Reconnecting America People * Places * Possibility

Resource Center

Smart Growth: A Guide to Developing and Implementing Greenhouse Gas Reductions Programs

Local Government Climate and Energy Strategy Series 

Executive Summary

Developing and Implementing Community Planning and Design Programs

Community design—including factors such as physical layout; proximity and accessibility to goods, services, workplaces, and schools; and the materials and designs used in building and infrastructure—affects energy consumption and vehicle use, and thus greenhouse gas emissions. By addressing these factors through planning, application of smart growth principles, measures to reduce urban heat islands, and other initiatives, local and regional governments can encourage economic development while preserving their open spaces and critical environmental habitats, protecting water and air quality, and helping to mitigate climate change.

Community planning and design programs generally act to reduce energy demand, as opposed to increasing energy efficiency. For example, by promoting mixed-use development and public transportation, communities can reduce the need for residents to drive a car for shopping, commuting to work, or getting to and from school. Similarly, measures to reduce the urban heat island effect, such as planting shade trees or installing cool roofs, reduce a community’s cooling energy requirements.The community planning and design guides in this series describe the process of developing and implementing strategies, using real-world examples, which apply the principles of smart growth or take steps to reduce the urban heat island effect.

Smart Growth

Smart growth development is based on 10 key principles and benefits the economy, the community, the environment, and public health. This guide provides information on how local governments have planned, designed, and implemented approaches that encourage smart growth in their communities. It is designed to be used by city planners, local energy managers and sustainability directors, local elected officials, regional planning agencies, metropolitan planning organizations, and citizen groups.

Readers of the guide should come away with an understanding of smart growth principles and how they can be applied in practice, foundations and strategies for smart growth development, expected costs, and potential funding opportunities.

The guide describes the benefits of smart growth (section 2); planning and design approaches to smart growth (section 3); key participants and their roles (section 4); foundations for smart growth program development (section 5); implementation strategies for effective programs (section 6); investment and funding opportunities (section 7); federal, state, and other programs that may be able to help local governments with information or financial and technical assistance (section 8), and finally two case studies of local governments that have successfully implemented smart growth principles in their communities (section 9). Additional examples of successful implementation are provided throughout the guide.

Relationships to Other Guides in the Series

Local governments can use other guides in this series to develop robust climate and energy programs that incorporate complementary strategies. For example, local governments can combine smart growth development with urban heat island reduction, transportation control measures, energy-efficient affordable housing, and energy-efficient K-12 schools in a comprehensive, community-wide approach to reducing energy demand and vehicle miles traveled.


■ Community Planning and Design: Urban Heat Island Reduction

Dark-colored buildings, paved surfaces, and reduced tree cover in urban areas create “islands” of warmth, with impacts on air quality, energy use, and public health. Measures to reduce urban heat islands can complement smart growth strategies by further reducing energy costs and enhancing green space.

■ Transportation: Transportation Control Measures

Transportation control measures are strategies that reduce vehicle miles traveled and improve roadway operations to reduce air pollution, GHG emissions, and fuel use from transportation. Many of these measures encourage public transportation, carpooling, bicycling, and walking, thus contributing to one of the key principles of smart growth (to provide a variety of transportation choices).

■ Energy Efficiency: Energy Efficiency in Affordable Housing

Energy costs can contribute substantially to the overall financial burden of housing, and can make housing unaffordable for many families. Lower home energy use combined with smart growth strategies that reduce the need for personal vehicle use can lead to substantial reductions in the total energy cost burden of low-income residents.

■ Energy Efficiency: Energy Efficiency in K-12 Schools

The proximity of schools to the neighborhoods they serve, along with the accessibility of schools via a range of transportation options, are important considerations for smart growth strategies. Measures to improve energy efficiency in K-12 schools can be combined with smart growth strategies to reduce the total energy use and envi- ronmental impacts associated with schools—both within and beyond the school fenceline.