Creating Equitable, Healthy, and Sustainable Communities: Strategies for Advancing Smart Growth, Environmental Justice, and Equitable Development

United States Environmental Protection Agency

Year: 2013

Communities across the country are integrating smart growth, environmental justice, and equitable development approaches to design and build healthy, sustainable, and inclusive neighborhoods. Overburdened communities are using smart growth strategies to address longstanding environmental and health challenges and create new opportunities where they live. Regional and local planners are engaging low-income, minority, and tribal residents in decision-making and producing more enduring development that is better for people and the environment. Community groups, government agencies, and private and nonprofit partners are cleaning up and investing in existing neighborhoods, providing affordable housing and transportation options, and improving access to critical services and amenities.

This informational publication aims to build on past successes and offer other low-income, minority, tribal, and overburdened communities approaches to shape development that responds to their needs and reflects their values. It identifies strategies that bring together smart growth, environmental justice, and equitable development principles and that community- based organizations, local and regional decision- makers, developers, and others can use to build healthy, sustainable, and inclusive communities. These are places that provide clean air, water, and land; affordable and healthy homes; safe, reliable, and economical transportation options; and convenient access to jobs, schools, parks, shopping, and other daily necessities.

The strategies are grouped under seven common elements, or shared goals and principles that connect environmental justice, smart growth, and equitable development. The fundamental overlap between these concepts is around how to plan and build neighborhoods to address environmental, health, and economic disparities and provide opportunities for low-income, minority, tribal, and overburdened residents; therefore, all the approaches described relate to land use and community design. This document provides a brief introduction to each strategy, with a description of what it is, how it supports equitable and environmentally sustainable development, and examples of how it has been used. Local governments and community-based organizations can choose the approaches that best suit their needs and goals. Each of the seven common elements is illustrated by an in- depth case study highlighting a community’s experiences with these strategies.

The seven common elements, along with the strategies that fit under each one, are:

  • Common Element #1: Facilitate Meaningful Community Engagement in Planning and Land Use Decisions
  • Common Element #2: Promote Public Health and a Clean and Safe Environment
  • Common Element #3: Strengthen Existing Communities
  • Common Element #4: Provide Housing Choices
  • Common Element #5: Provide Transportation Options
  • Common Element #6: Improve Access to Opportunities and Daily Necessities
  • Common Element #7: Preserve and Build on the Features That Make a Community Distinctive

united states environmental protection agencyThis publication demonstrates that smart growth, environmental justice, and equitable development approaches can be an effective combination for responding to the challenges overburdened communities face, promoting development that is authentic and enduring, and laying the foundation for economic resilience. Taken together or in part, the strategies outlined here can help low-income, minority, tribal, and overburdened communities shape development to respond to their needs and reflect their values. These strategies can also help local and regional planners and policy-makers make land use decisions that are equitable, healthy, and sustainable for all residents.

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