Smarter Growth Is Happening Everywhere

At a presentation in the ornate wood-paneled offices of Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) administrator Lisa Jackson, the EPA announced this year’s winners of their annual smart growth awards. The winners all “break old habits and development patterns and give Americans more healthy choices,” said associate administrator Michael Goo. Jackson herself applauded the winners, who all demonstrated that “great ideas are easy, but it takes work to make a great idea actually happen.” She added that each winning team was a true collaboration between multiple non-profit, private, and government partners, who worked together “to creatively overcome challenges.”

This year’s winners were selected from nearly 50 projects from 25 states:  

BLVD Transformation Project, Lancaster, California
Overall Excellence – Winner
Lancaster’s “dilapidated downtown corridor” had been in “decline for more than 20 years and desperately needed an update.” Sketchy strip malls lined a 4-lane highway so all people wanted to do “was to drive through really fast.” Some first steps included removing 2 lanes, adding in traffic calming measures, new sidewalks and bikelanes, along with creating an innovative central “Ramblas” promenade space filled with trees. The promenade space can actually transform into parking lots when needed, too. Outoor pianos, scattered around the town, are labeled with signs called “Random Acts of Music.” People stop and play them. Farmer’s Markets help bring in crowds. Small businesses have clearly seen the opportunities: more than 45 new businesses have taken root along the new streetscape, leading to $130 million in new private sector investment, boosting revenues downtown by almost 96 percent, generating $300 million in new economic output, and creating nearly 2,000 new jobs. On top of that, bird noises piped in downtown are said to be responsible for a huge decline in the crime rates. (See an interactive Web site for the new streetscape).

Mariposa District, Denver, Colorado
Equitable Development – Winner
Denver’s historic and ethnically diverse La Alma/Lincoln Park neighborhood was transformed from an “economically challenged area into a vibrant, transit-accessible, district.” The city housing authority worked with Mithun architects on a new master plan that “preserved affordable housing while adding energy-efficient middle-income and market-rate homes.” A series of design charrettes and personalized outreach to community members who couldn’t make the planning meetings meant a new community where sustainability is actually affordable. Representatives from the housing authority noted that the nearby light rail station keep transportation costs for residents in check. A complex green infrastructure and urban gardening plan was also put in place.

Northwest Gardens, Fort Lauderdale, Florida
Equitable Development – Honorable Mention
The first LEED-Neighborhood Development (ND) project in Florida provides LEED gold homes affordably along with access to fresh local produce and green jobs training. One official said “crime is now down, happiness is up, and the vegetables are great.”

The Cooperative Building, Brattleboro, Vermont
Main Street or Corridor Revitalization – Winner
The EPA writes: “The Brattleboro Food Co-op, the town’s only downtown food store, made a commitment to remain at its downtown location by constructing an innovative, four-story green building on Main Street with a grocery store, commercial space, offices, and affordable apartments. The Main Street location provides healthy food, new jobs, and housing within walkable distances of downtown businesses and public transit.” The $14 million project, said the coop owner, “is about the health and well-being of downtown. This reflects Vermont values.” The new home for the coop has also helped them boost revenue from $500,000 a year to more than $20 million.

Larkin District, Buffalo, New York
Main Street or Corridor Revitalization – Honorable Mention 
The University at Buffalo School of Architecture and Planning worked with community organizations and a local developer to totally transform an “old, abandoned industrial district.” The new master plan for an urban village “now features new office space, restaurants, apartments, parks, and plazas.” Already, some 2-3,000 people come in each Wednesday for band night and drinks. The whole project was done with private money.

Destination Portsmouth, Portsmouth, Virginia
Programs and Policies – Winner
Amazingly, in just one year, the historic city of Portsmouth, site of the oldest naval base in the U.S., completely revamped all their codes to enable denser smart growth within the city center. The project basically “rezoned the entire city in order to connect growth back to the downtown core.” The goal was to “attract people to targeted areas through mixed-use developments,” new, wider sidewalks and bikelanes. The EPA writes: “Destination Portsmouth prepared a package of new plans, zoning ordinances, and other development policies in collaboration with community stakeholders.”  

Bay Area Transit-Oriented Affordable Housing Fund, San Francisco, California
Programs and Policies – Honorable Mention
The Bay Area Transit-Oriented Affordable Housing Fund created a new $50 million rotating loan fund to assist developers in building affordable homes near public transportation.

Check out the winners from last year and 2010, too.

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