Three interesting views (and lists) about “Smart Growth”

This week’s installment includes annotated links to three well-written, interesting and contrasting pieces – each with a new list – that offer a fresh, expanded or somewhat different perspective about basic Smart Growth principles.

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10 Rules for Smarter Smart Growth

In his San Diego based UrbDeZine, Bill Adams writes frequently (if not prolifically) about “Urban Planning + Design + Architecture + Historic Preservation.” I encourage folks to take a look around his engaging zine, but am highlighting a fairly recent piece (from May 2013) entitled 10 Rules for Smarter Smart Growth.

The author starts out by noting:

“These days, a lot of projects are crashing through the gates of community plans and dashing existing neighborhood character under the banners of smart growth or transit oriented development. Typically, such projects are simply high density or near transit corridors, or sometimes they include gratuitous green space and walking paths. However, they fail in many of the finer points of smart growth, new urbanism, or transit oriented development.”

The blog entry effectively describes each one (and one bonus rule), and includes photos to illustrate certain items, along with some good links. Here is his basic list:

1) Purge the term NIMBY from your language and your thinking.
2) Respect community planning.
3) Integrate with the surrounding community.
4) In transit oriented developments (TODs), transit orientation should exceed auto orientation.
5) Respect neighborhood character & identity.
6) Increase density incrementally.
7) Conform to existing “smart” retail corridors and centers. Don’t set up competition for such corridors or centers, or confuse a community’s existing smart growth layout.
8) Look for opportunities to narrow (verb) streets and vanquish parking lots.
9) Prioritize non-auto transportation by creating unique or exclusive pedestrian and bicycle amenities.
10) Design for human nature, honed over millions of years, rather than efficiencies and logic, decided upon during the course of design

TITLE: 10 Rules for Smarter Smart Growth
SOURCE: UrbDeZine
DATE: April 16, 2013
AUTHOR: Bill Adams


Is it time for “smarter smart growth”?

In his always excellent blog, Kaid Benfield writes about the Bill Adams piece above in a piece titled Is it time for “smarter smart growth”?, then adds a few more items to the list.

Kaid begins with:

“I hesitate to write yet another article about bringing “smart growth” – the combination of ideas born in the 1990s to counter suburban sprawl – into the 21st century. I’ve long argued that, at a minimum, it’s time to update the so-called “ten principles” adopted back then by the Smart Growth Network that emphasize compact development, transportation choices, and so on. We’ve learned so much since then, about green infrastructure, food, health, green buildings, the merits of moderate density, revitalization and gentrification, and more, that would allow us to make communities even smarter.”

He also notes that:

“…as it turns out, the author of the article, Bill Adams, and I differ in the specific “smarter” ideas that we champion. But what we both have in common is that it’s time to get past advocating for the fact of smart growth – it’s already mainstream in nearly every planning office in the country – and start working on its quality.”

Kaid shares some good thoughts about each of the ten items in Bill Adam’s list, includes some photos as examples, and adds these four items to the list (with details), along with one “bonus” rule of his own:

• Integrate nature into the community.
• Integrate green technology into buildings and infrastructure.
• Employ universal access and age-friendly design.
• Make urbanism more family-friendly, too.

TITLE: Is it time for “smarter smart growth”?
SOURCE: Kaid Benfield’s Blog at NRDC’s Switchboard
DATE: May 1, 2013
AUTHOR: Kaid Benfield

Here are three other earlier (December 2010) related pieces from Kaid:
Smart growth is a start. But it’s not enough. (April 24, 2012)
Smart growth principles for the 21st century (December 13, 2010)
It’s time to update the definition of “smart growth” (December 6, 2010)


Smart Growth for Conservatives

For a substantial contrast, in his well-established, Virginia-based blog, Bacon’s Rebellion, James A. Bacon offers us a very different (but by no means entirely incompatible) take on Smart Growth, titled Smart Growth for Conservatives, with the provocative sub-title “Smart growth is too important to leave to liberals. Conservatives must articulate their own vision for creating prosperous, livable and fiscally sustainable communities.” The essay was adapted from a speech he delivered at the 2012 Congress for the New Urbanism.

Bacon introduces the subject this way:

“Few aspects of government policy touch peoples’ lives as profoundly as transportation and land use. The built environment exerts a tremendous influence upon the cost of transportation, housing, utilities and government services as well as quality of life and the environment. The “smart growth” movement has gained momentum in recent years as Americans have sought solutions to the problems arising from the dysfunctional land use patterns commonly referred to as suburban sprawl.

Liberals have spear-headed the critique of sprawl, to their credit, and they have largely defined Smart Growth. As is their wont, however, they frequently call for top-down solutions. There’s no social problem that a good strong dose of government intervention won’t fix! Allergic to calls for bigger, stronger, more coercive government — herding people onto mass transit and into multi-family housing are the exaggerated images they react to — conservatives have thrown out the smart-growth baby with the liberal bathwater.

Big mistake. There is nothing intrinsically liberal or conservative about the idea of creating more efficient human settlement patterns that expand the range of housing and transportation options while reducing the cost of government. Rather than getting stuck defending an indefensible status quo, conservatives need to articulate their own vision in a manner consistent with conservative principles.”

Before he launches into his interesting list of Smart Growth principles from a conservative point of view, Bacon takes a short detour to describe a few fundamental “conservative values,” establishing his own credentials with conservaties on this matter and emphasizing that the principles he goes on to describe in detail are based on commonly-held conservative views about small government, low taxes, reasonable regulation, strong property rights, distrust of elites and global warming.

Only then does he proceed to “look at the public policies that have shaped land use since World War II and view them through the prism of conservative principles.” In one or two substantial paragraphs each, he address these items:

• Land use codes.
• Low densities.
• Leapfrog development.
• Parking mandates.

After dealing with each of those items, Bacon aims at a set of conservative approaches and solutions, first explaining…

“In summary, real estate and the transportation sector that serves it is one of the most heavily regulated and subsidized sectors of the American economy. Only health care, education and defense can compete in the degree to which government intrudes. Not surprisingly, like those sectors, real estate is among the most dysfunctional sectors of the American economy. Many conservatives perversely defend the institutional arrangements that have created contemporary suburbia, with its scattered, low-density, disconnected and car-dependent pattern of development. But that is a disastrous mistake. Conservatives need to systematically apply their principles to transportation and land use with the goal of creating smarter, more efficient patterns of growth.

So, what would conservative transportation and land use policies look like? In a short essay such as this, it is impossible to enumerate those policies in any detail. And, as the saying goes, the devil is in the details. Frankly, because conservatives have given so little thought to conservative smart growth, it’s not always clear what those details are. An enormous amount of work remains to be done. The policies that follow are very broad brush-stroke and are meant mainly to stimulate thinking.”

Bacon then ends with a paragraph or two about each of these:

• Roll back government regulation of the real estate marketplace.
• Restore homeowner property rights.
• Encourage innovation in real estate development.
• Deregulate mass transit.
• Make growth pay its own way.
• Adopt user pays transportation.
• Prioritize by ROI.

TITLE: Smart Growth for Conservatives
SOURCE: Bacon’s Rebellion
DATE: May 2012
AUTHOR: James A. Bacon


Please send me an email if you come across an item you think might be good to share here: kai.hagen@envisionfrederickcounty.org