Smart growth

From Academic Kids

Smart growth development policies aim to prevent urban sprawl and pollution, and reduce the profligate use of non-renewable fuels, particularly an excessive dependency on private cars in industrialised countries. Such policies emphasize sustainability, denser development, mass transit, car-free (or pedestrian-friendly) areas, traffic calming, children's rights, bikeways, walkways and other elements of a less industrialized lifestyle. The term is closely associated with the New Urbanist school of design, eco-villages, co-operative housing, self-build housing, car-sharing, carpooling and Natural Capitalism, and has been adopted by many urban planners, lobby groups and municipal governments. It is somewhat associated with ecology movement efforts to control sprawl and conserve natural habitat, and environmental movement efforts to reduce pollution and reliance on private automobiles.

Engineers increasingly resort to life-cycle cost analysis to evaluate trade-offs whilst investors and company proprietors remain more interested in the "bottom line" of profitability. Neither group is particularly interested in discussing proposed changes in the status-quo if there is no identifed funding source for alternative development, or the benefits of smart growth seem remote. However recently the idea of smart growth has grown in popularity as an alternative to urban sprawl, traffic congestion, disconnected neighborhoods and urban decay. Although meaningful policy shifts towards smart growth would undoubtedly discomfort many vested interests. Many lifestyles and corporate practices do pre-suppose relatively cheap travel for example.

One popular approach in democratic countries is for law-makers to require prospective developers to prepare environmental impact reports of their plans as a condition for state and/or local governments to issue building permits and/or certificates of occupancy. These reports also indicate how significant impacts generated by the development will be mitigated - the cost of which is usually paid by the developer. 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. Developers will sometimes go to extraordinary lengths to attempt to avoid being required to implement the mitigation measures required by the local government as they be quite costly, but they will generally comply with the required measures, since building the community's trust over the long term through open dialogue is also in their long term interest and may help in recruiting and retaining staff, investors and perhaps customers with a genuine interest in social and environmental quality.


still a bit rough

In the early 1970s, transportation and community planners begin to promote the idea of compact cities and communities. Architect Peter Calthorpe then popularized and promoted the idea of urban villages that relied on public mass transportation, walking and cycling instead of automobile use. Another architect named Andrés Duany then promoted the idea of 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. The rail construction lobby began to promote the idea of smart growth as a way to build light rail and other rail transit systems. The sheer cost and difficulty of acquiring land (particularly in historic and/or areas designated as conservancies) for the purpose of building and widening highways caused some politicians to have second thoughts about skewing all transport plans towards motor traffic. The United States Environmental Protection Agency uses the idea as a way to reduce air pollution. Politicians representing rural districts find the concept useful as a way of deterring in-migration and change to comparatively tranquil areas (that retain remnants of a pre-industrial age), even though their electorate may overwhelmingly depend on jobs located in towns and cities.

Some environmentalists who seek the protection of rural open space promote smart growth through the advocacy and vociferous defence of urban-growth boundaries, or Green belts as they have been termed in England since the 1930s.

Big-city mayors, downtown business groups, and individual investors interested in gentrification who wish to reverse urban decay see smart growth or regeneration as a useful tool to revitalize town centers or neglected neighborhoods without perceived harmful impacts upon social conditions or valued environmental assets.

criticisms of Smart Growth

Although smart growth is the currently growing trend in many industrialized nations, not all advocacy groups are convinced of its helpfulness. Some find the phrase "smart growth" to be condescending and object to its implication that alternative strategies are inherently foolish or "un-smart". Many citizens are quietly resentful of the notion that the governments think it knows better than its citizens how they should live and commute. Other groups, such as the National Motorists Association[1] (, do not object to smart growth as a whole but strongly object to certain components traditionally associated with it, such as traffic calming.

Libertarian groups, such as the Cato Institute, criticize smart growth on the grounds that while well-intentioned, its application has resulted in greatly increased land values to the point there single family homes are no longer affordable to people with average incomes. A detailed commentary by Randal O'Toole can be found here ( (link to PDF file)

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