Smart growth

Smart growth

Smart growth is an urban planning and transportation theory that concentrates growth in the center of a city to avoid urban sprawl; and advocates compact, transit-oriented, walkable, bicycle-friendly land use, including neighborhood schools, complete streets, mixed-use development with a range of housing choices. Smart growth values long-range, regional considerations of sustainability over a short-term focus. Its goals are to achieve a unique sense of community and place; expand the range of transportation, employment, and housing choices; equitably distribute the costs and benefits of development; preserve and enhance natural and cultural resources; and promote public health.


Transportation and community planners began to promote the idea of compact cities and communities in the early 1970s. The cost and difficulty of acquiring land (particularly in historic and/or areas designated as conservancies) to build and widen highways caused some politicians to reconsider basing transportation planning on motor vehicles.

Architect Peter Calthorpe promoted and popularized the idea of urban villages that relied on public transportation, bicycling, and walking instead of automobile use. Architect Andrés Duany promoted changing design codes to promote a sense of community, and to discourage driving. Colin Buchanan and Stephen Plowden helped to lead the debate in the United Kingdom.

Government subsidies for infrastructure have disguised the true cost of sprawl. Examples include subsidies for highway building, fossil fuels, and electricity.

Electrical subsidies

With electricity, there is a cost associated with extending and maintaining the service delivery system, as with water and sewage, but there also is a loss in the commodity being delivered. The farther from the generator, the more power is lost in distribution. According to the Department of Energy's (DOE) Energy Information Administration (EIA), 9 percent of energy is lost in transmission. [cite web|url=|title= Energy in the United States: 1635-2000|publisher= Energy Information Administration|accessdate=2008-04-25|last=|first=] Current average cost pricing, where customers pay the same price per unit of power regardless of the true cost of their service, subsidizes sprawl development. The cost of infrastructure required to service a new unit in a greenfield (undeveloped) neighborhood is $50,000 to $60,000 per unit, whereas it costs $5,000 to $10,000 per unit in a brown (abandoned industrial or commercial parcel) or grey-field (abandoned retail or commercial site) [] . With electricity deregulation, some states now charge customers/developers fees for extending distribution to new locations rather than rolling such costs into utility rates [] .

New Jersey, for example, has implemented a plan that divides the state into five planning areas, some of which are designated for growth, while others are protected. The state is developing a series of incentives to coax local governments into changing zoning laws that will be compatible with the state plan. The New Jersey Board of Public Utilities recently proposed a revised rule that presents a tiered approach to utility financing. In areas not designated for growth, utilities and their ratepayers are forbidden to cover the costs of extending utility lines to new developments--and developers will be required to pay the full cost of public utility infrastructure. In designated growth areas that have local smart plans endorsed by the State Planning Commission, developers will be refunded the cost of extending utility lines to new developments at two times the rate of the revenue received by developers in smart growth areas that do not have approved plans [] .

Rationale for smart growth

Smart growth is an alternative to urban sprawl, traffic congestion, disconnected neighborhoods, and urban decay. Its principles challenge old assumptions in urban planning, such as the value of detached houses and automobile use.

Climate protection

Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels launched an initiative in 2005 to advance the goals of the Kyoto Protocol, through leadership and action by at least 141 American cities. As of October 2006, 319 mayors (representing more than 51.4 million Americans) had accepted the challenge. []

Under the US Mayors' Climate Protection Agreement, cities must commit to three actions to meet the Kyoto Protocol in their own communities--one of which is adopting certain Smart growth principles. []

"Cities for Climate Protection," under ICLEI [] , has 150 U.S. cities and towns participating, and 600 municipalities worldwide. Like the U.S. Mayors' Climate Protection Agreement, communities use a five-step methodology to reduce global warming and air pollution emissions [] .

Environmental protection

Environmentalists promote Smart Growth by advocating urban-growth boundaries, or Green belts, as they have been termed in England since the 1930s.

Public health

Transit-oriented development can improve the quality of life and encourage a healthier, pedestrian-based lifestyle with less pollution. The United States Environmental Protection Agency suggests Smart growth to reduce air pollution.


Growth is "smart growth", to the extent that it includes the elements listed below. [] [] .

Compact neighborhoods

Compact, livable urban neighborhoods attract more people and business. Creating such neighborhoods is a critical element of reducing urban sprawl and protecting the climate. Such a tactic includes adopting redevelopment strategies and zoning policies that channel housing and job growth into urban centers and neighborhood business districts, to create compact, walkable, and bike- and transit-friendly hubs. This sometimes requires local governmental bodies to implement code changes that allow increased height and density downtown and regulations that not only eliminate minimum parking requirements for new development but establish a maximum number of allowed spaces. Other topics fall under this concept:
* mixed-use development
* inclusion of affordable housing
* restrictions or limitations on suburban design forms (e.g., detached houses on individual lots, strip malls and surface parking lots)
* inclusion of parks and recreation areas

Transit-oriented development

Transit-oriented development (TOD) is a residential or commercial area designed to maximize access to public transport, and mixed-use/compact neighborhoods tend to use transit at all times of the day. Many cities striving to implement better TOD strategies seek to secure funding to create new public transportation infrastructure and improve existing services. Other measures might include regional cooperation to increase efficiency and expand services, and moving buses and trains more frequently through high-use areas. Other topics fall under this concept:
* Transportation Demand Management measures
* road pricing system (tolling)
* commercial parking taxes

Pedestrian- and bicycle-friendly design

Biking and walking instead of driving can reduce emissions, save money on fuel and maintenance, and foster a healthier population. Pedestrian- and bicycle-friendly improvements include bike lanes on main streets, an urban bike-trail system, bike parking, pedestrian crossings, and associated master plans. The most pedestrian- and bike-friendly variant of smart growth and New Urbanism is New Pedestrianism because motor vehicles are on a separate grid.


