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Current Planning Issues: Smart Growth

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It seems that “smart growth” is sweeping the nation. Virtually every organization in the country remotely interested in community planning issues has a smart growth policy or program, and every media account of planning issues seems to use the term.

The first thing to understand about smart growth is that it means different things to different people and organizations. It is a catchy phrase that has been used as a rallying cry and an endorsement for an array of positions and perspectives on community growth and planning issues.

An internet search yields over 200,000 hits for “smart growth.” Numerous organizations such as the Smart Growth Network and Smart Growth America exist solely to promote smart growth principles. Thousands of other agencies and organizations have their own smart growth programs, including the federal government, virtually every state, countless regional and local governments, and private organizations.¬†…

A good encapsulation of the mainstream consensus of smart growth is offered by the United States Environmental Protection Agency. Their ten smart growth principles seem to embody the ideas that have the most commonality among the array of smart growth ideas promoted by various organizations. The following are those principles, along with my observations.

1. Mixed land uses.

There are many in the planning community who believe that the 20th Century trend of segregating and separating land uses has created many of our current planning problems, not the least of which is the over-reliance on the automobile. Many of the reasons for originally separating land uses (i.e., maintaining separate zones for residential, commercial, and industrial uses), such as protecting residents from noxious industrial fumes of early industrial processes no longer apply. Many planners believe that careful design of a mixture of residential and commercial uses can create more livable communities with less reliance upon the automobile.

2. Take advantage of compact building design.

This is essentially the “anti-sprawl” position. By promoting a more compact regional development pattern, with new development clustered tightly at higher densities around existing development and infrastructure service areas, we can create more efficient infrastructure and service delivery patterns, while minimizing urban sprawl and loss of open space. One big plus: cost savings to government (and taxpayers) in having to build fewer roads, water and sewer lines, and other public facilities. The down side: many people object to higher densities and prefer the prevailing low-density suburban pattern.

3. Create a range of housing opportunities and choices.

There is concern that too much of our new residential growth, particularly in high growth areas, is limited to single-family detached residences. With changing demographics, including an aging population, there is legitimate concern that we need to provide more housing diversity and affordability to offer a range of opportunities for all persons. Some argue that removing exclusionary zoning practices and developing a more mixed land use pattern (see Principle 1) will promote increased housing diversity.

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article continues with: 4. Create walkable neighborhoods; 5. Foster distinctive, attractive communities with a strong sense of place; 6. Preserve open space, farmland, and natural beauty in critical environmental areas; 7. Strengthen and direct development toward existing communities; 8. Provide a variety of transportation choices; 9. Make development decisions predictable, fair, and cost effective; and 10. Encourage community and stakeholder collaboration in development decisions.

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