Table of Contents | Chapter 4 | Appendix A

Chapter 5
Safe and Healthy Communities

Preserving a safe and healthy environment is perhaps the most significant legacy we can leave to future generations. Safe streets, clean air and water, innovative industrial processes that prevent pollution, and communities that are built to withstand natural disasters are powerful resources on which to build strong communities.

Americans are increasingly concerned about public safety and fears of crime are diminishing the quality of life in many communities. Public safety is the top priority in many communities, but while prison building is one of the fastest-growing industries in the United States, funding for crime prevention pales in comparison. In some crime-ridden areas, neighborhoods have been economically and geographically isolated with a commensurate lack of economic, educational, social, and political opportunities. Public investments play a critical role. A Trust for Public Land survey found that parks were concentrated in affluent neighborhoods in two-thirds of the cities surveyed, leaving low-income, inner-city communities with inadequate and severely overcrowded parklands in 16 out of 23 cities. Recreation, particularly for youth, is important to quality of life, and also affects crime. Spending for incarceration of juveniles increased 35 percent from 1987 to 1993.17 Some policy experts believe that recreational facilities should be considered an investment in our own security, and in the health and stability of our cities.

Fear of crime significantly limits people's freedom and behavior. Parents are afraid to let children play freely outside. People, particularly women, use public transportation less frequently if they are afraid to walk to the nearby transit stop. People spend less time outdoors in recreational areas. Proactive programs, such as community policing strategies that actively involve police officers in neighborhood life, are bringing a new spirit of partnership to crime prevention. Community policing is grounded in the partnerships forged among residents, neighborhood businesses, and local police. In New York City, significant reductions in the crime rate have been partially attributed to community policing strategies.

Resolving public safety concerns in a proactive fashion can also stem the tide of future problems as well. Research shows that the existence of graffiti, littering, and cracked windows can be precursors to criminal activity. Visible signs of apathy about these so-called "small" problems make neighborhoods more likely targets for crimes. But as the community comes together to invest energy and resources to clean up these neighborhoods and institute community policing strategies, these types of programs can rebuild the human and financial capital in communities weakened by violence.

Our nation's goals for a clean and healthy environment can be met in a similar fashion: constantly encouraging policies and systems that are preventive, not reactive-that make community partnerships feasible and effective, and that ultimately reduce waste.

As we move into the next century of this nation's efforts to protect the environment, our goal is not only to hold on to the gains we have made, but to maintain the rapid pace of environmental progress achieved in the last 25 years. Environmental management and regulation must be driven by environmental quality goals, performance-based standards, accountability, and community involvement. New environmental management approaches that combine increased flexibility with greater accountability for achieving results, that promote collaboration over conflict, empower individuals and communities, and that create incentives for innovation, will allow us to deliver better, more equitable, and more cost-effective environmental performance.

One part of performance that - despite its significance to our nation's overall physical and economic health - is often omitted from environmentally sound planning is disaster reduction. In short, disaster reduction requires that we make it possible and attractive for people to stay out of harm's way. Accurate risk assessments can facilitate development of safe land use policies and management approaches, especially in coastal and riverine environments, near fault zones, and near other geologically active sites. Disasters can be reduced further through good mitigation practices such as improved building codes and enforcement, of same, careful attention to the design and maintenance of community infrastructure, and appropriate agriculture and forestry practices. Mitigation costs are almost always more than recovered during the aftermath of an event, since prevention is almost always cheaper than retrofitting systems.

In addition, the federal funding systems that have traditionally been the "saving grace" of disaster communities should encourage them to rebuild in safe physical spaces. Federal funding support should not promote rebuilding in areas that leave residents at risk of repeat disasters. Communities and business leaders should be encouraged to relocate outside of disaster-prone areas, and should better understand the adverse impact that risky development may have on their community's safety and the country's economy if a natural disaster does strike.

Policy Recommendation 12

Action 1.
Community-based coalitions - including residents, community groups, and businesses - should work with police to mobilize neighborhoods to prevent violence by initiating community meetings, finding and fixing violence hot spots, reclaiming public spaces, and adopting community policing strategies.

Action 2. All levels of government should work to implement gun control measures, including the use of background checks and mandatory waiting periods to help reduce violent gun uses.

Action 3. Community-based coalitions should work together to address disorder issues such as littering, graffiti, and loitering before they lead to criminal activities. Law enforcement officials and local governments should work with residents and businesses to identify opportunities to prevent potential problems such as improving lighting in specific areas, and cleaning up vacant lots.

Policy Recommendation 13

Action 1.
The EPA should encourage communities to develop pilot programs for attaining one or more environmental standards that are more stringent than those set by the agency. Participants in the programs - including but not limited to industry, government agencies, and community groups - would set the standards; and would work with regulators to ensure and verify that they are met.

Action 2. EPA and state environmental protection agencies should accelerate efforts to conduct a series of demonstration projects to assess the benefits and costs of alternative regulatory approaches.

For example, projects could demonstrate the cost-effectiveness of setting more stringent standards while giving polluters longer time periods to achieve compliance. Another project could research and work to demonstrate the benefits (if any) of environmental performance of an entire facility rather than on separate air, water and soil requirements. Such a project might stipulate that environmental gains for an entire facility exceed what would have been achieved through source-by-source or media-specific regulations. Working with the private sector and nongovernmental organizations, the federal government should review and evaluate the lessons learned from these demonstration projects. Based on the success of the first round of demonstration projects, a second set of projects should be launched within two years.

Policy Recommendation 14

Action 1.
Regulators, businesses, labor unions, community groups, and policy experts can create partnerships to implement programs that encourage pollution prevention.

Action 2. Community-based coalitions can regularly gather data on pollution in a community and combine it with population data and relevant health statistics, including diet and lifestyle choices, to reach agreement on what programs are needed to lower local health risks.

Policy Recommendation 15

Action 1.
All levels of government should identify and eliminate government incentives, such as subsidized flood plain insurance and subsidized utilities, that encourage development in areas vulnerable to natural hazards.

Action 2. Accurate risk assessments can facilitate development of safe land use policies and management approaches, especially in coastal and riverine environments, and near fault zones and other geologically active sites.

Action 3. Community-based coalitions can develop improved building codes and related enforcement, and create strategic plans for design and maintenance of community infrastructure, and support appropriate agriculture and forestry practices. For example, local regulatory agencies can adopt more rigorous building codes, to ensure that new construction minimizes the impacts of floods, hurricanes, and other natural disasters.

Action 4. Federal agencies, perhaps through a specific interagency effort, should incorporate sustainable re-development principles into the federal disaster relief system. The interagency group should work closely with state, local, and private organizations to create a unified approach within established disaster relief mechanisms. They can package technical assistance programs from existing federal, state, and local programs, utilities, and other public and private resources.