2007-08 High School Essay Contest

Creating a Green Neighborhood Plan

Everyone lives in a neighborhood, whether they live in a large city, a suburb, a small town, or even a rural area. For this essay, consider your neighborhood and create a plan to make it green and environmentally friendly.

Length: Essay is no less than 1,200 words and no more than 1,500 words.

Getting Started:  Background Work

Step One. Define the concept of a green neighborhood.
Research the term "green" as it relates to community and environmental planning.
Define the word "neighborhood."
Create a two-sentence definition for "green neighborhood" that will provide the framework for your essay.
The APA website is a good place to begin: www.planning.org

Step Two. List the benefits of a green plan for your neighborhood. Explain how the plan promotes the primary goals of community planning:

  • Health
  • Safety
  • Welfare    

Step Three. Explore environmental issues that affect the community at the neighborhood level. Interview your science teacher. Interview a planner in your local planning office. Ask the planner about any relevant state laws on environment and planning. Explore these issues:
Air quality and emissions
Clean water: both drinking and rain water run off
Cooling and heating
Recycling and reuse
Health, activity, and exercise
Energy efficiency: vehicles, buildings, technologies
Efficient use of water
Non-toxic building materials
Non-toxic chemicals on lawns, crops, and gardens. 

Step Four. Investigate whether there are existing plans (city, county, or regional planning agency) or programs (neighborhood organization, environmental group) that address the concerns that you have raised. In your essay, you will discuss how your proposed plan relates to these other plans and programs.

Conducting an Inventory

Step Five. Conduct an inventory of problems in your neighborhood and note the potential solutions you learned from your research. Select 5 (of the 7) topics below that are most relevant to your neighborhood. Consider:

  1. Public Transportation and Personal Vehicle Travel
    Planners consider the number of trips each household makes each day — to the store, to school, to work, to recreation. Consider air quality, fuel usage, as well as efficiency, options, and convenience.
  2. Buildings
    Planners consider maintenance issues, historic preservation, and even the demolition practices when they do green planning. They also consider the location of school buildings: Do you have to drive to reach your school?
  3. Land Use and Density
    Planners consider how buildings are arranged in relationship to each other. For example, do you have to drive to take clothes to the dry cleaner or pick up a quart of milk and are these two separate trips? Can you walk or ride your bike play soccer? If retail businesses were clustered together would there be fewer automobile trips? Would your neighborhood be more energy efficient if there were both single family homes and tall apartment or condo buildings? Look for other examples.
  4. Waste and Hazards
    Do any activities in your neighborhood produce hazardous smoke or waste? How and where should these facilities be located? Some may be located in lower income neighborhoods; is this fair? How does household garbage and waste get disposed of and where?    
  5. Landscaping, Vegetation, and Agricultural Practices
    Consider the benefits of lawns, gardens, trees, and agricultural land. If you live in a rural area, consider the methods used to grow crops. Consider the benefits of parks, open space, and trails. Now consider the potential negative impacts of gardening, landscaping, and farming practices on both water use and usable water. 
  6. Streets and Roads
    Planners study how the layout of streets and roads affects the amount and kinds of travel. Can you get to the store easily from your home? Consider the size of streets and the amount of surface covered by impervious pavement. Consider how runoff (often referred to as "stormwater runoff" or "rainwater runoff") from the roads and streets is collected and treated and why this matters? Consider whether the streets and sidewalks are designed so your grand parents can walk safely and easily to the store or a small child can ride a tricycle.   
  7. New Techniques and Technologies
    Consider such things as green roofs, natural water filtration systems, xeriscaping, complete streets, and others.

Step Six. Consider how to rally support for your plan and how to present it to the appropriate officials for review and adoption.

The Essay

Step Seven. Present your plan in an essay format. Your essay will be no less than 1,200 words and no more than 1,500 words.

The plan will consist of:

  • Policy goal: State what you intend the plan to achieve. This will be at least 4 sentences and will include your definition of "green neighborhood."
  • Elements of the plan: Use your list from Step Five. Or, you may use the elements of your community's existing community-wide plan (called the "Comprehensive Plan," "General Plan," or "Master Plan") or an existing neighborhood plan. Identify the problems and your recommended solutions for each element. Remember all solutions must support your overall policy goal.
  • How your plan relates to other existing plans. Explain briefly how other plans and programs support, contradict, or overlook the elements in your plan. Explain how you will integrate with or replace the existing plans.
  • Benefits of green solutions. Explain the benefits to be achieved with your recommended solutions. Planning focuses on the issues of the health, safety, and welfare of the community. Explain your benefits in reference to these three issues. 
  • Building support for your plan. Discuss who could help build support for your plan. Consider who is affected by the plan, who needs to be educated about the plan, who needs to be convinced to make changes, and who might provide support for your ideas? Explain whose support you will absolutely crucial to the plan's success.
  • Adopting the plan. How would you present the plan and who needs to decide whether it is enacted?
  • Bibliography: Citations of sources used.

Enjoy the assignment and good luck!