Balancing Nature & Commerce Resources

Look here for new publications, websites, and tools that are available to assist you in your rural community’s planning and project delivery.


Strategic Lessons In Sustainable Community Building–The Groundwork USA Network

A growing number of communities across the country are leveraging greening initiatives  as catalysts for the social and economic regeneration of urban neighborhoods. Urban greening provides underserved neighborhoods with access to green spaces that improve overall quality of life and begin to address long-standing health and economic disparities of its residents. 

Locally Owned Businesses Can Help Communities Thrive And Survive Climate Change

Cities where small, locally owned businesses account for a relatively large share of the economy have stronger social networks, more engaged citizens, and better success solving problems, according to several recently published studies. And in the face of climate change, those are just the sort of traits that communities most need if they are to survive massive storms, adapt to changing conditions, find new ways of living more lightly on the planet, and, most important, nurture a vigorous citizenship that can drive major changes in policy.

Vibrant Rural Communities Case Studies Series

The National Association of Development Association’s Vibrant Rural Communities case studies series highlights how rural regions and small towns across the country are growing local and regional economies and creating stronger communities. This series shows how small towns can leverage a wide range of tools an d approaches to build on their assets, protect their resources, and make strategic investments that offer long-term benefits for residents and local businesses.

Asset-Based Economic Development and Building Sustainable Rural Communities

This series of three ICMA briefing papers showcase how small communities are tackling sustainability and smart growth through asset-based economic development. The first paper defines asset-based economic development and provides several case studies on industry and industrial clusters. The second paper looks as natural resource strengths and working landscapes. The third paper examines historic and cultural resources as well as existing infrastructure such as Main Streets and town squares. 

Livability Literature Review: A Synthesis of Current Practice

This comprehensive report from the National Association of Regional Councils (NARC) describes how livability is understood, provides examples of livable communities in practice and adds clarity to several concepts.

Investment Ready Places: A Field Guide to Community Building in the New American Frontier

The small towns and cities of America are once again becoming the new frontier for development. Investment Ready Places are those communities that are well positioned to respond to retooling. The report lists six characteristics of Investment Ready Places that need to be in place to attract productive investments and steps communities can use to acquire these characteristics.

About Town: Building Revenue for Communities

Financial strain can be a burden on local governments, but it can also be a force for change, encouraging officials to streamline operations, reduce waste, and seek reliable ways to build stable revenues while spurring economic growth. This report takes a look at six rural communities in the Rocky Mountain West which recognize the value of downtowns and mixed use centers, which are bringing excellent revenue to these cities and counties.

Putting Smart Growth to Work in Rural Communities

This report, the result of collaboration between EPA and the International City/County Management Association (ICMA), focuses on smart growth strategies that can help guide growth in rural areas while protecting natural and working lands and preserving the rural character of existing communities.

Three Years of Helping Communities Achieve Their Visions for Growth and Prosperity

This report provides an overview of EPA, HUD, and DOT support to communities seeking to protect the environment, provide more housing choices, and make transportation systems more efficient and reliable.  Case studies include: Bridgeport, CT; Ranson and Charles Town, WV; Montgomery, AL; Cincinnati, OH; Moline, IL; Denver, CO: and Wellpinit, WA.

Federal Resources for Sustainable Rural Communities

A guide to programs from the Partnership for Sustainable Communities and the USDA that rural communities can use to promote economic competitiveness, protect healthy environments, and enhance quality of life.

Outdoor Nation Special Report: Technology and Social Media

Outdoor Nation Special Report: Technology and Social Media provides an in-depth analysis of how the Outdoor Nation community of young ‘Outsiders” is interacting with social media and technology. The report gives the youth perspective on ways that technology can both enhance and interfere with outdoor activities. The survey offers youth-driven ideas on how to best combine outdoor experiences, social media and technology. 

Economic Profile System-Human Dimensions Tool Kit from Headwaters Economics

The updated Economic Profile System-Human Dimensions Toolkit (EPS-HDT) helps decision makers access and analyze large amounts of information about their community or anywhere in the United States. EPS-HDT was created jointly by Headwaters Economics, the Bureau of Land Management, and the US Forest Service.

Making Healthy Places: Designing and Building for Health, Well-being, and Sustainability

This book provides a far-reaching follow-up to the pathbreaking Urban Sprawl and Public Health, published in 2004, offering a fresh and comprehensive look at the adverse effects of what we have constructed and the positive benefits of well designed build environments.  Edited by Andrew L. Dannenberg, Howard Frumkin, and Richard J. Jackson.

Supporting Sustainable Rural Communities

This new report helps better coordinate federal programs for sustainable community and smart growth development for rural communities. The report was prepared by the HUD, DOT, and EPA Partnership for Sustainable Communities in cooperation with USDA. It presents sample funding mechanisms, technical assistance opportunities, and performance measures rural communities can use, and includes case studies showcasing rural accomplishments

Model Design Manual for Living Streets

This manual focuses on all users and all modes, seeking to achieve balanced street design that accommodates cars while ensuring that pedestrians, cyclists and transit users can travel safely and comfortably. This manual also incorporates features to make streets lively, beautiful, economically vibrant as well as environmentally sustainable.

Regional Approaches to Sustainable Development: Linking Economic, Transportation, and Environmental Infrastructure in Rural and Small Metropolitan America

Regional development organizations (RDOs) are designing and implementing strategies to create stronger, more dynamic, more resilient regional economies that are based on quality of place. This report from the National Association of Development Organizations highlights the opportunities available to RDOs to undertake sustainable development initiatives using a systems-based approach.

Archived Webinars from the American Farmland Trust

Food systems planning is an emerging field to support, facilitate and promote local, regional and sustainable agriculture. The American Farmland Trust has put together a series of educational webinars to take a look at systems approaches for county and community-based planning, and state and regional planning to improve and maintain agricultural viability. 

Lasting Value: Open Space Planning and Preservation Successes

More than one million acres of forests, farms, and other rural lands are converted to development every year. Can preservation happen? Yes, but its no walk in the park. Lasting Value celebrates the selected cities, towns, and counties that excel at preserving natural areas, farmland, and other types of open space.

Stewarding the Future of Our Communities

This major research project conducted for the Craig Byrne Fellows Program of the Orton Family Foundation addresses the challenges of stewarding local community engagement and planning–that is, building greater sustainability into citizen-driven, value-based community engagement and planning–in order to ensure its ongoing success and impact. Five exemplary community engagement and planning experiences in small towns and cities around the country are highlighted to provide specific stewardship approaches they have used to carry the success of their efforts far into the future.

Promoting Physical Activity through the Shared Use of School & Community Recreational Resources

This brief summarizes research on community access to school sport and recreation facilities outside of school hours, as well as studies that examine the shared use of school facilities and programs with other community groups or agencies. It also describes challenges commonly associated with the shared use of recreational facilities and opportunities for policy-makers at the state and local levels. 

Rural Communities: Expanding Horizons

Learn more about the great strides that have been made in the last decade to provide more transportation choices for residents of small urban and rural areas. This report highlights the opportunities for continued innovation, public transit investment, and political and community support to provide freedom, independence, and access through public transportation.