Attracting Infill Development in Distressed Communities

Many communities across the country have been revitalizing their older neighborhoods, traditional downtowns, and central business districts. However, economically distressed communities have been less able to attract this kind of infill development and attain the accompanying economic, environmental, health, and quality of life benefits.

EPA’s new report, Attracting Infill Development in Distressed Communities: 30 Strategies, can help these communities determine their readiness to pursue infill development and identify strategies to better position themselves to attract infill development.

  • It presents strategies and case studies to establish priorities, policies, and partnerships and change public perceptions, which can help make infill development more feasible.
  • It discusses innovative strategies to help finance infill development and replace aging infrastructure.
  • It includes comprehensive self-assessment questions communities can answer to determine if they are ready to pursue infill development and if particular strategies are appropriate for their context.

Many of the strategies in this publication stem from work in Fresno, California, that was part of the Strong Cities, Strong Communities (SC2) Initiative, which provides intensive technical assistance and capacity building to economically distressed cities. EPA and the state of California partnered with the city to convene a task force of experts in development finance, law, public policy, planning, and business to identify strategies to promote infill that were feasible in Fresno’s challenging economic and fiscal environment. EPA developed this publication based in part on the task force’s work.

How Small Towns and Cities Can Use Local Assets to Rebuild Their Economies

How can small towns and cities adapt to changing conditions that affect the industries, technologies, and land use patterns that help form the foundation of their local economies?

EPA’s new report provides case studies of seven communities that have successfully reinvigorated their struggling economies by emphasizing existing assets and distinctive resources. The report, How Small Towns and Cities Can Use Local Assets to Rebuild Their Economies: Lessons from Successful Places, draws on these case studies to offer strategies other communities can use.

To Sell Vacant Homes, Students Spotlight Their Histories

Read the full story in Governing.

Blight and vacancy are very real problems for municipalities and residents. About 20 percent of properties are vacant in Wilkinsburg, an area of about 15,000 people that separated from the adjacent Pittsburgh in 1871. That accounts for about 1,900 housing units, costing local governments about $26 million a year in services to keep them going and lost revenue from declining property values in surrounding areas.

Wilkinsburg developed a reputation as a gang-infested neighborhood in the 1980s and 1990s. A well-publicized shooting at two fast food restaurants in March of 2000 by a mentally ill man hasn’t helped. But the area also has a wealth of durable historic housing, and local governments have tried to encourage redevelopment through tax incentives, as well as programs to fast-track sales and encourage existing homeowners to take on adjacent properties at discounts.

A group of five students from different disciplines at nearby Carnegie Mellon University learned about those offerings as they searched for solutions for a class blending design and public policy. As they met with existing Wilkinsburg residents and toured neighborhoods, they decided problems of perception and limited outreach will forever keep incentive programs underused.

“I think that’s when we realized the problem is a little beyond policy and the houses themselves,” said Rene Cuenca, one of the team members. “There’s this very impactful psychological state.”

See also House of Gold, a web site that documents the life of one of the houses in the neighborhood.

Urban planners may have finally found how to get to Sesame Street

Read the full post at Grist.

But last week, a new generation of planners assembled in the city that gave America the blueprints for residential apartheid, literally, to discuss new policy proposals around “smart growth,” “sustainability,” and “equitable development.”

Suburban sprawl doesn’t have to be ecologically devastating

Read the full story at Ensia.

As development gobbles up open space, conservationists take a fresh look at subdivisions with biodiversity in mind.


American Cities Are Haunted by Too Many Parking Spaces

Read the full story in BusinessWeek.

American car culture may be declining, but much of our urban infrastructure remains steadfastly centered around the automobile. Planning choices made in the heyday of car ownership may prove incompatible with a rising generation of consumers who seem remarkably disinterested in driving.

Smart Location Mapping

EPA has developed two data products that consistently measure the built environment and transit accessibility of neighborhoods across metropolitan regions and across the United States. Each of these products summarize the characteristics of census block groups. Users can download data, browse the data in interactive maps, or access the data through web services.

  • The Smart Location Database summarizes more than 90 different indicators associated with the built environment and location efficiency. Indicators include density of development, diversity of land use, street network design, and accessibility to destinations as well as various demographic and employment statistics. Most attributes are available for all U.S. block groups.
  • Access to Jobs and Workers Via Transit Tool provides indicators of accessibility to destinations by public transit. Indicators summarize jobs accessible by transit as well as workers, households, and population that can access the block group via transit. Coverage is limited to metropolitan regions served by transit agencies that share their service data.

For more information about EPA’s smart location mapping projects, please contact Ted Cochin (202-566-2181,