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Smart Growth

Governors' Institute on Community Design

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About the Governors’ Institute on Community Design

The Governors Institute on Community Design helps governors and their staff make informed decisions about investments and policy decisions that influence the economic health and physical development of their states.

By harnessing the expertise of leading practitioners and academicians in public policy, economic development, community design, real estate development, and regional economics, the Governors' Institute helps state executive teams shape the future of communities throughout their states.

The Governors' Institute recognizes that each state faces its own challenges. Working with a governor's staff and cabinet, the institute provides tailored technical assistance, typically through one- to two-day workshops that bring together the governor and his or her staff with nationally renowned experts to address issues the governor has identified. This assistance is designed to provide state leaders with practical strategies for creating vibrant, economically competitive communities.

Assistance often includes:

  • Exploring the connections among economic development, transportation, land use, housing, energy, and the environment.
  • Stimulating coordinated action among state agencies.
  • Encouraging increased cooperation among state and local governments.

The assistance the Governors' Institute provides varies, but common elements include:

  • Technical assistance is developed for one governor and his or her cabinet and staff and held at a convenient location in the host state.
  • The host governor identifies the challenge, and the institute provides national experts who can offer potential solutions by sharing knowledge or supporting implementation.
  • The institute covers most costs of the assistance, but the host state might be asked to make in-kind contributions, such as providing the venue for an event.

The Governors' Institute is led by a council of former governors who have a long history of promoting smart growth approaches to development. The council includes Parris Glendening (former governor of Maryland), Christine Todd Whitman (former governor of New Jersey and a former EPA Administrator), Tom Ridge (former governor of Pennsylvania), Chet Culver (former governor of Iowa), and James Lee Witt (former head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency).

The institute is administered by Smart Growth America.

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Examples of Past Workshops

  • New Jersey: In 2011, Governor Chris Christie invited the Governors' Institute to advise the state on its statewide strategic planning process linking economic development and land use. The two-day workshop produced policy options that the state incorporated into its strategic plan. The institute suggested that the state focus on creating communities that are attractive to businesses and employees, align state government agencies with the state plan, and direct investment to priority areas and existing infrastructure.
  • North Carolina: Following a July 2010 workshop requested by Governor Bev Perdue, the General Assembly passed legislation establishing a Sustainable Communities Task Force to promote regional partnerships and sustainable planning. The institute helped the task force develop a Community Practices Assessment. This scorecard lets local governments and regional bodies evaluate their current practices and identify opportunities to improve economic, environmental, and public health outcomes. The institute also helped develop a grant program that helped communities better meet the needs of North Carolina’s growing population by connecting land use, housing, and transportation in their regional planning.

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Why Is EPA Involved?

Decisions about how and where to grow are the prerogative of states and localities. State policies have a profound impact on growth patterns and, ultimately, on environmental quality and human health.

EPA funded the Governors' Institute from 2005 to 2019. EPA provided financial and technical support to the Governors' Institute because air quality, water quality and supply, and public health all are linked to how and where we grow. EPA's support for the institute helped states better understand how growth affects their environment and human health and provided tools for them to plan for economic growth while protecting the environment and public health.

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More Information and Resources

Learn more on the Governors’ Institute on Community Design website. Exit

Policies that Work: A Governors' Guide to Growth and Development Exit is a publication for governors, staff, and cabinet secretaries that outlines policies, administrative actions, and spending decisions that have led to smarter growth in states.

Building Resilient States: A Framework for Agencies Exit offers a framework state governments can use to improve their resilience to natural disasters. Governors' Institute workshops and the 2014 State Resilience and Economic Growth Summit helped inform this publication.

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