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Smart Growth Scorecards

Introduction | Municipal Level Scorecards | Project Specific Scorecards | Component Scorecards | Additional Resources

Across the country communities have been asking for ways to rate and analyze the policies and regulations that determine their development patterns. Various organizations and a number of municipalities have developed scorecards that help communities assess their policies and proposed development projects. In an effort to help share the available resources with citizens, municipal officials, and communities, the Development, Community, and Environment Division (now the Office of Sustainable Communities) at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has collected and organized this set of sample scorecards. The inclusion of a scorecard in this compilation is not a U.S. EPA endorsement of that scorecard, the organization that produced it, nor is it an endorsement of the results of the scorecard. Instead, included scorecards are examples of tools that are publicly available for use by communities.

If you know about a scorecard that you think should be included in this compilation, send an email with information about the scorecard to Matthew Dalbey (dalbey.matthew@epa.gov).

Introduction

Do you want growth and development that benefits all the citizens in your community? Are you looking for safe, walkable places for people in all stages of life - families, children, and senior citizens? Good jobs and attractive places to live, work, and play? Smart growth scorecards can help your community choose the best tools to make growth and development benefit everyone. They can also help you measure your community's progress towards the best possible future.

Use one of the project-level scorecards to see how proposed developments would affect the community socially, economically, aesthetically, and environmentally. Each of these scorecards poses a set of questions that helps evaluate current and potential development projects. The questions and answers also help shape the discussion of your community's development patterns. They serve as both an educational tool and an assessment tool. The discussion these scorecards generate can help your community move forward and make growth and development decisions that benefit the entire community.

What is smart growth? Click here to find out more about smart growth.

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What is a scorecard?

Scorecards are basic assessment tools that allow communities to do at least three things. First, municipal-scale scorecards can help communities determine how the current regulatory environment influences the pattern of growth and development. This regulatory environment usually comes from a community's comprehensive plan and/or its zoning ordinance. Second, these scorecards help communities view their current development pattern through a smart growth lens (e.g., what are current conditions in the built environment). Third, project-specific scorecards can help determine whether a development project meets the criteria for a community's smart growth goals. They can help a community determine if their goals for features such as compactness, walkability, and bikability are being met in new development projects.

Scorecards can be used in conjunction with baseline information about a community to suggest how communities may grow and develop over time, given current policies. This is sometimes called a “build out analysis.” Project-specific scorecards can measure how well a proposed development will meet the community's social, economic, environmental, and fiscal goals. They can also be used to figure out whether the types of places a community wants can actually be built within the current codes and policies. More broadly, though, they can help to educate citizens about development choices. An assessment of the current conditions that influence development can lead to a discussion of how growth and development can best benefit the entire community. Having an open, inclusive, and community-wide discussion on this issue is an important. Communities that use the assessment tools will have begun their own education by taking this first step.

Finally, the municipal scorecards are not intended to rate or compare one community to another. Different places will use the information in different ways. Some may be satisfied with the current pattern of development and the policies that help determine that pattern. Others may not be. One size does not fit all; smart growth policies should be based on the values and priorities of each community. The development-specific scorecards, on the other hand, do rate projects according to a structured standard. This rating method allows for the comparison of projects.

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How were the scorecards chosen?

Communities across the country are using a variety of smart growth scorecards. The Development, Community, and Environment Division of the U.S. EPA collected publicly available scorecards and rating systems from across the country. With the help of public and private professionals in land use planning, real estate development, and project design, we chose the included scorecards as a sample of those available. The scorecards that we have initially chosen for this website allow communities to figure out if their existing policies allow for compact, mixed use, walkable development. They are easy to use (in most cases without the need for consultants), educational, and informative. They include questions that should stimulate communities to ask further questions, revise current conditions, or consider further research and action about how to change their development patterns. While we’ve tried to include a sample of scorecards from around the country, good examples are likely left out. If you know of a scorecard that you think should be included, contact Matthew Dalbey (dalbey.matthew@epa.gov).

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How can scorecards be adopted and adapted to fit the needs of a local community?

The first step in adopting or adapting a smart growth scorecard is to decide whether to focus on municipal policies or project attributes. Once this is decided, review the scorecards in that category and, if necessary, mix and adapt components from several of the scorecards to fit local conditions. Circulate drafts of the scorecard to developers, citizen groups, decision makers, and municipal staff, and revise it to reflect their input.

A number of the scorecards compiled here can be completed effectively without extensive research or additional expertise. Others require more in-depth knowledge of the connection between local policy and the way projects ultimately get built. In most cases, though, completing a scorecard would require studying a community's land use plan, zoning ordinance, and zoning map. In addition to plans and ordinances, answers to the questions may require discussions with planning and development officials (for the municipal-level scorecards) and the developer (in the case of the project-level scorecards). The Colorado Smart Growth Scorecard includes a "tips" section that points the user toward the needed information. Municipal staff should have most if not all of the information needed to answer the questions. It may be worthwhile to hire a professional consultant to do the work if the information necessary to complete the scorecard is not readily available.

Once a scorecard is chosen, test it against adopted policies or existing projects and analyze the results to be sure the scorecard is balanced and accurate in its evaluation. Once satisfied with the usefulness and relevancy of the scorecard, answer the questions and compile the results according to the rating guidelines in the scorecard chosen.

Results of a municipal-level scorecard should paint a broad picture of the community. The results from project-specific scorecards will show how a development rates in meeting community-established growth and development goals. Communities can adopt many policies and strategies to nurture their strengths and assets and fix their vulnerabilities. The Additional Resources section will point community members, decision makers, and developers towards policies and implementation strategies that are working in communities across the United States. Take advantage of them to shape your community's future.

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Are consultants needed?

It may be necessary to retain a consultant or professional planner to answer the questions in some of the scorecards listed here. The municipal-level scorecards are aimed at an informed general audience. In some cases, citizens can complete them on their own or with the help of local planning staff or a consultant. Project-specific scorecards particularly may require a greater level of expertise in the field than a typical yet informed citizen may have. Some, like the Mobile, AL Smart Growth Criteria Matrix or the Charlotte, NC Sustainability Index, measure whether a project meets the community's stated growth and development goals. Municipal officials will likely provide the answers to questions in these scorecards. As an educational tool, however, the questions asked in the project-specific scorecards can be valuable to community members, municipal staff, and developers.

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