The Environmental Protection Agency announced the winners of its annual National Award for Smart Growth Achievements that acknowledges innovative strategies for protecting the environment, increasing economic activity, improving the quality of life and creating opportunities for disadvantaged populations. The winners spanned across the country and showcased a variety of programs that address unique concerns while providing best practices for other communities to follow.
After launching the award in 2002, the EPA collects submissions from all 50 states and uses two panels of experts to judge the sustainability and efficacy of each program. One panel consists of professionals in planning and designing, nonprofits, academia and federal agencies. The other panel houses internal EPA officials and experts. When selecting the winners, panels look for:
- Innovative smart growth planning and implementation
- Robust public involvement process
- Partnerships with public, private and nonprofit stakeholders
- Creating guidelines for a national model
This year’s winners including programs from Atlanta, Georgia; Dubuque, Iowa; Chicago, Illinois; Sacramento, California; Detroit, Michigan; Bronx, New York; and Charles City, Iowa.
Overall Excellence in Smart Growth
In terms of who took the cake at this year’s Smart Growth awards ceremony, the Overall Excellence recognition was given to Atlanta, Georgia, for its BeltLine Eastside Trail and Historic Fourth Ward Park project. Through public, private and nonprofit partnerships, Atlanta has redeveloped underused and highly polluted areas near its four belt lines. Local residents living near the belt lines submissions requests for improvements which include:
- Increased green space
- Easier access to parks
- Advancements to storm and wastewater management
- Energy-efficient light installations
- Photovoltaic solar panels
- Removal of contaminated soil
The redevelopments around the belt lines and parks were funded by $63 million in investments, but has generated more than $775 million in private development such as mixed-income housing and increased commercial space.
Policies, Programs, and Plans
Honored for its GO TO 2040 program, Chicago was awarded the Policies, Programs, and Plans recognition. The Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning worked with public, private and nonprofit partners to create the GO TO 2040 comprehensive strategy for the development of regions with housing, transit, employment and green space options readily available to residents.
By focusing on smart growth, clean air and water, and improved quality of life, the plan received a $4.25 million grant from the federal Partnership for Sustainable Communities to support a Local Technical Assistance Program. All developments fall under one of four themes: livable communities, human capital, efficient governance and regional mobility. More than 100 local projects have been launched under the plan addressing topics such as:
- Aging in place
- Green infrastructure
- Redeveloping vacant land
- Better access to transportation
- Local food planning
- Support for arts and culture
To get the programs in motion, a local task force analyzed state and local tax policies to support land use and economic development strategies. After identifying workforce, innovation and infrastructure challenges, the program was launched and is expected to be sustained into 2040.