KeepSpace Initiative helps Rhode Island make the most of state resources

This post is part of an ongoing series about organizations that have received grants from the Partnership for Sustainable Communities. Did your organization receive one of these grants? Tell us about it!

At the October 18th, 2010 announcement of KeepSpace’s Smart Growth Implementation Assistance award. Photo by Jeffrey A. Morse Photography.

Rhode Island’s KeepSpace initiative, which aims to create prosperous and healthy communities throughout the state, was recently selected as one of seven communities to receive assistance from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Smart Growth Implementation Assistance program.

Launched in 2007, KeepSpace is a partnership between public agencies and private organizations from across Rhode Island that work together to make sure the state’s programs and investments promote sustainable growth and empowered communities.

EPA’s Smart Growth Implementation Assistance grant will help the partners in KeepSpace develop and apply a set of metrics for use in funding decisions. The metrics will help ensure state dollars are being stretched further to develop more affordable transportation and housing options, a healthy environment, and a strong economy.

“If we have a better system for prioritizing and targeting resources, we will have much better outcomes on the ground. This project is integral to our state’s ongoing effort to benchmark our performance and improve our policies for the future, ” said Jeff Davis, Technical Assistance Coordinator at Rhode Island Housing.

Rhode Island upholds a heritage of sustainability, open space preservation, and close-knit communities. Yet for much of the past 50 years, the state has experienced an increasing rate of unmanaged growth in residential and commercial development. Between 1961 and 1995, for example, land was developed at a rate nine times faster than the state’s population growth. Leaders from across Rhode Island recognized that such a rapid increase in the state’s development rate was financially unsustainable and threatened the state’s prized ecological assets.

The KeepSpace Advisory Committee was formed to help meet the state’s growth challenges and to develop a vision for a more sustainable and prosperous future for all Rhode Islanders. The Committee is composed of a broad range of agencies and organizations that all have a stake in the state’s health, planning, and environmental policies: the Department of Health, Department of Environmental Management, Department of Transportation, Division of Planning, Rhode Island Historical Preservation and Heritage Commission, Office of Energy Resources, Economic Development Corporation, Rhode Island Housing, Providence Department of Planning, Rhode Island Local Initiatives Support Corporation, Rhode Island Council of Land Trusts and Grow Smart Rhode Island.

These agencies meet voluntarily to share innovative strategies for promoting sustainability, examine how statewide policies impact local communities, and to consider new ways of ensuring their programs work together to use the state’s resources more effectively and efficiently. KeepSpace is currently working in four pilot communities (Cranston, Olneyville, Pawtucket/Central Falls, and Westerly) to test new ways of improving Rhode Island’s housing, economic development, transportation, and environmental programs.

EPA’s Smart Growth Implementation Assistance program, funded through the agency’s Sustainable Communities office, is one example of how the federal government is helping communities and states across the country meet economic, environmental, and other goals with increasingly limited resources.

Leading the federal government’s effort is the Partnership for Sustainable Communities, an interagency collaboration between the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT), and EPA. These agencies are working to coordinate federal investments and programs in ways that create more affordable housing and transportation options, ensure clean air and clean water, and grow the economy.

Scott Wolf, Executive Director of Grow Smart Rhode Island, views the Partnership for Sustainable Communities as connecting communities across the country with the policy expertise and information they need to become healthier, more sustainable, and more economically viable.

“Rhode Island is just one example of countless communities and states across the country looking for better and more efficient ways to build physical infrastructure and community facilities that improve residents’ daily lives. The Partnership is becoming a significant asset in these efforts, helping our teams learn from proven models and work through challenges that pop up along the way.”