Hennessy Green Construction, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from Polygon Homes’ photostream

Smart growth and sustainable development are phrases we’ve been hearing often over the past few years. Developers, governments, community organizations, and foundations tout their achievements in these fields and point to their commitments to the concepts. But what do smart growth and sustainable development look like in practice and how do these concepts affect your community?

In November, my Council office submitted a grant proposal to Smart Growth America, the nation’s leading advocacy organization for smart growth planning and sustainable development. We were soon informed that Pittsburgh was among 15 municipalities around the country chosen to receive the grant. Funded by the United States Environmental Protection Agency’s Building Blocks for Sustainable Communities program, the grant paid for time and travel for staff members of Smart Growth America, the EPA, and consultants from Clarion Associates to travel to Pittsburgh to help us conduct a Sustainable Code Audit and begin to make changes to our zoning and building codes to remove barriers to innovation.

We brought together a group of stakeholders from the community including labor leaders, real estate developers, sustainability experts, university representatives, nonprofit leaders, and others to help us develop a list of priorities to explore during this process. Our work focused on three broad issue areas: Green infrastructure and water quality, housing diversity, and energy conservation. With this grassroots community input and guidance we hope to make some common-sense changes to our City codes that will make it easier for all of us to control our stormwater and reduce flooding, use energy more efficiently, incentive development we want and disincentive development we don’t, and improve our housing options for people at all income levels.

green roof, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from Beach650’s photostream

While the meaning of the terms smart growth and sustainable development may not always be readily apparent, the effects can have a huge impact on the quality of life in your neighborhood and the City as a whole. Other cities that have undergone an intensive zoning code audit have dramatically improved life for their residents by limiting unsightly sprawl, providing homeowners tools to track their home energy use, and promoting the highest standards of building technology. With some simple changes to our zoning and building codes we could lay the groundwork for a cleaner, greener, safer City for years to come.

Washington Park Construction, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from akeg’s photostream