Smart Growth: Reshaping Communities

By Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum, September 11, 2006

Grade Level

  • Middle School


  • Green Design

Subject Area

  • Language Arts
  • Science
  • Social Studies

Lesson Time

One fifty-minute class period


Smart growth is community development that serves the economy, the community, and the environment. In this activity students will learn about different aspects of smart growth as they explore a model community. They will engage in creative problem solving and create presentations on this topic.

National Standards

Standard 6. Level IV. Understands relationships among organisms and their physical environment 5. Knows ways in which humans can alter the equilibrium of ecosystems, causing potentially irreversible effects (e.g., human population growth, technology, and consumption; human destruction of habitats through direct harvesting, pollution, and atmospheric changes)
Standard 8. Level III. Understands the characteristics of ecosystems on Earth's surface 4. Knows changes that have occurred over time in ecosystems in the local region (e.g., natural wetlands on a flood plain being replaced by farms, farmlands on a flood plain being replaced by housing developments) 
Standard 1. Level III. Uses the general skills and strategies of the writing process 5. Uses content, style, and structure (e.g., formal or informal language, genre, organization) appropriate for specific audiences (e.g., public, private) and purposes (e.g., to entertain, to influence, to inform) 
Standard 7. Level III. Uses reading skills and strategies to understand and interpret a variety of informational texts 1. Uses reading skills and strategies to understand a variety of informational texts (e.g., electronic texts; textbooks; biographical sketches; directions; essays; primary source historical documents, including letters and diaries; print media, including editorials, news stories, periodicals, and magazines; consumer, workplace, and public documents, including catalogs, technical directions, procedures, and bus routes) 3. Summarizes and paraphrases information in texts (e.g., arranges information in chronological, logical, or sequential order; conveys main ideas, critical details, and underlying meaning; uses own words or quoted materials; preserves author's perspective and voice) 4. Uses new information to adjust and extend personal knowledge base


Students will do the following:
  • conduct Internet research
  • evaluate and analyze information from diverse sources
  • summarize and synthesize information from diverse sources
  • create a presentation
  • evaluate group work


  • "My Smart Growth Development Dream" handout


  • computer with Internet access


Building Background Models of Change

The purpose of this activity is to introduce the concept of smart growth development. 1. Share the following definition of smart growth with your students: "Smart growth is about being good stewards of our communities and of our rural lands, parks, and forests. It is about ensuring that the best of the past is preserved, while creating new communities that are attractive, vital, and enduring." -Michael Leavitt, EPA Administrator Source: As a class, explore the story of the Breckenridge, Colorado community that was designated as the Environmental Protection Agency's top smart growth neighborhood (or a community close to your school). 2. Create a class list highlighting the benefits of smart growth. Post the list for students to use as a learning resource. 3. Have a discussion about the benefits of smart growth: how it affects our earth, how it affects our resources, etc. Emphasize the benefits smart growth has on the sustainability of natural resources, and the impact it makes on our earth. Make sure the students realize that smart growth is a way in which we can make positive choices for our future.

Steps for Learning Developer's Dreams

The purpose of this activity is to provide students with an opportunity to use the steps of the design process to create a mock smart growth community. 1. Divide the class into small groups. Give each group a copy of the "My Smart Growth Development Dream" handout. 2. Provide time for each small group to present its work to the class. 3. Discuss the different elements of each group presentation, and the effectiveness of the arguments presented for the smart growth community.



Create a class rubric with your students that will help them understand the effectiveness of their design process. Use the following guidelines to help create the rubric. -How effective was your brainstorming in generating ideas? Excellent          Good         Adequate         Poor -Rate how effectively you analyzed the information you used to identify your problem. Excellent          Good         Adequate         Poor -Rate the effectiveness of your solution. Excellent          Good         Adequate         Poor -Rate how clearly you communicated the problem you wanted to solve. Excellent          Good         Adequate         Poor -Rate how clearly you communicated your solution. Excellent          Good         Adequate         Poor -Rate your effectiveness as problem solvers. Excellent          Good         Adequate         Poor -Rate your creativity. Excellent          Good         Adequate         Poor

Enrichment Extension Activities

Share Your Knowledge

Create a brochure that is designed to teach the public about smart growth communities.

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