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Who We Are

Grow Smart RI Staff

Grow Smart Rhode Island provides statewide leadership for diverse public and private interests seeking sustainable and equitable economic growth. We promote such growth by advocating for compact development in revitalized urban, town, and village centers balanced with responsible stewardship of our region’s natural assets – farmland, forests, the coastline, and the Bay. We inform leaders, decision makers, and concerned citizens about the many benefits of compact development and asset stewardship and provide research and training on proven smart growth strategies. We convene broad coalitions that advocate policy reforms and specific projects designed to build communities where all people and businesses can thrive.

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History

Grow Smart Rhode Island grew out of a spring 1997 conference that attracted 600 concerned citizens and representatives from organizations and agencies working on the issue of “sprawl” in Rhode Island. Discussions prompted by the conference identified the need for a flexible but focused organization to link these groups and educate citizens, business leaders and elected officials about the impacts of sprawl and about state and local policies and strategies to combat sprawl. In the eighteen years since our founding, Grow Smart has developed a broad and powerful coalition that includes business and religious leaders, university presidents, builders, realtors, historic preservationists, environmentalists, affordable housing experts, municipal planners and others. Our coalition’s accomplishments led to an Environmental Merit Award from EPA’s Region 1 Office and a Preservation Advocacy Award from Preserve Rhode Island.

Our Mission

Grow Smart Rhode Island provides statewide leadership for diverse public and private interests seeking sustainable and equitable economic growth. We promote such growth by advocating for compact development in revitalized urban, town, and village centers balanced with responsible stewardship of our region’s natural assets – farmland, forests, the coastline, and the Bay. We inform leaders, decision makers, and concerned citizens about the many benefits of compact development and asset stewardship and provide research and training on proven smart growth strategies. We convene broad coalitions that advocate policy reforms and specific projects designed to build communities where all people and businesses can thrive.

Our Core Values

Grow Smart Rhode Island’s core values detail the beliefs that underlie the organization’s mission statement and serve as guidelines for the organization’s review of policies, programs and projects.

EXTERNAL VALUES

Building strong, vibrant communities, ensuring a high quality of life for all

Securing a high quality of life calls for strong communities – urban, suburban and rural – that reflect a balance of social, economic and environmental values.

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Promoting Economic Growth

Grow Smart defines economic growth as pursuits that create, or add value to, goods and/or services and provide opportunities for people. Grow Smart believes that

  • a state’s quality of life and environmental health are pivotal in attracting, keeping and growing businesses. A healthy business climate and a healthy environment are therefore part of the overall economic system.
  • economic development activities should add sustainable and resilient jobs to Rhode Island’s total job pool rather than simply shifting existing jobs from one area to another.
  • economic development projects should be evaluated not only for their job creation but also for their potential impacts on statewide industrial and commercial vitality, on the environment, and on the quality of life of the community.
  • Rhode Island has many under-utilized economic assets, and that planning and policy should foster their stewardship, revitalization, and promotion:
    1. Older commercial districts / Main Streets
    2. Productive farms, forests, and fisheries
    3. Historic neighborhoods and buildings
    4. Infrastructure (e.g., water and sewer lines, public utility lines, transportation systems)
    5. Existing industrial sites and housing stock
    6. Parks and recreational areas
    7. Narragansett Bay, ports, natural harbors, and rivers
  • in order to have a healthy economy, we must have development patterns that can be sustained with a reasonable level of state and local taxes. Scattered development leads to more expensive delivery systems. Therefore, planned growth in or near areas of existing development and infrastructure and the resulting preservation of open space are preferable to sprawl and improve the economic competitiveness of Rhode Island.

