november 17, 2006
  EPA Lauds Five Smart Growth Projects

by Tracy Ostroff
Associate Editor

Summary: The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency awarded its 2006 National Awards for Smart Growth Achievement to five programs that use smart growth principles to improve existing communities or build new communities that expand economic development opportunities, enhance quality of life, and preserve the natural environment. The agency awarded the projects in the categories of Overall Excellence, Built Projects, Policies and Regulations, Equitable Development, and Small Communities.

Overall Excellence
Massachusetts Office of Commonwealth Development
The Office for Commonwealth Development (OCD) success demonstrates that states can play a leadership role on development issues while leaving decisions in the hands of local communities. OCD brings together state agencies responsible for environmental, transportation, and housing policies in a single office to promote growth that meets a wide range of goals. Through incentives and outreach, OCD is changing the way both state and localities make growth decisions. Production of multi-family housing units, crucial in a state with the nation’s third least-affordable housing market, has grown from 3,800 to more than 7,000 units annually. State support for transit-oriented development will result in 37 million square feet of new development near transit stations, relieving growth pressure in greenfields. OCD has also helped protect about 35,000 acres of land.

Built Projects
Old Town Wichita
Wichita faced significant challenges in reviving its 40-acre old warehouse district. Banks, fearful of being held liable for groundwater cleanup, stopped real estate loans in the contaminated area. To stimulate redevelopment, the city took the lead in cleaning up the site, relieving property owners of the responsibility. Through the MarketPlace partnership, the city leveraged public funds to encourage private investment for redevelopment, adding more than 690,000 square feet of retail and office space, rehabilitating eight historic buildings for residential use, and seeding over $111 million in private investment. Old Town’s stores, recreational amenities, and many affordable homes capitalize on its walkable design, mix of uses, and historic beauty. And now the groundwater treatment system doubles as an educational center on environmental stewardship.

Policies and Regulations
Pennsylvania Fresh Food Financing Initiative, Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development
The Pennsylvania Fresh Food Financing Initiative (FFFI), a public-private partnership, has provided more than $7.3 million in grants and loans to help supermarkets locate in underserved communities. The program lets people shop for nutritious food in their neighborhoods, cutting consumers’ vehicular trips, reducing transportation costs, and bringing economic development to lower-income communities. FFFI is designed to complement revitalization efforts in existing communities, a key smart growth principle. For example, of the 22 supermarkets receiving funding from FFFI, 20 will create no new impervious cover because they will be constructed on existing sites or expand capacity at existing stores.

Small Communities
Winooski Downtown Redevelopment Project, Winooski, Vt.
The Winooski Downtown Redevelopment project revitalized this small town with new development that respects the city’s character and history. The town preserved or restored nearly 100 acres of natural habitat, returned vacant properties to productive use, created neighborhood parks, and built the pedestrian-friendly RiverWalk. The city, working with a development team that included architecture firms Arrowstreet and Niles Bolton Associates, reestablished the street grid and added wider sidewalks and on-street parking. Development includes about 500 new homes, with another 400 units planned; a new transit center; about 300,000 square feet of offices, shops, and restaurants; and several neighborhood parks and other attractive public gathering places. Encouraged by the success of the downtown redevelopment, developers are rehabilitating several historic mill buildings along Main Street.

Equitable Development
Bethel Center, Chicago Department of Planning and Development
The West Garfield Park neighborhood catalyzed a transit-oriented redevelopment to prevent the shuttering of its transit station. The development is anchored by Bethel Center, which provides employment services, child care, and banking in a “green” building on a former brownfield. Bethel New Life Inc., a local faith-based nonprofit organization, working with Farr and Associates Architects, collaborated with residents, churches, public officials, school principals, the Garfield Park Conservatory, and local organizations to develop a two-story, 23,000-square-foot, environmentally friendly facility dubbed “Bethel Center.” The development incorporates green building technology and features a green roof, photovoltaic cells, and recycled and non-toxic building materials.

news headlines
Recent related
Five Projects Awarded for Smart Growth
AIA Launches “Blueprint for America”
Smart Growth: Building Livable Communities (PDF) – [This is the public policy statement]

1. Funding from OCD is helping to increase affordable housing in urban centers such as East Boston.
2. Inviting storefronts open to the street while businesses and residences are contained to the upper levels of Old Town’s historic buildings.
3. The Island Avenue ShopRite boasts not only fresh and affordable foods, but a strong connection to the Eastwick, Pa., community.
4. New apartments and condos are being built with easy transit access.
5. Bethel Center's green roof reduces stormwater runoff, and photovoltaic cells provide clean energy. The center also provides direct access to the Green Line "El" stop through a connecting bridge.

For more information about the EPA’s Smart Growth Program, including guides to implement smart growth programs, guidance documents, and other resources, visit the agency’s Web site.