Rural communities cover much of the United States, but often grow at a slower rate than metropolitan areas. Smart growth approaches to development can help these places strengthen their economies while protecting their environment and residents' health.
Madison County, New York, faces many of the same challenges as other rural communities around the country: development encroaching on working farmlands and scenic areas, an aging population with increasing health problems, and slow or no population growth. In addition, the county's local governments have widely varying levels of staff and technical capacity and could improve policy coordination. About half of Madison County's municipalities have no comprehensive plans, and many have no zoning ordinance or planning board.
In 2012, Madison County asked EPA's Smart Growth Implementation Assistance Program for help developing a smart growth self-assessment tool for rural communities that helps local governments evaluate how well their policies and regulations support the type of development they want and identify strategies for improvement. EPA tested the tool in three rural communities in Madison County— the small city of Oneida, the town of Brookfield, and the village of Chittenango.
Although EPA designed the tool in collaboration with Madison County, any rural community can use the self-assessment. It focuses on issues that are unique to rural areas while acknowledging that rural communities are diverse. For example, some rural places have full-time planning staff, while others have limited regulatory systems and implementation capacity.
The smart growth self-assessment tool for rural communities is divided into sections based on topics, or "goal areas," including:
- Revitalize village and town centers.
- Strengthen the local economy.
- Engage and connect community members.
- Improve health and promote active living.
- Protect natural habitats and ecosystems.
- Support productive agriculture for a variety of markets.
- Meet housing needs for different ages and incomes.
- Preserve historic and cultural resources.
- Provide transportation choices.
- Invest in efficient public infrastructure systems and operations.
- Use energy efficiently and provide renewable energy.
Each section includes a series of questions about the community's policies, codes, and strategies that might help the community achieve its long-term objectives. Following the questions are strategies, grouped according to whether they apply to larger towns or more rural areas, which support the overall goal. The tool also helps users prioritize strategies to pursue. It includes links to case studies, sample code language, and other resources.
In addition to the self-assessment tool, Smart Growth Self-Assessment for Rural Communities: Madison County, New York (2015) includes a case study of smart growth planning in Dryden, New York. Dryden, a town of 15,000 residents, used various smart growth approaches to increase housing choices and address the loss of agricultural land. Dryden illustrates several strategies like those explored in the self-assessment tool that can help rural local governments achieve a wide range of community goals.
Find more resources on smart growth in small towns and rural communities.You may need a PDF reader to view some of the files on this page. See EPA’s About PDF page to learn more.
- Smart Growth Self-Assessment for Rural Communities: Madison County, NY (PDF)(103 pp, 5 MB, 2015)