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

Essential Links:

New Community Design to the Rescue
A four part report explaining how states and communities can encourage New Community Design, i.e. mi...

Paying the Costs of Sprawl
Using fair-share costing to control sprawl.

Transportation, Land Use and Sustainability
Sample initiative including information on transportation, land use, and sustainability. Excellent e...

Communities that do not prepare for growth are legally unprepared for it when it happens. Many are struggling as they discover that traditional approaches to development create, rather than solve, societal and environmental problems. As science shows correlations between poor health and poor environmental quality, and economics show correlations between a weak economy and poor environmental quality, pollution prevention is seen as one of the most cost-effective ways to help attain the sustainable communities people want. The U.S. Department of Energy's Smart Communities Project states: "Where traditional approaches can lead to congestion, sprawl, pollution and resource over consumption, sustainable development offers real, lasting solutions that will strengthen our future."

"Urban job centers have decentralized to the suburbs. New housing tracts have moved even deeper into agricultural and environmentally sensitive areas. Private auto use continues to rise. This acceleration of sprawl has surfaced enormous social, environmental and economic costs, which until now have been hidden, ignored, or quietly borne by society. The burden of these costs is becoming very clear. Businesses suffer from higher costs, a loss in worker productivity, and underutilized investments in older communities. Agriculture and ecosystems also suffer....We can no longer afford the luxury of sprawl."
Bank of America Report - Beyond Sprawl

While enhancing quality of life is one focus of pollution prevention, costs are a tangible way to analyze development trends. It is important for communities to research and understand the costs of growth and impacts of their decisions. Numbers and configurations are different in each community, but compelling economic reasons for managing growth to prevent pollution include:


Social equity is one of the pillars of sustainability. Its objective, is clean, sustainable communities for all, rather than concentrate pollution in some areas and livability in others.


Groups of all ages make clear that sprawl limits people who do not drive; there should be choices for those who want to be mobile without cars. Surveys show people prefer to walk to work, school, and shopping. Communities are trying to economically design "pedestrian friendly" solutions.

Environmental & Human Health

The Center for Disease Control, EPA, and Department of Health and Human Services have documented effects of pollution on human health and their associated costs. The health costs of pollution from cars and trucks alone have been estimated at between $40 billion and $64 billion a year.

Agricultural Land & Open Space Loss

Agricultural land and open spaces are being lost, along with pristine views, animal habitat, and the ability of the land to supply clean air and water. Erosion contributes to decreases in soil and water quality. The total on and off-site costs of damages by wind and water erosion and the cost of erosion prevention each year is nearly $45 billion.

Aquifer, Riparian, and Coastal Waters Protection

As open land is paved, rainwater is piped directly into streams, making it unavailable to replenish aquifers. Research shows how sprawl aggravates drought and reduces water quality. 44% of our nation's coastal waters are rated impaired for human or aquatic life use.

Economic Incentives for Business

Pollution prevention measures, such as those implemented at a Dow Chemical Plant in La Porte, Texas, and a Monsanto plant in Pensacola, Florida, show substantial profits and significant environmental improvements can be achieved by creatively addressing environmental issues. Livable communities attract clean businesses and the skilled workers those businesses need.

Recreation & Tourism

Recreation and tourism support many local economies.Water flows of major rivers, for example, can be allowed to seasonally adjust naturally. This benefits wildlife, fisheries, and related tourism. With planning, this can be done without negatively impacting agricultural and other industries dependent upon water.


Manufacturing is vital to the American economy. For manufacturing to support sustainable development, manufacturers, suppliers, users, and disposers of products consciously have to share responsibility for the environmental effects and waste stream throughout a product's life cycle. In addition to a shift in tax policies and subsidy reform, greater use of market incentives would result in significant improvements in the environmental performance of the manufacturing sector at a lower cost. Progress could be measured using the following indicators:

  • Increased efficiencies of materials used and recycled
  • Increased use of recycled water; increase in groundwater recharge rates
  • Reduced energy use
  • Reduced solid wastes, hazardous wastes, and emissions

Measuring Progress

As cities, counties, states and regions go forward, it will be important to measure the impacts of current development trends - in terms of pollution, health, and quality of life. Quantitative measures of progress can be a real gauge of success, can reveal less successful approaches, and are currently the most compelling arguments for change.

Case in Point: One of the reasons that LUTRAQ, the Portland area Land Use, Transportation and Air Quality plan, is so compelling is that it has quantified its expected results. LUTRAQ projects a 10% reduction in vehicle miles traveled (VMTs) per capita as a result of the policies adopted in Portland. Further, time spent in traffic congestion would be reduced by 53% and CO2 emissions by 6.4%. Rather than vague promises, these measurements compared favorably with an alternative plan to expand a freeway.

This list of metrics was used by Envision Utah in a strategic planning model. Each can be measured from a baseline number. Over time, the measurements can help determine if the project is going in the desired direction. Plan managers use these numbers to report on the impact of actions. If changes are necessary, the plan can be modified to reflect the new decisions.

  • Average peak hour traffic speeds (mph)
  • People who can walk to rail transit (1/2 mile) as a percent of total population
  • Total water demand (acre feet)
  • Per capita water use (gallons per day)
  • Air quality: total emissions (tons per day)
  • Walkable communities (qualitative)
  • Land use and housing: average size of single-family lot
  • Overall housing availability (single-family, townhouses, condos and apartments)
  • Land consumed: new
  • Land consumed: total
  • Agricultural land consumed
  • Cost of infrastructure (water, sewer, transportation, utilities) 1998-2020


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