Smart Growth

Smart Growth and Colleges and Universities

On this page


Colleges and universities influence the built environment in many ways:

  • As developers, institutions affect land use both on and off campus.
  • As teachers and researchers, colleges and universities are educating citizens who will be involved in determining development patterns, professionally or as community members, and are producing pure and applied research on the built environment.
  • As part of the community, most institutions provide technical assistance to communities, community groups, and decision-makers.

EPA works with institutions of higher learning on smart growth development approaches and sees these institutions as resources on the built environment.

Top of Page

The Institution as Developer

Colleges and universities are economic engines, and their impact extends beyond traditional campus boundaries. As institutions serving students, faculty, and staff, they need to maintain and expand their facilities. They are typically responsible for providing classrooms, offices, research space, laboratories, administrative offices, and housing, as well as transportation facilities that include parking lots, buses, bike racks, and bikes. Their expansion affects surrounding neighborhoods and often the larger region.

This section lists some resources about the university as developer and its influence on local economies.


Collaborating on Greensboro's Future: The University Roundtable and Next Steps (2008): Report, produced through EPA's Smart Growth Implementation Assistance Program, that discusses the development challenges facing Greensboro, North Carolina, and its vision for future growth. The report outlines strategic directions the city and its colleges and universities could pursue by working collaboratively.

Spokane's University District: Policy Options for a New Urban Center (2007): Report from a Smart Growth Implementation Assistance project with Spokane, Washington, to address growth and development-related challenges on and near university campuses.

Communities of Opportunity: SG Colleges PDF Cover

Communities of Opportunity: Smart Growth Strategies for Colleges and Universities Exit(48 pp, 39 M, About PDF), National Association of College and University Business Officers and Ayers Saint Gross Architects, (2007): Discusses using limited resources more effectively, getting the most out of investments, improving relations between the campus and the community, and demonstrating that institutions are and can be good environmental stewards. Includes contributions from EPA staff.

Teaming Up for Smart Growth Exit (2008): Article from Business Officer that illustrates the value of including neighboring communities in multipurpose capital projects and strengthening town-gown bonds.

The City, Land and the UniversityExit Lincoln Institute of Land Policy program that focuses on the efforts of colleges and universities to develop both on and off campus.

Leveraging Colleges and Universities for Urban Economic Revitalization: An Action Agenda Exit CEOs for Cities Conversations and the Institute for a Competitive Inner City (2002): Discusses the importance of colleges and universities in urban redevelopment and revitalization. It describes how community leaders, elected officials, and college and university administrators have worked together to achieve common goals.

Top of Page

Teaching and Research

Through their teaching, research, and service missions, colleges and universities teach best practices, provide professional training, and analyze land use policies and practice. Much of this educational effort comes from traditional courses in programs dealing with the built environment, including planning, architecture, policy, law, engineering, and public health. However, colleges and universities also host and provide land use practice training to local officials such as municipal legislators, planning commissioners, and staff.


Partnerships for Smart Growth: University-Community Collaboration for Better Public SpacesAssociation of Collegiate Schools of Planning and Lincoln Institute for Land Policy (2005): Profiles 13 university-led collaborations on smart growth initiatives. Written under a cooperative agreement with EPA.

Teaching smart growth at colleges and universities: Model course prospectuses: Lists course descriptions and syllabi from faculty members from several universities describing the integration of smart growth approaches to development into courses.

Smart and Sustainable Campuses ConferenceExit Conference focused on strategies and tools for colleges and universities to implement policies that produce smart growth and sustainable results. Attendees include students, faculty, staff, and administrators including facility managers, business officers, and sustainability coordinators.

Federal Highway Administration Course on Bicycle and Pedestrian Transportation (2006): Covers planning and engineering issues, design and engineering techniques, and implementation.

University Real Estate Development: Campus Expansion in Urban SettingsExit University of Baltimore with research assistance from the Lincoln Institute for Land Policy (2007): Working paper that explores how institutions of higher education expand outside their campus boundaries. 

Sustainability Tracking, Assessment, and Rating System (STARS): Transparent, self-reporting framework created by the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE) for colleges and universities to measure their sustainability performance.

Top of Page

Service and Technical Assistance

Many colleges and universities provide technical assistance and services to local governments, nonprofits, and other organizations interested in better growth and development outcomes. Some assistance involves training elected officials, staff, and community groups. Other projects include applied research and direct technical assistance through contracts or class projects or a combination of both.

Research and Service Centers

The following links exit the site Exit

  • University of Georgia
    UGA Carl Vinson Institute of Government
    Alliance for Quality Growth
    Conducts applied research and provides assistance on policy tools and best practices for better land development approaches.
  • University of Maryland
    National Center for Smart Growth Research and Education
    Works in four subject areas: land use and environmental policy, housing and community development, transportation and human health, and international urban development.

Smart Growth University Training

These courses are intended for elected officials, professional staff, developers, and citizens.

Community Partnerships: University Service and Applied Research Programs

Top of Page