As we toured this inspiring community, many in my group wondered how they could promote equitable development back home. The day before, EPA had released a draft publication, entitled Strategies for Advancing Smart Growth, Environmental Justice, and Equitable Development, on that very topic. The publication aims to build on successful examples like the Village at Market Creek and offer a menu of approaches overburdened communities can use to address longstanding environmental and health challenges, create new opportunities in their neighborhoods, and implement development that responds to residents’ visions.

Watch for the completed publication this summer on smart growth and environmental justice. Like my visit to Market Creek, I hope it will show that environmental justice and smart growth approaches must go hand in hand to produce healthy, sustainable, and inclusive communities.

About the author: Megan McConville is a Policy & Planning Fellow in EPA’s Office of Sustainable Communities. She explores how overburdened communities can combine smart growth and environmental justice strategies to improve their neighborhoods, health, and quality of life.

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