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Does Smart Growth = Equitable Growth?

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In Arizona and Colorado last year, local Habitat for Humanity affiliates resisted ballot initiatives meant to curb sprawl. Habitat builds housing for low-income families. Habitat officials in these states feared that the ballot initiatives would drive up the cost of land, impeding their ability to provide much needed affordable housing.

It’s not just affordable housing developers who have raised concerns about efforts to curb sprawl. The City of Austin’s much praised smart growth program uses a scoring system that allots points for each positive feature meeting city planning goals, such as proximity to mass transit, urban design characteristics, and compliance with nearby neighborhood plans. However, some neighborhood activists have criticized the program, saying that it has not adequately addressed the potential for gentrification of older neighborhoods and displacement of lower-income families.

These are not the only places where efforts to contain sprawl and revitalize older neighborhoods through smarter growth practices have been contentious. Around the country, from inner cities to small rural towns, the smart growth movement has left many lower-income residents wondering what’s in it for them.

Opportunity or Threat?

This may leave some planning commissioners thinking, “wait -– I thought smart growth was supposed to be a good thing.” If it’s not smart growth, it’s sprawl, and that’s not smart, right?

Many local governments are surprised that anyone would be opposed to smart growth. Smart growth is supposed to promise less sprawl, less traffic congestion, cleaner air, fewer wasted tax dollars, better access to transportation and housing options, and revitalized neighborhoods.

But where some see opportunity, others see threats. A major component of smart growth is an emphasis on directing growth and development back into central cities and smaller towns, to take advantage of existing infrastructure and proximity to public transportation systems while revitalizing areas that have been abandoned or neglected. While community development practitioners and advocates for low-income communities welcome new investment in long-neglected neighborhoods, they also fear that this new interest in America’s older neighborhoods may lead to rising housing prices, displacing lower-income workers and their families and small businesses.

End of excerpt

… article continues by looking at several “neighborhood principles for smart growth” and then discussing affordable housing concerns, and working with community-based organizations.

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