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Smart Growth

Building Blocks for Sustainable Communities 2020 Request for Letters of Interest

The request for letters of interest closed on Nov. 20, 2020. It is available here for reference only.
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Overview

The Building Blocks for Sustainable Communities Program provides quick, targeted technical assistance to selected communities using a variety of tools that have demonstrated results and widespread application. This round of Building Blocks will offer a more flexible approach that leverages EPA staff expertise, facilitates rapid learning and exchange, does not rely on in-person workshops, and focuses on emerging challenges communities face related to land use planning and development.

EPA's Office of Community Revitalization will offer a biannual call for applications (one in fall 2020 and another in spring 2021) for Building Blocks to recognize that communities are on different COVID-19 recovery timelines and might need time to define their needs.

EPA will offer sequential tiers of assistance, starting with staff-led calls only and then selecting some communities for more in-depth, contractor-supported assistance. The levels of assistance might include:

  1. Help Desk: OCR staff will do 2 to 4 calls with the local point of contact to field questions, offer resources and tools, and bring in additional EPA regional and program staff to offer expert advice and assistance. EPA may also invite other federal agency staff to these calls to provide input, ideas, and offers of ongoing support. Federal partners could include the Economic Development Administration (EDA), Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), Department of Agriculture (USDA), Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), Department of Transportation (DOT), and others.
  2. Peer-to-Peer Connections: OCR will look for ways to support peer-to-peer connections so communities with related challenges can speak directly with one another. After better understanding selected applicants' goals and challenges, OCR staff might decide that making a referral or facilitating a peer exchange is the most effective way to share best practices and feasible solutions. Peer exchanges might include past OCR technical assistance recipients or communities that applied under this same round of assistance. OCR may also choose to offer tool overviews or trainings to a group of peer communities dealing with similar challenges. These peer exchanges can also lead to longer-term collaborative relationships with communities in the same geographic area or communities working through similar challenges.
  3. In-Depth Technical Assistance: Following the help desk step above, OCR staff will select communities for more in-depth technical assistance using the help of expert contracting teams. Communities selected for this in-depth assistance must be willing to be pilots for OCR's new offerings and in turn allow OCR to further develop our own expertise and create and refine tools for future assistance.

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Key Information

  • Eligibility: The applicant can be a local, county, state, territorial, or tribal government, or a nonprofit organization that has the support of the local government on whose behalf it is applying.
  • Deadline: 5:00 p.m. Eastern Time, November 20, 2020.
  • How to apply: Submit a two-page letter of interest (see "How to Apply" below).
  • Timeframe: EPA will review letters of interest and follow up by December 20, 2020.

Potential areas of technical assistance might include (but are not limited to):

  • Emerging Mobility (tool 1)
    • Policy options to improve equitable access to trends such as micro mobility (e.g., scooters, bikeshares, etc.) and manage limited curbside space.
    • Street design options that allow for temporary or long-term conversion to "slow streets" that can accommodate social distancing.
  • Cultural Anchor Institutions (tool 2)
    • Leveraging local cultural assets to catalyze economic development efforts, promote equitable access, revitalize downtowns and existing neighborhoods, and root creative placemaking into the community.
    • Enable cultural anchor institutions to broaden their scope and create innovative, collaborative, and targeted benefits to their communities.
  • Disaster Resilience (tool 3)
    • Aligning planning and funding for pre-disaster mitigation and post-disaster recovery with other community goals.
    • Building resilience to natural disasters with multi-benefit solutions.
  • Any other issues that are relevant to community recovery from COVID-19.

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How to Apply

Submit a letter of interest—no longer than two (2) pages—that contains the following information. (Please do not submit maps or other supplemental information.)

