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Chapter 1

This study was commissioned by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) in cooperation with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). NRDC and the EPA are interested in identifying whether new neighborhood developments that are designed to be compact, walkable, and made to fit within existing cities and suburbs produce environmental benefits. Such developments are often called "smart growth" or "new urbanist" neighborhoods.

One method being considered is a series of case studies comparing the performance of such projects against conventional development. EPA has previously sponsored comparisons of hypothetical or proposed projects, with findings that indicate potentially significant environmental benefits from compact, infill neighborhood designs. The current NRDC effort is intended to take the next step by examining actual completed projects, possibly in a series of case studies in several communities. Criterion was retained by NRDC to assist in the planning and execution of an exploratory case study that would:

  1. Identify key indicators of environmental performance applicable to new developments.

  2. Apply the indicators to a test comparison of smart-growth neighborhood design versus conventional development.

  3. Provide recommendations for the design and execution of future case studies.

It is important to note that this exploratory case study was not designed to be a definitive or rigorous, academic-style research project. Instead of seeking scientifically-controlled conclusions about smart growth or new urbanism, this study was simply a trial run with a single set of sites and preliminary methods of investigation. Any general conclusions about the environmental impacts of such developments must await a series of carefully controlled studies that constitute a sufficient sample of current development practices.

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