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Smart Growth

Building Blocks for Sustainable Communities

This video from EPA describes how a walkability audit — one of the Building Blocks tools — was conducted in Blue Springs, Missouri.This video from Housing & Community Solutions, Inc. (HCSI) describes how community members in the 26th Ward of St. Louis, Missouri, worked with HCSI to apply for technical assistance from EPA's Building Blocks for Sustainable Communities Program. This technical assistance included a walkability audit in the 26th Ward.
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Communities around the country are seeking tools to help them achieve their desired development goals, improve quality of life, and become more economically and environmentally sustainable. In response to this demand, EPA developed the Building Blocks for Sustainable Communities Program in 2011.

Building Blocks for Sustainable Communities provides quick, targeted technical assistance to selected communities using tools that are designed to address a variety of challenges in many different local contexts. The purpose of delivering these tools is to stimulate a discussion about growth and development and strengthen local capacity to implement sustainable approaches.

A tool includes:

  • An agenda, presentations, and exercises that help facilitate discussion around a given topic.
  • A topic-focused self-assessment, which allows the community to provide data or information to inform the conversation.
  • An action-oriented and inclusive process that leads to a set of potential next steps and partnerships.

Technical assistance is delivered by EPA staff and EPA-hired consultant teams. Each technical assistance project includes:

  • Public engagement through a two-day workshop.
  • Direct consultation with relevant decision-makers and potential partners.
  • A memo outlining specific next steps generated during the workshop that the community could take to achieve its goals.

The workshop focuses on the issues and priorities determined by the community leaders who applied. The sessions typically include an educational component on major concepts or relevant case studies, engagement with and feedback from community members and stakeholders, and an action planning session based on the feedback collected during the workshop. The public meeting on the first evening is open to all members of the community. The second-day technical workshop is open as well, but typically consists of a smaller set of local decision-makers, community leaders, representatives from relevant state and federal agencies, and other nongovernmental organizations.

The benefits each community gets from the process are vary by project and are specific to the community. Some common benefits include:

  • Engagement with residents and stakeholders around a specific topic, which yields valuable feedback and ideas as well as creating buy-in and community spirit around proposed initiatives.
  • Creation of key partnerships and relationships both within the community and with state and federal staff and programs.
  • The creation of a locally driven and expert-guided action plan that is both attainable and ambitious.

See the Frequently Asked Questions About Building Blocks for Sustainable Communities for more information.

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Applying for Assistance

The request for letters of interest for Building Blocks assistance closed on November 20, 2020. It is available here for reference only.

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Past Recipients of Building Blocks Assistance

EPA has conducted nearly 200 Building Blocks projects in 47 states. See the list of communities that received assistance.

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Grantee-Led Assistance

From 2012 to 2017, EPA awarded grants to nonprofit organizations to conduct community assistance similar to EPA's Building Blocks Program. Those grants have ended. Learn more about the past grantee-led assistance.

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