  1. Describe the nature of the challenge your community faces, including any relevant data to demonstrate the challenge and describe how this challenge affects low-income, minority, tribal, and/or other communities facing disproportionate environmental or health risks. What COVID or post-COVID challenges is your community facing that might be addressed through land use planning and policy assistance?
  2. Explain how the proposed technical assistance would address the above-mentioned challenge, being as specific as possible about the challenge to be addressed and a location or site of interest.
  3. How does this project align with previous plans or strategy implementation? Please describe the community's previous preparations or local leadership that lay groundwork for this assistance and implementation. This might also include other assistance related to this project that your organization and/or community received and how you have used that assistance to advance your goals. Assistance might include grants, technical assistance, or other federal funding (e.g., EPA brownfields grants, HUD Community Development Block Grants).
  • If applicable, please describe the timeline and major constraints and milestones that could affect the technical assistance (e.g., community is conducting a market study that will be completed in three months; community,s comprehensive plan update will begin in two months and would need input from this technical assistance).
  1. Describe the applicant's expected capacity for implementation (e.g., local policy change, plan update, physical improvements or infrastructure project, new incentives, etc.). EPA understands there are different approaches to supporting communities, depending on where they are in the project or program implementation process.
  2. Identify the partners involved in the planning and implementation of the project. The partners might include public agencies and institutions, elected officials, nongovernmental organizations, foundations, community-based organizations, businesses, and residents. Please list any EPA regional staff who are already involved in your project.
  3. Describe your plan for engaging traditionally underrepresented communities, including low-income, minority, and other communities that might experience disproportionate environmental harms and risks. How will you engage underrepresented communities as part of your core team? Whether meetings are held virtually or in person, how will you ensure equitable access and meaningful engagement?
  4. List the primary point of contact and other key stakeholders who would be involved in the technical assistance work, including the title, address, email, and phone number of the primary contact.

The letter must be signed by, or accompanied with a letter of support from, an elected official or other representative of the local, county, state, territorial, or tribal government, or a nonprofit leader in the case of nonprofit applicants. This signature represents support and commitment to this program and assistance.

The letter of interest must be submitted in an attachment (Microsoft Word or PDF file) by email to Chip Gurkin at Gurkin.charles@epa.gov no later than 5:00 p.m. Eastern Time on November 20, 2020.

Please save your file using the following format: CityName StateName. For example: "Joplin Missouri."

If you have questions about this request for letters of interest, please see our Frequently Asked Questions About Building Blocks. If your question is not answered there, please contact Mr. Gurkin at Gurkin.charles@epa.gov.

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Tools

Tool 1: Addressing Emerging Mobility

With the widespread impacts of COVID-19 and the rapid changes emerging in transportation, decision-makers and community members can benefit from tools and guidance to develop action plans to help address concerns of equity and access to transit, micro mobility, street design, curbside congestion, and parking management. By bringing together partners from local organizations, agencies, community groups, and nonprofits, communities can make informed, proactive decisions to address new mobility challenges and opportunities.

Community Benefits: This tool will support communities coming together to identify emerging mobility concerns and create concrete steps to support decisions that take into account equitable access to emerging mobility trends such as micro mobility (e.g., scooters, bikeshares, etc.), and street design that incorporates green infrastructure, curbside management, and the potential for temporary or long-term conversion to "slow streets." Over the course of several months, EPA, with the support of contractors with mobility expertise, will work with communities to develop strategies that incorporate new mobility trends while also maintaining healthy pedestrian, biking, and transit-oriented neighborhoods.

Areas of Focus for Planning and Workshop Technical Assistance: During this assistance, each community will be expected to complete a self-assessment prior to the workshop that engages key partners and stakeholders to examine needs and concerns. Each community will also select a specific neighborhood that will serve as a pilot focus area where discussions can be rooted.

In the workshop, national experts will lead local participants and state and federal partners through a process that will include reviewing the findings of the self-assessment, sharing their aspirations and ideas, and developing goals and actions to benefit the community. Experts will also help identify options for next steps, share potential resources, and provide relevant case studies.

Who Should Attend:
  • Community leaders and residents
  • City/county/regional staff, including transit agencies, local business organizations and districts, emergency services, public works, and planning staff
  • Environmental justice advocates and community-based organizations
  • Elected officials
  • Nonprofits and philanthropies
What the Community Provides:
  • Lead organization to provide point of contact with time and effort to ensure inclusive participation and completion of self-assessment worksheets before workshop
  • Local logistics for hosting a workshop and tour
  • Marketing of public workshop
  • Invitations to key stakeholders to attend technical sessions
  • Decision-makers' commitment to attend the workshop, as relevant
Outcomes:
  • Experience conducting meaningful community participation and engagement to address emerging mobility concerns and impacts
  • Enhanced understanding and attentiveness to equity and transit

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Tool 2: Leveraging Cultural Anchor Institutions

This tool will help local governments identify strategies to maximize the impact of libraries, museums, and other cultural anchors on revitalization efforts in their communities.

