Ideas for making smart growth smarter

not so smart
CC BY 2.0 Not so smart growth in Toronto/ Lloyd Alter

not so smartNot so smart growth in Toronto/ Lloyd Alter/CC BY 2.0

Smart Growth is the catch-all term for compact, transit-oriented, walkable urban design that is beloved of the sustainable development crowd, and seems almost retro and old-fashioned in these days of density is green Triumph of the City types on the one side and the suburban war-on-the-car anti-agenda 21Triumph of the Suburbs types on the other.

Kaid Benfield at NRDC Switchboard writes 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."

Oh, if that were only true; smart growth seems to get a lot more lip service than real implementation when you look at the facts on the ground. Perhaps the reason is that smart growth isn't smart enough anymore. Kaid picks up on Bill Adams' 10 Rules for Smarter Smart Growth and ups the ante to 15 . You can read them all at NRDC, so let's just look at a few here:

1) Purge the term NIMBY from your language and your thinking. It stultifies any further understanding of community concerns, or how to reach a compromise. Every criticism or opposition to a high density project is now labeled as NIMBYism, with little further discussion of community concerns. Community stakeholders typically have great knowledge of their neighborhoods though they may not use formal planning terms.

Bravo. These days the term is bandied around like never before. The economist and writer Ryan Avent claims that NIMBYs fight "to preserve neighborhoods, views, and buildings they love from changes they fear."

King Street Project Frank Gehry© Gehry Associates

But sometimes they are right. Sometimes people who live and work in a neighborhood know what they are talking about, and understand the significance of the changes being proposed. Read this fascinating story about how a new, much-lauded Frank Gehry project is affecting properties blocks away as allowable building heights get bumped from 8 to 40 to 80 storeys. It sucks the life out of the entire district. Margie Zeidler, the owner of a complex two blocks away:

The taller they become, the more valuable the sites become, which means that my building can't exist anymore - our taxes have gone so high that we will have to tear down our building or sell it so that it can become a development like (that) because it's being valued based on that. It’s really tragic.

Then, going straight to Number 10:

Design for human nature, honed over millions of years, rather than efficiencies and logic, decided upon during the course of design.

Heritage UrbanismLloyd Alter/CC BY 2.0

This is what I call Heritage Urbanism, "where we restore the urban fabric and rebuild our communities to work the way they used to. Where we learn from those who designed them before there was oil, about how to live after oil. " It owes a lot to Steve Mouzon and the Original Green.

Both Bill Allen's original article and Kaid Benfield's riff on it are worth a bookmark.

Ideas for making smart growth smarter
The idea of Smart Growth is under attack from both sides; here are some ideas for updating it to the 21st century.

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