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Sustainable Development and Smart Growth


Sustainable development is a strategy by which communities seek to balance environmental protection, economic development, and social objectives and to meet the needs of today without compromising the quality of life for future generations. Sustainable development and smart growth are often used interchangeably. Smart growth is development that is environmentally sensitive, economically viable, community-oriented, and sustainable. It is an approach to land use planning that promotes compact, transit-oriented urban communities that are attractive and livable. Smart growth focuses on the planning and layout of communities and the efficient use of land to maximize community goals and avoid wasteful sprawl. It involves policies that integrate transportation and land use decisions by encouraging more compact, mixed-use development (infill) within existing urban areas and discouraging dispersed, automobile-dependent development at the urban fringe. 

Smart growth principles include the following:

  • Mixing land uses
  • Employing compact building design
  • Creating a range of housing opportunities and choices
  • Creating walkable, bicycle-friendly neighborhoods
  • Designing distinctive, attractive communities with a strong sense of place
  • Preserving open space, farmland, and critical environmental areas
  • Directing development towards existing communities
  • Providing a variety of transportation choices
  • Making development decisions fair, predictable, and cost-effective
  • Encouraging community and stakeholder collaboration.

The Washington Growth Management Act (GMA) encourages smart growth and sustainable development in that state law mandates that growth be directed into urban growth areas where urban services already exist. The GMA also promotes many other smart growth principles, such as affordable housing, preservation of critical areas and farmland, providing transportation choices, and predictable permit decisions; see GMA planning goals (RCW 36.70A.020).

Because sustainable development is a broad subject that cuts across many different areas, this page offers links to MRSC pages that address related topics and links to resources on other sites.


  • ICLEI Local Governments for Sustainability USA - The recognized leader in local sustainability. Offers a comprehensive approach to help local governments achieve sustainability, climate protection, and clean energy goals
  • Sustainable Communities Online - Comprehensive site for information exchange about sustainability; includes case studies from Washington State. See also Inventories and Indicators, which includes samples from around the U.S.
  • Sustainable Washington 2009: Planning for Climate Change, Washington Chapter, American Planning Association - Award-winning resource document for planners involved in sustainability and climate change issues; emphasizes actions that planners can take to mitigate the effects of climate change and to adapt to unavoidable impacts associated with global warming
  • Center for Sustainable Communities and Sustainability topic page, ICMA Knowledge Network - Features blog, best practices, and tools for local governments
  • 2012 Emerging Sustainability Strategies in America’s Counties, National Association of Counties, 10/2012 - Identifies key trends influencing the emergence of sustainability strategies providing efficiency and cost savings to county government
  • Sustainability, U.S. EPA - EPA efforts in the area of sustainability practices and approaches. Activities include labeling green products and promoting green chemistry and engineering, managing materials rather than creating waste, using green infrastructure to manage storm water runoff, and supporting the sustainable design of communities 
  • Sightline Institute - An independent, not-for-profit sustainability research center based in Seattle. Sightline's mission is to promote an environmentally sound economy and way of life in the Pacific Northwest
  • Sustainability Best Practices Framework, California Institute for Local Government , 06/2013 - The suggestions are drawn from practical experiences of cities and counties throughout California. They vary in complexity and are adaptable to fit the unique needs and circumstances of individual communities
  • SustAIAnability Toolkit 2030, American Institute of Architects (AIA) - What policy makers can do to get started. Information on local government sustainability and green building programs
  • Sustainable Cities Institute - Project of the National League of Cities to provide cities with practical resources to identify and implement solutions to enhance their goals and strengthen their communities
  • USDN Urban Sustainability Directors Network - Private professional network of municipal government sustainability professionals in the U.S. and Canada

Smart Growth

  • Smart Growth Online - Website of Smart Growth Network with extensive information including news and useful resources. A network to encourage metropolitan development that is environmentally, fiscally, economically, and socially smart
  • Smart Growth America - Nationwide coalition promoting a better way to grow; one that protects farmland and open space, revitalizes neighborhoods, keeps housing affordable, preserves scenic and historic resources, and makes communities more livable 
  • Smart Growth, U.S. EPA - EPA's portal to extensive resources on smart growth and related issues. EPA provides research, tools, partnerships, case studies, grants, and technical assistance to communities
  • Center for Livable Communities, Local Government Commission (CA) - National initiative of Local Government Commission in California. Developed the Ahwahnee Principles for Resource-Efficient Communities
  • Natural Resources Defense Council, Smart Growth - Includes visions for how 70 U.S. communities could apply smart growth principles
  • Funders' Network for Smart Growth and Livable Communities - Resource to assist funders and organizations interested in advancing more livable communities through smart growth policies
  • Futurewise - Statewide public interest group working to promote healthy communities and cities while protecting farmland, forests, and shorelines
  • Local Government Environmental Assistance Network Smart Growth - Includes information relevant to local governments on recent news and events concerning smart growth, as well as full-text publications and links to other websites
  • ULI and Smart Growth, Urban Land Institute - Resource for information, advice, and concrete ideas on implementing smart growth; emphasis on the development community

New Urbanism

New urbanism (also known as traditional neighborhood development) is an approach to developing community based on traditional town patterns. New urbanism also reflects many principles of sustainable development.


