Chapter 2
Sustainability and the
Built Environment
A variety of terms are important to understand when thinking about the aspects of
a city that can have a relationship with economic development and sustainability.
Urban design is concerned with the overall design of a city, land use addresses land
development activities across the city, transportation systems deal with infrastructure
related to transport in a city, and, finally, the built environment encompasses all
of these things under a larger umbrella (Handy et al. 2002). While many of the
remaining chapters will deal with smaller pieces of the built environment—trans-
portation, energy, and management, for example—this chapter is concerned with
the wider-scale concept that we call the built environment.
e built environment can have a large impact on the quality of life as well as
the economic development potential of a city. Unfortunately, many communities
are struggling with problems associated with their built environment. As discussed
in Chapter 1, many cities followed a development path over the past century that
led them to fiscal and social inequities and environmental degradation. Downtown
decline, revitalization, inll, sprawl, brownfields,
and grayfields
are all terms
used to describe aspects of a city that are closely related to the environment and
economic development. In fact, some cities will begin exploring something akin
to sustainable economic development due to the problems associated with urban
Abandoned, idled, or underused real property where expansion or redevelopment is compli-
cated by the presence or potential presence of environmental contamination (www.HUD.gov).
Previously developed commercial properties, which are underutilized, undeveloped sites
(sometimes called dead malls) (Hazardous Substance Research Center, June 2007, www.hsrc-
18 ◾  Local Economic Development and the Environment
decline and sprawl. ere are two broad, but important, aspects of the built envi-
ronment that local administrators can focus their efforts on to encourage economic
development that is sensitive to the environment: redevelopment/revitalization and
anticipatory development (Daniels and Daniels, 2003). ese broad concepts will
include many smaller topics that will be covered in-depth in other chapters of this
book. is chapter will, on the other hand, first discuss redevelopment/revitaliza-
tion, sometimes referred to as remedial development, and then turn to a discussion
of anticipatory, or new, development. e goal of this chapter is to provide a broad
look at how a city can simply use a green lens when pursuing development to find
the common ground between the environment and economic development. To fur-
ther illustrate the connections and relationships between economic development,
the natural environment, and the built environment, this chapter concludes with a
case example of Low Impact Development in Wilmington, North Carolina.
Revitalization and Redevelopment: Remedial Efforts
e word revitalization has found a common place in many local economic devel-
opment efforts. For example, Miramar, Florida, has an explicit revitalization effort
as part of its larger economic development efforts. e city says, “[b]y definition,
revitalize’ means to give new life or vitality to something. e citys revitaliza-
tion efforts reflect this, ranging from housing programs to business assistance to
social services, redevelopment initiatives, and public infrastructure improvements.
Combined, these are bringing positive change and results” (City of Miramar, 2012).
Revitalization efforts are a natural combination of economic development and sus-
tainability. In the broadest sense, revitalization is about improving and redevelop-
ing an area of a community that has suffered from a declining economic and social
condition. is aspect of revitalization goes very well with the 3 E’s definition of
sustainability: It improves the Economic condition of a neighborhood, improves or
sustains the natural Environment by not contributing to sprawl for development,
and, finally, it addresses social Equity by working on poverty problems in a com-
munity. It is easy to understand the natural connection between economic devel-
opment and sustainability simply by examining the diverse revitalization efforts
across the United States.
Urban or central city decay is not an uncommon phenomenon across the United
States. Initially, the hardest hit area in most communities was the old central busi-
ness district (CBD). Following a fundamental shift in the American economy in the
second half of the twentieth century, many cities found themselves with a declin-
ing population, changing and/or declining economic base, and increasing crime
rates (Porter, 1997). Eventually many suburban areas also faced similar negative
changes. Many cities followed a similar development path that led them to face the
problems they deal with on a day-to-day basis.

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