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Community Growth: Background and Overview
Table of Contents
Background and Overview
Reasons for Change
Preventing Pollution
Where To Go for Help
Complete List of Links

Essential Links:

Discovering Common Ground
Summarizes steps that state and local governmental agencies can implement to decelerate sprawl and d...

Green Communities
A step-by-step guide for planning and implementing sustainable actions.

Linking Sustainable Community Activities to Pollution Prevention:
This highly respected source book documents how communities across the United States are taking a ne...

Smart Growth Network
Definition and explanation of smart growth including references to principles and issues.

This topic hub addresses how communities throughout America are implementing new visions for prosperity. Research cooperatively pursued by business, government, and institutions into the problems, relationships, and opportunities present are cornerstones of the process. Increasingly, planning documents advocate concepts such as sustainability and smart growth. Creating and managing such plans often revolves around input from many stakeholders monitoring progress toward common goals. As communities and government agencies analyze the costs and benefits of past, present, and future growth, one thing is becoming more prevalent in the planning process: pollution prevention. As concerns for creating sustainable communities merge, industrial, regulatory, planning, and other groups are coming together to prevent pollution. For example, twelve of sixteen points from the President's Council on Sustainable Development's "We Believe Statement" weave economic growth and a healthy environment together.

The form growth should take for any one community, however, often begins as a contentious issue. This topic hub includes links as to how people have addressed these issues and moved to a common ground to pursue what the Joint Center for Sustainable Communities calls the three pillars of sustainability: job growth, environmental stewardship, and social equity.

"In communities across the nation, there is a growing concern that current development patterns -- dominated by what some call "sprawl" -- are no longer in the long-term interest of our cities, existing suburbs, small towns, rural communities, or wilderness areas. Though supportive of growth, communities are questioning the economic costs of abandoning infrastructure in the city, only to rebuild it further out. The result is both a new demand and a new opportunity for smart growth."

Smart Growth Network overview

Development Patterns

Past and current development patterns and practices inadvertently contribute to both a decline in the quality of life and an increase in pollution. The causes, trends, and impacts of land conversion are closely interrelated. Causes, such as governmental policies, explain trends that result in environmental, societal and economic impacts. Planning for livable communities can prevent pollution and growth problems including:

  • Inefficient use of land leading to loss of agricultural lands, wildlife habitat, and the natural systems necessary for clean and abundant air and water - According to several sources, including the American Farmland Trust, America lost agriculture and open space at the rate of over 1.2 million acres per year during the 1990s, which is 51% faster than in the 1980s. Such sprawl is consuming land much faster than the 17% growth in population requires. Depending upon how the land is used, communities often find themselves annually subsidizing sprawl from twenty to one hundred percent.
  • More road building and car commuting with negative impacts on air and water quality - The Environmental Protection Agency has documented that 50% of the country's air pollution comes from vehicles, which is also a prime source of acid rain. Over the past 50 years, the U.S. has built almost 4 million miles of highways.
  • Current building practices waste resources during construction. On the average, over six pounds of waste enter landfills for every square foot of a new home built.
  • According to the Department of Energy's Smart Communities Network, buildings use one-third of all the energy consumed in the U.S., and two-thirds of all electricity. Approximately one third is wasted, at a cost of over $340 billion a year.
  • Among other things, buildings produce 35 percent of the country's carbon dioxide emissions-the chief pollutant blamed for climate change. It is estimated that 38 million more buildings will be added by 2010.
  • Current patterns of consumption and production are not sustainable. According to the Department of Energy, economic and population growth "threaten the health and well-being of our communities..."

Environmental Benefits of Planned Growth

According to the Department of Energy, perhaps the single most influential factor emerging among business and industry pursuing sustainability is the realization that pollution prevention makes economic sense. The Environmental Protection Agency also claims a balanced pattern of growth will prevent pollution and save money. It can:

  • improve air quality by reducing automobile emissions
  • protect water quality by creating fewer paved surfaces, with related toxic runoff
  • redevelop brownfields into useful/productive spaces
  • preserve open spaces by redirecting growth to existing communitites where infrastructure already exists
  • help communities maintain and achieve a unique and desirable character

Background and Overview links - available at the left - provide information that highlight how and why community growth planning has been done in the past, and what has happened to move communities to search for answers to growth that include sustainable development.


The Topic Hub™ is a product of the Pollution Prevention Resource Exchange (P2Rx)

The Community Growth Topic Hub™ was developed by:

Peaks to Prairies Pollution Prevention Center
Peaks to Prairies Pollution Prevention Center
Contact email:

Hub Last Updated: 1/25/2013