Riverwalk in Nashua, NH – Photo by Mark Archambault

Smart Growth for Sustainable Communities

Smart Growth is both a philosophy and set of planning techniques that seeks to minimize the impacts of human development on natural landscapes and ecosystems while promoting fairness and equity so as to proactively meet the needs of the people in an ecologically sustainable manner.

The NRWA plays a significant role in promoting smart growth planning in our region. For example, as part of our U.S. EPA funded "Protecting Today's Water for Tomorrow project our Smart Growth Circuit Rider worked with several towns within the combined Squannacook-Nissitissit sub-basin to develop smart growth related bylaws, ordinances and regulations, many of which were subsequently adopted by the towns. The Circuit Rider also gave many presentations to the towns and the general public, as well as organizing professional workshops in order to increase public understanding of smart growth and environmental protection in general.

Some of the guiding principles of smart growth include as promoted by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts:

  • Promote a variety of land-uses at the development scale, in contrast to the more archaic practice of Euclidean zoning that separates land-uses into distinct districts.
  • Concentrate, rather than disperse, new development within site and technological constraints (i.e. septic capacity if applicable). Higher density can be offset by the setting aside of permanently protected open space.
  • Use natural resources wisely, both in terms of construction materials and in terms of working with as opposed to against, the natural features of the landscape when undertaking development.
  • Expand housing opportunities beyond the detached single-family home that is the dominant land-use in most suburban and rural communities. Exclusive use of single-family zoning can result in a sprawling pattern of land-use that consumes and fragments natural habitats and watersheds.
  • Promote clean energy as much as possible in the design of housing and commercial and industrial development. In many cases, solar and wind generated energy can become at least a part of the power supply for the new development.
  • Plan regionally and consider your town’s development and planning in the wider context of the regional environmental and political boundaries and units of government.
  • Advance equity by promoting equitable sharing of the benefits and burdens of development. Provide technical and strategic support for inclusive community planning and decision making to ensure social, economic, and environmental justice. Ensure that the interests of future generations are not compromised by today's decisions. In a word, promote development that moves in the direction of sustainability.
  • Provide transportation choice by maintaining and expanding transportation options that maximize mobility, reduce congestion, conserve fuel and improve air quality. Prioritize rail, bus, boat, rapid and surface transit, shared-vehicle and shared-ride services, bicycling, and walking. Promote and invest in existing and new passenger and freight transportation infrastructure that supports sound economic development consistent with smart growth objectives.

Promoting and implementing Smart Growth and sustainability is not just the responsibility and province of Planners or Planning Board members, but includes roles for all levels of municipal government, as well as concerned citizens who can help by supporting and inspiring their communities to undertake Smart Growth efforts.

In 2006, NRWA’s Smart Growth Circuit Rider organized a two day workshop on the subjects of peak oil and sustainable development, which generated considerable public interest. Partly as an outgrowth of this workshop and a reading group that followed, several citizens of Groton, Massachusetts decided to form the Groton Local, an organization that promotes personal and social sustainability through community events, workshops, book readings, interest groups and outreach. The Groton Local undertakes local actions informed by the bigger picture of climate change, energy resource depletion and threats to food and water supplies. The NRWA has partnered with the Groton Local in organizing and hosting workshops on a variety of topics including permaculture, vegetable gardening, home insulation, solar energy and many other topics. The Groton Local itself helped to generate the Groton Sustainability Commission, which is a formal board of the Town of Groton that promotes sustainability planning, most recently through its role in updating Groton’s Master Plan.

A great resource online resource for Smart Growth planning techniques is the Massachusetts Smart Growth and Smart Energy Toolkit

If you would like the NRWA to assist with Smart Growth planning in your community, or for more information about NRWA’s Smart Growth, local sustainability, and other land use planning projects, please contact Mark Archambault, NRWA Smart Growth Circuit Rider, at (978) 448-0299, or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..