Newark, NJ; Hamilton, OH; Jackson, TN win 2015 National Awards for Smart Growth Achievement from U.S. EPA

The City of Newark, NJ remediated the site of a former smelting plant to build a new—and now award-winning—park along the Passaic River. Photo via Archpaper.

Three cities have transformed the site of a former smelting plant, a neighborhood destroyed by tornado, and a near-empty historic downtown into vibrant, walkable places. Now, these projects have been recognized with the 2015 National Award for Smart Growth Achievement from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Riverfront Park is the culmination of decades-long work to transform five miles of formerly industrial Passaic riverfront in Newark, NJ. The park’s land was once home to a smelting plant, and sat abandoned and unusable for years. Environmental remediation and an intensive public engagement process have created what will ultimately be 19 acres of parkland and Newark’s first—and so far only—public access to the Passaic River. In this community of color and predominantly low-income area, with few green spaces and a history of industrial pollution, the new park is game-changing. “When I was growing up, we had very few places to play, very few parks,” said Ana Baptista, a Newark resident, in EPA’s video about the project. “My daughters are going to grow up having a relationship to the water and the river that I didn’t have.”

Jackson Walk in Jackson, TN, is an example of how communities can transform tragedy into opportunity. In 2003, tornadoes ripped away much of Jackson’s downtown, destroying property and displacing residents and businesses. Local leaders saw an opportunity to bring together residents to create a new vision for downtown. Now, Jackson Walk is home to apartments and houses, an outdoor amphitheater, a farmers market, and a world-class fitness center.

And in Hamilton, OH, after years of disinvestment, strategic planning has helped bring new life to the historic downtown. A community visioning process laid out goals for Hamilton to reach by 2020. A comprehensive plan laid out practical steps to achieve those goals, and the City is working to put them into action. Historic Developers, LLC, in partnership with the City, renovated the Mercantile Lofts in the heart of downtown. The former Journal-News building is now home to a cultural hub with a school for the arts and ballet company. Collectively, the project’s $17.2 million investment has spurred an additional $15 million in surrounding buildings. “Developers are coming to me from Indiana and Kentucky, wanting to invest in our community,” said Joshua Smith, Hamilton’s City Manager at the awards ceremony this morning. “I couldn’t have begged them to come in five years ago. It was the EPA’s decision to help us that has made this happen.”

Each of these projects is an outstanding example of how communities can come together and build walkable, vibrant places where people want to live, work, and play. They are a model to follow for communities across the country. Congratulations to all of this year’s award winners. Visit EPA’s website to read more and watch the videos about all the winning projects.