  • Building Better Budgets: A National Examination of the Fiscal Benefits of Smart Growth Development, Smart Growth America, 05/2013 - Surveys 17 studies that compare different development scenarios. Aggregates comparisons of different development scenarios and determines a national average of how much communities can expect to save by using smart growth strategies.
  • Smart Growth, TDM Encyclopedia, Victoria Transport Policy Institute - Focus on the integration between transportation and land use
  • Evaluating Criticism of Smart Growth, by Todd Litman, Victoria Transport Policy Institute, 06/11/2014
  • 12 Cities Leading the Way in Sustainability, by John Light, 01/04/2013, Moyers and Company - List includes Portland, San Francisco, and Seattle 
  • It's Only Natural: Converging Trends Drive Sustainable Territories to the Top of Our Annual Ranking, by Adam Bruns, Site Selection magazine, July 2013 - Annual rankings for top sustainable states, metropolitan areas and foreign countries
  • Smart Growth Reforms: Changing Planning Regulatory and Fiscal Practices to Support More Efficient Land Use, by Todd Littman, Victoria Transport Policy Institute, 04/24/2014
  • Smart Growth Savings: What We Know About Public Infrastructure and Service Cost Savings, And How They are Misrepresented By Critics, 04/24/2014, by Todd Litman, Victoria Transport Policy Institute
  • Overcoming Obstacles to Smart Growth Through Code Reform, An Executive Summary of Smart Growth Zoning Codes: A Resource Guide, Local Government Commission (CA) - Highlights recommended code language, requirements, incentives, formats, and project review processes that can be useful to other jurisdictions
  • Smart Growth Checklist, A Checklist for Proposed Development Projects in Your Community, NY State Department of Transportation

Washington Local Government Sustainability Programs

This section includes information on local government sustainability programs and offices.



Sustainability and Smart Growth in Other States

Sustainable Development and Smart Growth Information by Topic

The following information is organized by specific subject areas that relate to sustainable development and smart growth.


  • Governors' Institute on Community Design - An initiative of the National Endowment for the Arts and the Environmental Protection Agency to support governors' leadership in good community design and innovative planning.
  • Green Communities and Building Design, MRSC webpage - Green building practices provide an opportunity to create environmentally-sound and resource-efficient buildings through an integrated approach to design. Green communities extend the green concepts to a neighborhood scale
  • Place Matters - Database for communities to improve community design and decisionmaking




  • Smart Growth and Affordable Housing, U.S. EPA - Addresses relationship between smart growth and affordable housing
  • Environmentally Sustainable Affordable Housing , ULI Community Catalyst Report No. 7, prepared by Deborah L. Myerson, Urban Land Institute, 2008 - Based on an October 2007 Forum on Community Issues - Discusses how to make environmentally sustainable affordable housing the standard practice of the day
  • Housing, Smart Growth America - Addresses issues such as range of choice in housing and affordability
  • Smarter Growth Publications and Research, National Association of Home Builders - Links to useful resources on smart growth and housing

Land Use

  • Innovative Land Use Planning Techniques: A Handbook For Sustainable Development, NH Department of Environmental Services, 10/2008 - Addresses density, environmental characteristics, and design
  • Land Use, Sustainability and Healthy Communities, California Local Government Institute - Handbooks, guides and other publications on a variety of land use and sustainability topics
  • Smart Land Use, Victoria Transport Policy Institute - Links to related articles 
  • Sustainable Land Use Code Project, Model Land Use Regulations, Capitol Region Council of Governments (CT), Clarion, 2014 – Includes topics such as solar, geothermal & small wind energy, inclusionary workforce housing, and mixed-use transit-oriented development


  • Guide to Sustainable Transportation Performance Measures, U.S. EPA, 2011 - Guide to help transportation agencies incorporate environmental, economic, and social sustainability into decision-making through the use of performance measures
  • Transportation, Smart Growth America - Overview of smart growth transportation strategies
  • Smart Transportation Guidebook Planning and Designing Highways and Streets that Support Sustainable and Livable Communities, Pennsylvania and New Jersey Departments of Transportation, 03/2008 - Older but useful guide to integrating planning and development of transportation network that fosters sustainable and livable communities
  • Sustainability, Center for Environmental Excellence by AASHTO - Includes overview and relevant federal laws, regulations, policies, and performance measures for sustainable transportation

Last Modified: January 30, 2015