EPA: Building Blocks for Sustainable Communities

Click here to view on the EPA website.

Many communities around the country are asking for tools to help them achieve their desired development goals, improve quality of life, and become more economically and environmentally sustainable. In response to this demand, EPA developed the Building Blocks for Sustainable Communities Program.

Building Blocks for Sustainable Communities provides quick, targeted technical assistance to selected local and/or tribal governments using a variety of tools that have demonstrated results and widespread application. The purpose of delivering these tools is to stimulate a discussion about growth and development and strengthen local capacity to implement sustainable approaches.

A tool includes:

  • An agenda, presentations, or exercises that help facilitate discussion around a series of inputs and outputs.
  • Data or information from the community that can be analyzed, resulting in potential next steps for policy change.
  • An action-oriented process that leads to a set of potential next steps.

Assistance from EPA

Each technical assistance project in a community will include:

  • Public engagement through a one- to two-day workshop.
  • Direct consultation with relevant decision-makers.
  • A memo outlining specific steps the community could take to implement the ideas generated during the site visit.

Technical assistance will be delivered by EPA staff and EPA-hired consultant teams.

EPA selects communities from responses to Requests for Letters of Interest that are issued roughly once a year. The most recent request closed on October 26, 2012, but is available here for reference only: Request for Letters of Interest (PDF) (13 pp, 457K, About PDF). EPA plans to issue another request in fall 2013, depending on budget constraints.

View the presentations from two webinars, held on Sept. 21 and Oct. 4, 2012, that explained the Building Blocks for Sustainable Communities Program and application process.

Read Frequently Asked Questions.

Tools Offered

EPA offers a variety of tools through the Building Blocks for Sustainable Communities Program. Not every tool is offered in every round. Once EPA has used a tool in several communities, we work to refine it to create a product that any community can use with limited outside assistance. Once a tool “graduates” to this form, it is placed online.

  • Complete Streets: Teaches communities how to set investment priorities, draft policies, and implement changes to make their streets safe and appealing to all users, including drivers, pedestrians, bicyclists, and transit riders.
  • Creating a Green Streets Strategy: Helps communities begin to develop strategies for greening their streets by adapting national best practices and case studies to their local context.
  • Green Building Toolkit: Assists local governments in identifying policies that support compact development that features sustainably built homes and buildings.
  • Land Use Strategies to Protect Water Quality: Helps local governments examine land use approaches to green infrastructure that manage stormwater.
  • Neighborhood Planning for Healthy Aging: Explores the role of supportive neighborhood design in creating great places for aging residents.
  • Parking Audit: Evaluates local parking policies and offers advice on parking management strategies, drawing from successful strategies in other communities.
  • Planning Bikeshare Programs: Provides a framework to explore establishing or expanding a bikeshare program in a community.
  • Preferred Growth Areas: Offers a process for communities to review values, opportunities, tools, and constraints to determine the most environmentally beneficial locations for growth.
  • Smart Growth Guidelines for Sustainable Design and Development: Helps the community understand the key principles and decisions at the location, site, and building levels that can result in a more sustainable plan or development proposal.
  • Supporting Equitable Development: Helps communities evaluate their needs around equitable development and identify strategies to manage neighborhood change and support community goals around housing, culture, and local businesses.
  • Sustainable Land Use Code Audit: Evaluates local land use codes, including zoning and subdivision regulations, for opportunities to incorporate community sustainability goals, remove barriers, and create incentives.
  • Sustainability Strategies for Small Cities and Rural Areas: Offers a menu of quick fixes that rural and small-town governments can make to their zoning codes and planning documents to protect community character and quality of life. This tool used to be called “Smart Growth Zoning Codes for Small Cities and Rural Areas.”
  • Using Smart Growth to Produce Fiscal and Economic Health: Helps communities evaluate how to get better economic results from private development and public investments.
  • Walking Audit: Guides communities in assessing the pedestrian environment and forming a vision for short- and long-term improvements to sidewalks and streets. This tool, completed in 2012, is now online: Walkability Workbook .

Assistance from Grantees

In addition, EPA has provided grants to four nonprofit organizations with extensive expertise in sustainable communities—Forterra, Global Green USA, Project for Public Spaces, and Smart Growth America. These grantees offer assistance to communities using tools the grantees have chosen and in some cases developed themselves. In 2012, EPA’s Building Blocks grantees provided assistance to 54 communities. In 2013, at least 40 additional communities will receive assistance.

To get more information about the kinds of assistance available from EPA’s grantees and how to apply, please contact the organizations directly:

Communities Selected in 2013

In February 2013, EPA selected 43 communities in 27 states to receive Building Blocks assistance. Nine tools are being offered:

  • Creating a Green Streets Strategy: Bellevue, Nebraska; Dayton, Ohio; Fort Lauderdale, Florida; Lynchburg, Virginia; Maui, Hawaii
  • Green Building Toolkit: Boise, Idaho; Vinton, Texas
  • Land Use Strategies to Protect Water Quality: Atchison, Kansas; Beaverton, Oregon ; Caddo, Louisiana; Dubuque, Iowa; Gun Lake Tribe, Michigan; Jersey City, New Jersey; Lake Zurich, Illinois; Petersburg, Virginia; Washoe Tribe, Nevada
  • Neighborhood Planning for Healthy Aging: Chattanooga, Tennessee; Inyo County, California; Pompano Beach, Florida; Seneca Nation, New York
  • Parking Audit: Brunswick, Maine; Carpinteria, California; Cheney, Washington; Lawrence, Kansas
  • Planning Bikeshare Programs: Bridgeport, Connecticut; Denver, Colorado; Fort Collins, Colorado; New Orleans, Louisiana; Portland, Maine
  • Supporting Equitable Development: Atlanta, Georgia: Buffalo, New York; Stamford, Connecticut; Tulsa, Oklahoma
  • Sustainable Strategies for Small Cities and Rural Areas: Bowling Green, Florida; Brattleboro, Vermont; Maui, Hawaii; Murray, Kentucky; New Castle, Delaware; Vinton, Texas; Williamson, New York; Yurok Tribe, California; Zolfo Springs, Florida
  • Using Smart Growth to Produce Economic and Fiscal Health: Fargo, North Dakota; Lake Worth, Florida; Omaha, Nebraska

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