What Is Smart Growth?

October 2nd, 2007 · No Comments

Promoters of economic development in Ames believe that Ames should work to attract more business and industry and of course more people. We often hear these promoters say, “If we don’t grow we will die.” To express any sentiment for “no growth” or even “slow growth” often causes derisive responses from most citizens who have bought into the idea that all growth is good. Is there a solution to this dilemma?

According to the Smart Growth Toolkit, available from the National Association of Realtors, the approach to planning and development that has come to be known as smart growth grew out of an effort by policy makers, real estate professionals, planners and urban designers, environmentalists, key employers and many ordinary citizens to find ways to ease tensions created by unchecked urban sprawl. It is an attempt to find a middle ground between “growth-at-any-cost” and the “no-growth” reaction to it. Smart growth is a set of common sense principles that citizens, developers, planners, policy-makers, and various other stakeholders can use as guidelines to plan ahead for development and accommodate growth.

Smart growth promotes the idea that with excellent design and planning for the future, people can live better on less land. Smart Growth America, a coalition of federal, state and local organizations, defines smart growth according to its outcomes—outcomes that mirror the basic values of most Americans. The following is taken from their web site www.smartgrowthamerica.org/.

1. Neighborhood Livability
The central goal of any smart growth plan is improving the quality of the neighborhoods where we live. They should be safe, convenient, attractive, and affordable. Sprawl development too often forces trade-offs between these goals. Some neighborhoods are safe but not convenient. Others are convenient but not affordable. Too many affordable neighborhoods are not safe. Careful planning can help bring all these elements together.

2. Better Access, Less Traffic
One of the major downfalls of sprawl is traffic. By putting jobs, homes and other destinations far apart and requiring a car for every trip, sprawl makes everyday tasks a chore. Smart growth’s emphasis on mixing land uses, clustering development, and providing multiple transportation choices helps us manage congestion, cut pollution and save energy. Those who want to drive can, but people who would rather not drive everywhere or don’t own a car need to have other choices.

3. Thriving Cities, Suburbs And Towns
Smart growth puts the needs of existing communities first. By guiding development to already built-up areas, money for investments in transportation, schools, libraries and other public services can go to the communities where people live today. This is especially important for neighborhoods that have inadequate public services and low levels of private investment. It is also critical for preserving what makes so many places special–attractive buildings, historic districts and cultural landmarks.

4. Shared Benefits
Sprawl leaves too many people behind. Divisions by income and race have allowed some areas to prosper while others languish. As basic needs such as jobs, education and health care become less plentiful in some communities, residents have diminishing opportunities to participate in their regional economy. Smart growth enables all residents to be beneficiaries of prosperity.

5. Lower Costs, Lower Taxes
Sprawl costs money. Opening up green space to new development means that the cost of new schools, roads, sewer lines, and water supplies will be borne by residents throughout metro areas. Sprawl also means families have to own more cars and drive them further. This has made transportation the second highest category of household spending, just behind shelter. Smart growth helps on both fronts. Taking advantage of existing infrastructure keeps taxes down. And where convenient transportation choices enable families to rely less on driving, there’s more money left over for other things, like buying a home or saving for college.

6. Keeping Open Space Open
By focusing development in already built-up areas, smart growth preserves rapidly vanishing natural treasures. From forests and farms to wetlands and wildlife, smart growth lets us pass on to our children the landscapes we love. Communities are demanding more parks that are conveniently located and bring recreation within reach of more people. Also, protecting natural resources will provide healthier air and cleaner drinking water.

For more information on smart growth contact the Smart Growth Network and the U.S. EPA. To get involved, join Ames Smart Growth Alliance, by contacting Catherine Scott.

Tags: AP Issues · Commentary · March 2007

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