Thursday, April 5, 2007

Sustainability and Smart Growth

Definitions of Smart Growth

Smart Growth has a number of varied meanings and regional modifications throughout the country. One definition cited on the Smart Growth America web site at defines smart growth “according to its outcomes —outcomes that mirror the basic values of most Americans. Smart growth is growth that helps to achieve these six goals: 1. Neighborhood Livability…2. Better Access, Less Traffic…3 Thriving Cities, Suburbs and Towns…4. Shared Benefits…5.Lower Costs, Lower Taxes…6. Keeping Open Space Open.”

The Encarta dictionary web site at defines
smart growth as “sensible growth: economic growth that consciously seeks to avoid wastefulness and damage to the environment and communities.”

On the west coast, San Diego’s Association of Governments (SANDAG) web site at defines
smart growth as “compact, efficient, and environmentally sensitive pattern of development that provides people with additional travel, housing, and employment choices by focusing future growth away from rural areas and closer to
existing and planned job centers and public facilities.”

On the east coast, the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs on their web site at defines smart growth as “well-planned, well-managed growth that adds new homes and creates new jobs, while preserving open space, farmland, and environmental resources. Smart Growth supports livable neighborhoods with a variety of housing types, price ranges and multi-modal forms of transportation. Smart Growth is an approach to land-use planning that targets the State’s resources and funding in ways that enhance the quality of life for residents in New Jersey. "

"Smart Growth principles include mixed-use development, walkable town centers and neighborhoods, mass transit accessibility, sustainable economic and social development and preserved green space. Smart Growth can be seen all around us: it is evident in larger cities such as Elizabeth and Jersey City; in smaller towns like Red Bank and Hoboken, and in the rural communities like Chesterfield and Hope." (Cited on the web page for the N.J. Dept. of Community Affairs.)

"In New Jersey, Smart Growth supports development and redevelopment in recognized Centers—a compact form of development—as outlined in the State Development and Redevelopment Plan, with existing infrastructure that serves the economy, the community and the environment.” (Cited on the web page for the N.J. Dept. of Community Affairs.)

In Massachusetts, Smart Growth is defined as “Well-planned development that protects open space and farmland, revitalizes communities, keeps housing affordable and provides more transportation choices. This is cited at the State’s web site--

Massachusetts Smart growth legislation, further elaborates on smart growth definition by describing it as a principle of land development that emphasizes mixing land uses, increases the availability of affordable housing by creating a range of housing opportunities in neighborhoods, takes advantage of compact design, fosters distinctive and attractive communities, preserves open space, farmland, natural beauty and critical environmental areas, strengthens existing communities, provides a variety of transportation choices, makes development decisions predictable, fair and cost effective and encourages community and stakeholder collaboration in development A smart growth zoning district shall provide for residential usage “to permit a mix of housing such as for families, individuals, persons with special needs, or the elderly.” Said housing would be allowable for a proposed density [of] at least “20 units per acre for multi-family housing, 8 units per acre for single-family homes, and 12 units per acre for 2 and 3 family buildings.” (Cited at

Definitions of Sustainable Development

Like smart growth there are a number of sustainable development definitions. The following is a sampling of those descriptions.

In 1987, The World Commission on Environment and Development defined sustainable development as that “which meets the needs of the present generation without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. “ (Cited in the report by Kevin Krizek and Joe Power entitled “A Planners Guide to Sustainable Development", page 55.)

Sustainable development is also defined as the “the ability of a community to utilize its natural, human, and technological resources to ensure that all embers of present and future generations can attain a high degree of health and well being, economic security, and a say in shaping their future while maintaining the integrity of the ecological systems on which all life and production depends.” (Cited on page 56 of the “Guide to Sustainable Development”.)

Further, flourishing communities are the foundation of a healthy society. Communities must strive for sustainable development. “Sustainable development implies adaptation and improvements in a context in which communities seek to protect natural processes and landscape function, and to conserve resources for future development.” (Cited in the "APA Journal ", Summer of 1996, page 332.)

A holistic approach to planning and design is stated in The Ahwahnee principles:” Sustainable communities are cities and towns that prosper because people work together to produce a high quality of life that they want to sustain and constantly improve…Businesses, households, and government make efficient use of land, energy, and other resources… with minimal waste and environmental dame. [There is] efficient use of existing infrastructure, energy, water, materials, and land. ..Sustainable community design is based on an understanding of the powerful effect of the built environment on aesthetics, scale and a sense of history and culture…All planning should be in the form of complete and integrated communities containing housing, shops, work places, park and civic facilities essential to the daily life of the residents. (Ahwahnee principles are described on the web at the Local Government Commission web site at

Sustainability and Local Planning

Timothy Beatley states that “creating sustainable communities …is a matter considering ecological limits and environmental impacts at every aspect of community design… [including] how the industrial and commercial sectors go about their business.” (Cited on page 17 of the “Guide to Sustainable Development".)

This blogger prefers to strive for sustainability rather than smart growth. Some would argue they are one and the same. To this blogger, the concept of sustainable development is more positive than a judgmental use of the term “smart growth”. In Massachusetts, if the density does not meet the required thresholds does it then become “dumb growth”?

Horizontal growth as described in the term “sprawl” is not necessarily inherently evil, what is needed is a boost in implementing livable community techniques towards sustainability. To start sustainable development needs a new way of thinking that includes: one embraces a future time horizon that is long term and does not necessarily rely on short term gains and the bottom line; two, identifies carrying capacity limits; three, approaches planning in a “natural and geographic” depiction rather than political units; four, recognizes “areas of planning (transportation, housing, and economic development, etc.) not as end in themselves, but rather as a means to an end [with ] end being a sustainable community”; five, pursues a holistic and interconnected approach to planning and identifying multi-faceted impacts; six, involves the citizenry in the pursuit of these objectives. (Cited on pages 18-21 of the “Guide to Sustainable Development")

Future blogs will further illustrate the concept of sustainable development and positive designs for suburbs. The end goal is to produce quality communities with modern conveniences that fend for themselves just as the shtetls and classical communities did in the past.

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