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Smart Growth

Smart Growth and Open Space Conservation

Locally based, long-term open space conservation plans help communities protect their environment, improve quality of life, and preserve critical elements of the local heritage, culture, and economy. Like development, conservation can be either planned or haphazard. Well-managed open space programs protect a community's natural green infrastructure, providing places for recreation, preserving important environmental and ecological functions, and enhancing quality of life.

Lack of planning can lead to fragmentation of conserved lands. From 2000 to 2018, voters approved more than $60 billion in funding for land conservation in local and state referenda (see the Trust for Public Land's LandVote Exit database for more information). In many cases, however, communities passed these referenda as a reactive measure to help preserve the "last wetland" or the "last community farm."

While a reactive preservation strategy can preserve critical lands, it often does so in a scattershot way, so that conserved lands are fragmented. Small fragments of conserved land have less ecological value as wildlife corridors, are less accessible to community members, and have reduced value in directing growth to existing areas than larger parcels connected by corridors.

To help communities plan their preservation efforts, EPA works with national, regional, and local partners to provide tools and resources to identify and prioritize areas to achieve smart conservation. EPA aims to help communities identify critical areas for preservation, such as large areas of high-quality habitat, corridors, stream buffers, and wetlands, to help them become more proactive in conservation planning.


Our Built and Natural Environments:  A Technical Review of the Interactions Between Land Use, Transportation, and Environmental Quality (2nd edition) (2013): Examines research on how development patterns, including land use and land conservation, affect the environment and human health.

Funding Land Conservation Projects with the Clean Water State Revolving Fund (2018): EPA fact sheet on how the CWSRF provides assistance to eligible recipients for projects promoting land conservation and restoration and highlights successful projects in California, Georgia, and Ohio.

The Trust for Public Land has several useful resources, including:  

  • ParkScore Exit : Evaluates park access and quality in the 100 largest U.S. cities.
  • Economic Benefits of Parks and Open Space Exit (1999): Discusses how land conservation helps communities grow smartly and protect the bottom line. Chapters discuss attracting investment, revitalizing cities, boosting tourism, protecting farms and ranches, preventing flood damage, and safeguarding the environment.
  • The Source Protection Handbook Exit (2005): Explains how land conservation protects drinking water sources and recharge lands and discusses best practices and case studies from communities across America.

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