Community Benefits: Cultural anchor institutions across the country, such as libraries and museums, are seeking ways to broaden their scope and create innovative, collaborative, and targeted benefits to their communities. Beyond their traditional missions, these organizations can play a central role in anchoring and catalyzing economic development efforts, promoting equitable access, revitalizing downtowns and existing neighborhoods, and rooting creative placemaking into the community. Yet these anchors are often overlooked as significant partners in discussions around planning and growth. This workshop will help build bridges between these often-siloed parts of local government, develop creative solutions to local challenges, and seek to revitalize the neighborhoods surrounding these institutions.

Areas of Focus for Planning and Workshop Technical Assistance: This tool will help communities that are seeking to reimagine or revitalize the neighborhoods surrounding an established cultural anchor institution, address an environmental or human health challenge through the anchor institution, or help think about better connecting institutions. Each community will conduct a self-assessment questionnaire prior to the workshop to determine which focus areas they are seeking to address, such as housing, transportation, public health, beautification, green infrastructure, or unique local challenges or opportunities.

In the workshop, national experts will lead local participants and state and federal partners through a process that will include reviewing the findings of the self-assessment, sharing their aspirations and ideas, and developing goals and actions to benefit the community. Experts will also help identify options for next steps, share potential resources, and provide relevant case studies.

Who Should Attend:
  • Elected officials, city manager, mayor
  • Leadership and staff from the relevant anchor institution(s)
  • City/county staff, including economic development, transportation, and planning staff
  • Local developers
  • Community and neighborhood organizations
  • Local, regional and/or national philanthropies
  • Local environmental justice advocates
  • Other stakeholders
What the Community Provides:
  • Local key contact
  • Decision-makers' commitment to attend the workshop
  • Self-assessment and background information
  • Local logistics, including organization of workshop and tour
  • Marketing of public workshop
  • Invitations to key stakeholders to attend work sessions
  • Attendance of key officials and local government staff
Outcomes:
  • Knowledge of best practices and strategies to leverage anchor institutions
  • Creation and strengthening of relationships and partnerships across local programs and offices
  • Identification of specific strategies to affect the change the community desires
  • Options for next steps and case studies

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Tool 3: Building Regional Disaster Resilience

As natural disasters impact more communities, decision-makers and community members can benefit from tools and guidance to develop regional disaster resilience action plans. Bringing together partners from multiple cities, public agencies and private businesses, and community groups and nonprofits can result in the integration of disaster resilience into various planning processes -- including hazard mitigation, land use planning, economic development, and equity -- and cooperation at the local and regional scales.

Community Benefits: This tool will support multiple jurisdictions coming together to identify common disaster risks, important assets to protect, and a shared action plan for the larger region. Over the course of several months, EPA will support communities and their partners as they set resilience goals, identify natural hazards, prioritize assets to protect, and develop resilience strategies and implementation plans.

Areas of Focus for Planning and Workshop Technical Assistance: Disaster resilience is not specific to any single natural hazard and can address risks from wildfires, drought, extreme heat, flooding, earthquakes, hurricanes, landslides, sea level rise, winter storms, and more. Resilience can include actions that tackle immediate, pressing needs as well as protect long-term investments.

How It Works:
  • EPA will hold four planning calls.
  • Community and EPA will host a virtual workshop to include:
    • Public engagements to develop resilience goals.
    • In-depth technical session to do a rapid vulnerability assessment, prioritize resilience strategies, and develop an implementation plan.
  • EPA will provide a final summary of the workshop and list of next steps.
Who Should Attend:
  • Community leaders and residents
  • City/county/regional staff, including emergency services, public works, and planning staff
  • Environmental justice advocates and community-based organizations
  • Elected officials, as appropriate
  • Nonprofits and philanthropies
  • State and federal agency staff
What the Community Provides:
  • Lead organization to provide point of contact with time and effort to ensure inclusive participation and completion of worksheets before workshop
  • Local logistics, including workshop invitations
  • Invitations to key stakeholders to attend technical session
  • Attendance of appropriate local and regional officials and staff
  • Decision-makers' commitment to attend the workshop, as relevant
Outcomes:
  • Experience conducting meaningful participation for regional disaster resilience
  • Enhanced understanding of vulnerabilities and assets
  • Knowledge of steps to write a more in-depth vulnerability assessment
  • Connection with new local, regional, state, and federal partners
  • Identification of strategies and concrete next steps to take action for disaster resilience

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Questions?

If you have questions about this request for letters of interest, please see our Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) About Building Blocks. If your question is not answered there, please contact Chip Gurkin at Gurkin.charles@epa.gov.

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