* preserving open space and critical habitat, reusing land, and protecting water supplies and air quality
* transparent, predictable, fair and cost-effective rules for development
* historic preservation
* Setting aside large areas where development is prohibited, nature is able to run its course, providing fresh air and clean water.
* Expansion around already existing areas allows public services to be located where people are living without taking away from the core city neighborhoods in large urban areas.
* Developing around preexisting areas decreases the socioeconomic segregation allowing society to function more equitably, generating a tax base for housing, educational and employment programs.

Policy Tools

Zoning Ordinances

The most widely used tool for achieving smart growth is the local zoning law. Through zoning, new development can be restricted to specific areas, and additional density incentives can be offered for brownfield and greyfield land. Zoning can also reduce the minimum amount of parking required to be built with new development, and can be used to require set-asides for parks and other community amenities.

Environmental Impact Assessments

One popular approach to assist in smart growth in democratic countries is for law-makers to require prospective developers to prepare environmental impact assessments of their plans as a condition for state and/or local governments to give them permission to build their buildings. These reports often indicate how significant impacts generated by the development will be mitigated - the cost of which is usually paid by the developer. These assessments are frequently controversial. Conservationists, neighborhood advocacy groups and NIMBYs are often skeptical about such impact reports, even when they are prepared by independent agencies and subsequently approved by the decision makers rather than the promoters. Conversely, developers will sometimes strongly resist being required to implement the mitigation measures required by the local government as they may be quite costly.

In communities practicing these smart growth policies, developers comply with local codes and requirements. Consequently, developer compliance builds communal trust because it demonstrates a genuine interest in the environmental quality of the community.

Communities Implementing smart growth

The United States Environmental Protection Agency [] has recognized these cities for implementing smart growth principles:

* Arlington, Virginia, United States []
* Minneapolis & Saint Paul, Minnesota, United States []
* Davidson, North Carolina, United States []
* Denver, Colorado, United States []

The Smart Growth Network has recognized these cities for implementing smart growth principles. []

* The Kentlands; Gaithersburg, Maryland, United States (for live-work units)
* East Liberty; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, United States (establishing downtown retail)
* Moore Square Museums Magnet Middle School; Raleigh, North Carolina, United States (for being located downtown)
* Garfield Park; Chicago, Illinois, United States (retaining transit options)
* New Jersey Pineland; Southern New Jersey, United States (for transfer of development rights away from undeveloped land)


Wendell Cox is a vocal opponent of smart growth policies that ration land. He argued before the United States Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works that, "smart growth strategies tend to intensify the very problems they are purported to solve." [] . Cox and Joshua Utt analyzed smart growth and sprawl, and argued [] :

Our analysis indicates that the Current Urban Planning Assumptions are of virtually no value in predicting local government expenditures per capita. The lowest local government expenditures per capita are not in the higher density, slower growing, and older municipalities.

On the contrary, the actual data indicate that the lowest expenditures per capita tend to be in medium- and lower-density municipalities (though not the lowest density); medium- and faster-growing municipalities; and newer municipalities. This is after 50 years of unprecedented urban decentralization, which seems to be more than enough time to have developed the purported urban sprawl-related higher local government expenditures. It seems unlikely that the higher expenditures that did not develop due to sprawl in the last 50 years will evolve in the next 20--despite predictions to the contrary in The Costs of Sprawl--2000 research.

It seems much more likely that the differences in municipal expenditures per capita are the result of political, rather than economic factors, especially the influence of special interests.

The phrase "smart growth" implies that other growth and development theories are not "smart". There is debate about whether transit-proximate development constitutes smart growth when it is not transit-oriented. The National Motorists Association [] does not object to smart growth as a whole, but strongly objects to some of its components, such as traffic calming, and other tactics intended to reduce automobile usage.

The National Center for Public Policy Research's Center for Environmental Justice termed smart growth "restricted growth" and suggested that smart growth policies disfavor minorities and the poor by driving up housing prices, in a 2002 economic study entitled " [ Smart Growth and its Effects on Housing Markets: The New Segregation] ." (link to PDF file)

Some libertarian groups, such as the Cato Institute, criticize smart growth on the grounds that it leads to greatly increased land values, and people with average incomes can no longer afford to buy detached houses. A detailed commentary by Randal O'Toole can be found [ here] . (link to PDF file)

A number of ecological economists claim that industrial civilization has already "overshot" the carrying capacity of the Earth, and "smart growth" is mostly an illusion. Instead, a steady state economy would be needed to bring human societies back into a necessary balance with the ability of the ecosystem to sustain humans (and other species). A list of references is available at the website []


ee also

Related Topics
*Garden Cities
*New Pedestrianism
*New Towns
*New Urbanism
*Principles of Intelligent Urbanism
*Progressive development
*Transit Oriented Development
*Urban Sprawl
*Urban Renewal

*Smart Growth America
*Greenbelt Alliance
*Regulatory Barriers Clearinghouse

Further reading

*cite book | first=Robert D. (ed.)| last=Bullard| title=Growing Smarter: Achieving Livable Communities, Environmental Justice, and Regional Equity | year=2007 | publisher=The MIT Press | id=ISBN 978-0-262-52470-4
* [ "Urban Alchemy"] Article about the need for efficient transit to serve smart growth

External links

* [ Smart Growth Planning]
* [ SmartCode 7.0] A model for New Urbanism Planning Codes in PDF Format
* [ Smart Growth America organization]
* [ Coalition for Smarter Growth]
* [ Smart Growth Online]

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