Green Living: Green Living Guides

You Can Beat City Hall
Know What's Happening in Your Community

» Know What's Happening
  Get Organized
  Do Your Research
  Determine a Goal
  Build a Coalition
  Target the Decision-Makers
  Get Involved in the Process
  Build Support
  Further Resources

The first step in protecting your neighborhood is staying informed. A lot of bad projects slip into communities under the radar. People who want to find a location for an unpopular project bank on the idea that if they need approval from a local zoning board, for example, there's a good chance no one from the neighborhood will be at the public meeting where the project is discussed.

To find out what's going on in your neighborhood:

  • Attend local government meetings. Local boards make many of the decisions that affect development in your community. For example:
    • The zoning board determines how land is used and where things can be built.
    • The planning board lays out the blueprint for how the community will be developed. It plans new projects and facilities and has a say in which changes property owners can make to existing structures.
    • The city council, or a similar body, makes local laws, some of which affect land use.
    • These boards hold regular public meetings. Familiarize yourself with the schedule and make sure you're there if anything pertaining to your neighborhood is being discussed.

  • Get copies of meeting agendas. Some local boards make printed agendas available before meetings. Try to get an agenda beforehand to see if anything you need to be concerned about is on it. If so, alert people in your neighborhood to show up for the meeting to ask questions and show interest.

  • Read public notices in local newspapers. Public hearings and other meetings that concern local land use are generally announced in a local newspaper. Get in the habit of reading the Public Notice section of the local paper.

  • Watch out for potentially polluting projects. Certain types of development pose potential environmental and health problems for host communities. They need not be automatically opposed, but they should be carefully scrutinized. Pay close to attention to plans for:
    • Incinerators, which can spew out all kinds of air pollutants, including toxic ash.
    • Landfills, which may release toxic chemicals into the air and groundwater.
    • Waste transfer stations, which may bring more noise, litter, odor and traffic to your area; poor air quality from diesel trucks and dust; and disease-carrying rodents and cockroaches.
    • Water pollution control or sewage treatment plants, which can contaminate your local water with toxins or disease-causing bacteria.
    • Diesel bus or truck depots and parking lots, which can introduce heavy traffic, noise and increased air pollution; take up much-needed green space; or provide a paved conduit for pollutants to wash into the local water supply.
    • Power plants, which are the single largest industrial source of some of the worst air pollutants, including sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, mercury and carbon dioxide.
    • Highways, which can bring increased traffic and air pollution, and take up space for community use.
    • Airports, which can create smog, contaminate waterways with toxic chemicals from deicing fluid and generate noise.
    • Metal plating, auto body or auto repair shops, which may use toxic chemicals and create hazardous wastes.

    Also be aware of and ask questions about:
    • Any proposed change in zoning.
    • Any proposed change in the municipality's or county's "Master Plan" or "Community Environmental Plan."
    • Any proposed new development or the creation of a "Redevelopment Zone."

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