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Smart Growth

Teaching Smart Growth at Colleges and Universities

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Communities across the country are using smart growth strategies to ensure that growth and development protect the natural environment, promote economic prosperity, and enhance the quality of life for all residents. However, not all communities have the capacity to implement the strategies and policies to achieve these goals.

Colleges and universities can help local governments by providing technical ability, as well as intellectual and institutional resources. Regular and adjunct faculty members in applied programs can organize courses that give students hands-on experience in helping communities meet their environmental, economic, and other community goals. To facilitate this work, EPA has compiled these university course prospectuses.

Learning occurs in the college classroom in two broad categories: passively through lectures and actively through applied activities.

  • Lecture classes allow students to build their knowledge of smart growth principles and techniques.
  • Applied courses let faculty and students use classroom-taught concepts and ideas to help solve real community problems.

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Selection Criteria

In 2005, EPA gathered model course prospectuses for courses that used smart growth principles. All courses had been taught in the preceding two years, showing that the educational standards of the contributor's department and academic institution were met and the content was still timely and relevant. In addition to the course outline, contributors were asked to explain how the course evolved, data needs, expectations, results, and lessons learned.

Submissions were reviewed by a panel of three academics in the policy and planning fields and three practitioners in similar fields. Contributions were ranked according to the panel’s reviews, with the top eight selected for final submission. After receiving comments and suggestions for improving their materials, contributors returned the revised submissions.

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Teaching With Smart Growth: The Course Prospectuses

Smart growth approaches to development are tools, principles, and policies that can be applied, taught, and learned in many fields dealing with the built environment, including:

  • Planning and urban design.
  • Public policy, public administration, and political science.
  • Environmental science.
  • Architecture and landscape architecture.
  • Engineering.
  • Law.
  • Geography.
  • Sociology.
  • Business.

    Smart growth policies and tools can vary by community. Figuring out how to teach these concepts within existing disciplines is a challenge for many faculty members. These prospectuses demonstrate how instructors have integrated smart growth principles and practices into their classes.

    ​Each contribution includes:

    • A course outline.
    • An introduction explaining the genesis of the course.
    • The method the faculty and students used to engage the community.
    • The smart growth principles used.
    • A discussion of the data needed to conduct the class.
    • Products created during the class.
    • A conclusion that discusses lessons learned and recommendations for updating and replicating the class.

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    Lecture Courses

    These prospectuses show the foundational knowledge future professionals in the field will require.

    • Concepts of Urban Land Development, Urban Sprawl, and Smart Growth from an Economic Perspective: Robert Wassmer, Professor, Department of Public Policy and Administration, California State University, Sacramento. The course focuses on the Sacramento metropolitan area and exposes students to the drivers of urban growth, the consequences and results of development, and how smart growth principles "attempt to mitigate the negative urban outcomes that growth can generate."
    • Land Use Analysis: Stephen L. Sperry, Associate Professor, and Anne Dunning, Assistant Professor, Department of Planning and Landscape Architecture, Clemson University. This course in land use analysis introduces students to a set of tools and concepts used by planning professionals. Part lecture and part lab, the course allows students to create final products incorporating data-driven, state-of-the-community reports with community involvement documents.
    • Comparative Urban Planning Law Seminar: James A. Kushner, Professor of Law, Southwestern University School of Law. The policy-focused course discusses growth management, infrastructure financing, housing and affordable housing, transportation, and urban revitalization. It includes critiques of smart growth approaches from market orientation, ideological, and legal perspectives.
    • Sustainability, Smart Growth, and Landscape Architecture: Aditya Pal, Visiting Professor of Landscape Architecture, Cornell University. This course gives students an extensive overview of the literature related to sustainability and smart growth. Although the course is geared toward landscape architecture students, all students in disciplines dealing with the built environment can benefit from the readings, class presentations, and exercises.

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    Applied Courses

    These prospectuses show how smart growth principles helped clarify specific community problems and shape proposed solutions.

    • Seeking Common Ground in Smart Growth and Food System Planning: Lessons from the "Food for Growth" Studio: Samina Raja, Assistant Professor, Department of Urban and Regional Planning, University of Buffalo. This course demonstrates how smart growth approaches to development can help create "food secure" neighborhoods in urban communities. The prospectus also discusses the integration of smart growth and food system planning. This discussion is valuable for other topics where smart growth connections might not be obvious.
    • Small Town Design Initiative/Fifth Year Architecture Studio: Cheryl Morgan, Professor and Director, Center for Architecture & Urban Studies (CAUS), Auburn University. The Small Town Design Initiative provides design services, giving students a practical outlet for their classroom experiences while offering needed services to small towns and rural areas. Morgan discusses the work from two studios (Cordova and Gordo, Alabama), as well as the final products from three other towns (Guin, Brighton, and College Hills), which are in the CAUS Small Town Design Initiative final design posters. Exit
    • Networks and Places: Integrating Transportation, Land Use, and Urban Design: Kevin J. Krizek, Assistant Professor of Urban and Regional Planning and Public Affairs and Director, Active Communities/ Transportation Research Group, Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs, and David M. Levinson, Associate Professor of Civil Engineering, University of Minnesota. This course gives students an overview of land use and transportation in the United States, with a lab component that lets students apply their knowledge and explore connections between transportation and land use through analysis and planning practice.
    • Community Planning Workshop: Kenneth M. Chilton, Assistant Professor, Department of Geography and Earth Sciences, and David Walters, Professor of Architecture, University of North Carolina-Charlotte. This course shows the realism, messiness, and unpredictability associated with conducting a studio driven almost entirely by community needs. Chilton and Walters managed three separate projects. In each project, outside stakeholders made demands that were difficult to meet within the time, resource, and skill limitations of an academic course.

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