Coastal & Waterfront SmartGrowth Toolkit

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)

Posted on: 8/15/2022 - Updated on: 9/14/2022

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How can smart growth strategies help coastal and waterfront communities manage growth and development while balancing environmental, economic, and quality of life issues? How can communities on the water adapt smart growth strategies to fit their unique character? This website will help communities answer these questions offering tools, techniques, and case studies.

Smart growth is defined by 10 principles. These principles provide a framework for making growth and development decisions that yield better economic, environmental, community, and public health results. Developed in 1996 by the Smart Growth Network, a coalition of national and regional organizations that believe where and how we grow matters, the principles are based on the characteristics and experiences of thriving, diverse, and successful communities. These principles help guide growth and development in communities that have a clear vision for their future and understand the values they want to sustain.

The coastal and waterfront elements presented on this website augment the existing smart growth principles to reflect the specific challenges and opportunities characterizing the waterfront, be it on a coast, a river, or a lake. These elements provide guidance for communities to grow in ways that are compatible with their natural assets, creating great places for residents, visitors, and businesses.

It is organized into 10 chapters that describe different elements essential for communities interested in implementing coastal and waterfront smart growth. Within each chapter, you will get a description of each Coastal and Waterfront Smart Growth Element, how this relates to the coastal and waterfront issues, tools and techniques you can use in your community, and case studies of successes. Each chapter contains a navigation box that allows for quick access to the information and the ability to download the content of each page (the full document can be downloaded below).

Coastal & Waterfront Smart Growth Chapters:

  1. Mix Land Uses
  2. Take Advantage of Compact Design
  3. Provide a Range of Housing Choices
  4. Create Walkable Communities
  5. Foster Distinctive Attractive Communities
  6. Preserve Open Space & Critical Environmental Areas
  7. Direct Development Toward Existing Communities
  8. Provide a Variety of Transportation Options
  9. Make Development Decisions
  10. Encourage Community & Stakeholder Collaboration

List of Case Studies:

  1. Portland, Maine
  2. Barnstable, Massachusetts
  3. Santa Cruz, California
  4. Ogunquit, Maine
  5. Leland, Michigan
  6. Brays Bayou, Houston, Texas
  7. Providence, Rhode Island
  8. Staten Island, New York
  9. Bremerton, Washington
  10. Vienna, Maryland


Specifically for anyone who plans, designs, builds, approves, or has an interest in development at the water's edge.

Managing Organizations

NOAA is an agency that enriches life through science. Our reach goes from the surface of the sun to the depths of the ocean floor as we work to keep citizens informed of the changing environment around them. From daily weather forecasts, severe storm warnings and climate monitoring to fisheries management, coastal restoration and supporting marine commerce, NOAA’s products and services support economic vitality and affect more than one-third of America’s gross domestic product.