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What Smart Growth is… and isn’t

Smart Growth is development that serves the economy, the community and the environment. It changes the terms of the development debate away from the traditional growth/no growth question to “how and where should new development be accommodated?” Smart growth is development that simultaneously achieves:

  • Economic development and jobs — that create employment and business opportunities, improve the local tax base, provide neighborhood services and amenities, and create economically competitive communities.
  • Strong neighborhoods — that provide a range of housing options giving people the opportunity to choose housing that best suits them. Smart growth provides the choice to walk, ride a bike, take transit, or drive. It maintains and enhances the value of existing neighborhoods and creates a sense of community.
  • Healthy communities — that provide families with a clean environment. Smart growth achieves sustainable economic growth – growth that preserves open space and critical habitat, reclaims and reuses polluted land, and protects water supplies and air quality.

Prevailing development patterns of the last 50 years have brought benefits and concerns for communities across the country. Though often supportive of growth, communities are now questioning the economic costs of abandoning infrastructure in the city and rebuilding it further out. They’re now questioning the necessity of spending increased time in cars, locked in traffic or traveling miles to the nearest store. They’re now questioning the practice of abandoning brownfields in older communities while building big box malls and housing developments on open space and prime agricultural lands at the suburban fringe, which damage our environment.

Smart growth recognizes the many benefits of growth. It invests time, attention, and resources in restoring community and vitality to center cities, towns and older suburbs. Smart growth in new developments is more town-centered, is transit and pedestrian oriented, and has a greater mix of housing, commercial and retail uses. It also preserves open space and other environmental amenities. Smart growth recognizes connections between development and quality of life.

…what it isn’t

  • Not anti-growth – it’s about better growth—growth where it makes the most sense and maximizes public investment in infrastructure.
  • Not anti-automobile – it’s about having transportation options—to drive, walk, bike, or take public transit.
  • Not anti-suburb – it’s about building stronger suburbs, cities, and new communities. It’s about protecting existing investments and quality of life in areas where people, communities, and governments have already made a commitment.
  • Not about big government – it’s about improving market efficiency, making it legal again to construct the mixed-use small towns and neighborhoods as they once were, making brownfield redevelopment easier, and getting more value from the tax dollars we spend on roads, sewers, and other taxpayer investments.

The features that distinguish smart growth vary by community. No two streets, neighborhoods, or cities are identical. There is no “one-size-fits-all” solution. Smart growth in Portland, Oregon, faces different challenges and opportunities than smart growth in Cranston, Rhode Island— as it should.  But the principles remain the same.  For that reason, smart growth provides choices and seeks to build on proven successes. The Smart Growth principles reflect the experience of localities that have successfully created smart growth communities. These communities had a vision of where they want to go and of what things they value in their community.

Spurring the smart growth movement are demographic shifts, a strong environmental and energy conservation ethic, increased fiscal concerns, and more focus on growth that has staying power. People know there is a better way to grow. The result is both a new demand and a new opportunity for growth that emphasizes preservation of open space and farmland, greater choice in housing and transportation, efficient investment of limited infrastructure dollars, and the strengthening of existing neighborhoods. Smart growth can make these alternatives a reality.