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February 14, 2013
EJ linked to community growth

Environmental justice (EJ) for communities is an enduring EPA pursuit, but attempting to achieve EJ in isolation from other community needs has proved difficult.  The need to improve EJ in the context of smart growth is behind a new EPA publication, Creating Equitable, Healthy, and Sustainable Communities.

According to the Agency, this is a “first-of-its-kind” report showing how low-income, minority and tribal communities can apply smart growth land use and development strategies to create healthy communities, spur economic growth, and protect the environment.  The EPA hopes the report will encourage smart growth and EJ advocates to work together more effectively to achieve the best results possible for communities. 

Seven strategies

The report provides a menu of land-use and community design strategies that bring together smart growth, EJ, and equitable development principles that can be adopted by community-based organizations, local and regional decision makers, developers, and others to revitalize communities. 

The strategies are grouped under seven common elements that overlap in areas such as building neighborhoods to address environmental, health, and economic disparities and providing opportunities for low-income, minority, tribal, and overburdened residents.

Each of the common elements is accompanied by an in-depth case study highlighting a community’s experiences with these strategies.

  • Facilitate meaningful community engagement in planning and land use decisions.  The intent is to remove barriers that discourage community participation among those not traditionally involved.  Conducting multilingual outreach is essential in some communities.
  • Promote public health and a clean and safe environment.  Design and develop neighborhoods to reduce exposure to harmful contamination, prevent future pollution, and promote physical activity.
  • Strengthen existing communities.  Fix existing infrastructure before undertaking new development, reuse vacant and abandoned properties, and redevelop commercial corridors.
  • Provide housing choices.  Multiple tools (e.g., deed restrictions, low-income housing tax credits, and updated land use regulations) can be used to preserve affordable housing and create new affordable housing.
  • Provide transportation options.  The design of safe streets (e.g., sidewalks, bike lanes, median islands) can be critical to regional employment opportunities.
  • Improve access to opportunities and daily necessities.  These include diverse, community-centered schools; safe routes to schools; retailers that provide healthful food; and parks and green space.
  • Preserve and build on the features that make a community distinctive. Preserving and strengthening the features that make a place special maintains what existing residents value about their homes, attracts new residents and visitors, and spurs economic development grounded in community identity.

While the need for substantial funding often dissuades communities from undertaking the types of improvements discussed in the report, the case studies illustrate that many funding opportunities do exist. The critical need is for committed, visionary, and hard-working community leaders willing to break free of the unsuccessful patterns of the past.

Click here for the report.

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