Monday marked the first time ever the Environmental Protection Agency officially recognized communities that are using innovative management and planning to curb the problematic effects of urban sprawl.
EPA Administrator Christine Todd Whitman was among those on hand at the National Building Museum in Washington,D.C.,to declare four communities the winners of the National Award for Smart Growth Achievement.
The EPA received more than 100 submissions from project planners across the country vying for the awards that recognize innovation in developing affordable,mixed-use communities that preserve as much green space as possible.
Playing a role in smart growth and development – work that has historically been done only by the Department of Housing and Urban Development – is a new concern for the EPA.
“We recognize that the environmental challenges we face in the 21st century are different from those we encountered 30 years ago when the EPA was established,” Whitman said.
Arlington County,Va.,received the top award for Overall Excellence in Smart Growth for its development around a corridor of five Metro subway stations stretching from Rosslyn to Ballston.
County leaders used tax incentives and improved zoning laws to encourage developers to build retail and residential properties while still leaving room for parks. All these amenities are compacted in a two-square-mile area. In a community that doesn't utilize smart growth practices,all the corridor's resources would require 14 square miles of space.
Similarly,San Mateo County,Calif.,received the Policies and Regulations award for devising creative incentives for smart growth around its own transit system.
The state of Massachusetts took the prize for best Community Outreach and Education for its initiative to inform community leaders about the effects of potential growth in their towns. The state environmental affairs office uses sophisticated digital mapping to project growth trends in all Massachusetts communities. The illustrations show the need to balance growth with community preservation.
The last winner of the Built Projects award was the Wellington Neighborhood of Breckenridge,Colo.,which was lauded for its ability to transform an abandoned mine wasteland into an affordable,livable community.
The Wellington project accomplished three tasks at once: reclamation and cleanup of a previously unlivable property,provision of much needed affordable housing,and the preservation of the pristine Rocky Mountain wilderness that rings the community.
Whitman said she was proud to highlight some of the nation's best examples of smart growth to serve as a model for other communities to follow.
She said the EPA would continue to promote smart growth and combat the widely held notion that smart growth is not economically feasible.
“Smart growth is not ‘anti-growth' or even ‘slow growth,'” Whitman said. “It is about how and where growth should occur in a way that is best for the economy,the community and the environment.”