Renewing Rhode Island’s Traditional Pattern of Urban, Town and Village Centers

As an intensively urbanized state, Rhode Island has an obligation to make sure that its cities and town centers are attractive locations for business and residents. To accomplish this, Grow Smart believes that

  • commercial, industrial, and residential development and government facilities should be concentrated in areas where there are established mixed-use centers with infrastructure or in areas designated for future mixed-use centers..
  • public investment should be used to foster redevelopment in areas of existing infrastructure, or in areas designated as future growth areas.
  • neighborhoods in urban and town centers should
    • offer a variety of affordable transportation and housing options;
    • connect with the broader community by various means of transportation;
    • incorporate key services such as shopping, recreation, education;
    • be designed/redesigned so that houses and services are located within easy walking distance; and
    • provide quality public spaces such as parks and squares.
  • new development should be carefully designed to connect with the existing community through jobs, transportation, and infrastructure.

Preserving Natural Resources

Grow Smart supports pursuit of energy production and use that encourages conservation of natural resources and meets human needs. Grow Smart believes that

  • it is critically important to preserve the state’s farmlands, forests, Bay and inland waters, and coastal lands.
  • the state’s natural resources sustain farming, fisheries, wood-products and tourism industries.
  • farmlands, forests and open space are important to the character of Rhode Island’s communities and serve to visually separate the distinct identities of our urban, town and village centers from one another.
  • farmlands, forests, and coastal lands, and our Bay and inland rivers, provide recreational opportunities for our citizens and visitors to our state, and enhance the state’s marketability to workers and businesses.
  • forests and open space help to protect our air and water quality.

Promoting a Transportation System that Supports Revitalized Centers

Transportation and land-use planning are inextricably linked and each has the potential to either complement or undermine the other. Providing multi-modal transportation choices, including a robust mass transit system, can help to support the revitalization of dense, mixed-use, urban- and town centers by moving people and goods more efficiently, reducing congestion and allowing more compact development.

Therefore, Grow Smart believes that

  • Federal, state and local transportation funds should be prioritized for maintaining existing roads and bridges, improving the walkability and bikeability of communities, and developing mass transit and other alternatives to automobile transportation.

Calling for Responsible Government

Grow Smart recognizes the key role that city and town governments play in shaping growth locally and regionally. Effective city and town planning requires professional planning staff at the local level and a state planning agency equipped to provide local communities with training and technical assistance as needed. Grow Smart believes that

  • state and local elected officials should be leaders in promoting smart growth and that Rhode Island citizens should hold elected officials responsible for establishing and implementing effective smart growth policies.
  • Rhode Island’s heavy reliance on the local property tax to fund public education and other community services adversely impacts decisions as to where development is located. We should seek to identify and implement alternative funding sources to reduce our reliance on the local property tax.
  • state and local governments, in partnership with the private sector, should promote and implement policies that encourage private sector investment in urban and town centers.
  • all zoning must conform to the local comprehensive plan and that proposed zone changes that do not conform to the comprehensive plan must be discouraged, as stipulated in Rhode Island law.
  • local planning should stress regional cooperation with neighboring cities and towns.
  • state and local planning efforts must encourage responsible adaptation to the long-term effects of climate change.
  • smart growth is best achieved when there is a strong and active statewide planning process, facilitated by a well-staffed and well-funded state planning agency that has effective powers to shape growth in Rhode Island.
  • the State of Rhode Island and its departments and agencies play a large role in determining the location and character of development and redevelopment in Rhode Island. These agencies should, through their policies, programs and procedures, focus development in existing centers of development served by transit and in designated, well-planned new centers of development suitable for transit service.
  • state and local governments should engage citizens in creating and implementing a statewide vision for Rhode Island’s future.

GUIDING PRINCIPLES

Grow Smart will:

  • deploy its resources to address issues where it can add value and effect change.
  • study Rhode Island’s current patterns of physical development to further our understanding of their social, economic and environmental impacts.
  • provide comprehensive, objective and reliable information about growth.
  • emphasize both the importance of government leadership and the critical role which private-sector decisions play in determining the future direction of Rhode Island’s physical development.
  • educate, participate in public affairs, and build coalitions to influence public policy.
  • work with other like-minded organizations to avoid duplication of effort.