Rural communities cover much of the United States, but often grow at a slower rate than metropolitan areas. Smart growth approaches to development can help these places strengthen their economies while protecting their environment and residents’ health. For example, encouraging compact development allows people to drive less if they choose, reducing air pollution, while helping to maintain a vibrant, walkable downtown. Rural communities also see smart growth approaches as a way to compete for knowledge- and innovation-based workers by helping to create lively places with amenities that attract skilled workers.
In 2012, Madison County asked the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Office of Sustainable Communities (OSC) for help developing a smart growth self-assessment tool for rural communities that helps local governments evaluate how well their policies and regulations support the type of development they want and identify strategies for improvement. EPA tested the tool in three rural communities in Madison County— the small city of Oneida, the town of Brookfield and the village of Chittenango. Although EPA designed the tool in collaboration with Madison County, any rural community can use the self-assessment. It focuses on issues that are unique to rural areas while acknowledging that rural communities are diverse. The full report is available online at http://www2.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2015-07/documents/madison_county_sgia_071015.pdf