Environmental Law Institute (ELI)

Smart Links: Turning Conservation Dollars into Smart Growth Opportunities Report


We need to improve the effectiveness of conservation investments by federal, state, and local governments. The Smart Links concept links conservation funding with techniques to promote smarter growth and compatible development on nearby lands. A Smart Links funding program has two goals:

  • to ensure that the public’s acquisition funds are not spent in a way that allows conservation lands to be surrounded and degraded by continuing patterns of sprawl, and
  • to ensure that conservation expenditures play a leveraging role by putting into place smart growth policies—such as urban revitalization, development patterns that conserve waterways and habitat, and well-targeted improvements to transportation and infrastructure.

Public funding is used as an incentive to ensure that development is compatible with smart growth rather than sprawl. Such programs also ensure the long term vitality of the conservation investment. No state has wholly integrated its conservation funding programs with programs to address land use and development. Five states have committed substantial amounts of open space funding in ways that encourage local governments to strengthen their control of development. These Smart Links states – Delaware, Florida, Maryland, Massachusetts, and New Jersey – have begun to show that a statewide vision of important ecological lands, when coupled with attention to local land development planning, can enhance both conservation and the management of development. 

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