Smart Growth is About Choice

Several misconceptions surround the term ‘smart growth,’ not the least of which is the misguided idea that smart growth is really anti-growth (or, as some critics of smart growth argue, anti-development). This is simply not true. Contrary to this belief, smart growth advocates acknowledge that growth will continue, and they support a coordinated and planned approach to the growth that will ensure regional prosperity. Another misconception that often comes up is that of forced choices, in that those who are suspicious of the smart growth movement fear that the advocates are trying to tell them where to live and how to live. Again, not true. In promoting better land use policy, the goal is not to replace one choice with another. Rather, the goal is CHOICE itself – actually having options, both in terms of housing and transportation.

Most current housing developments, especially in the regions surrounding the cities, solely consist of a single type of housing. This type of development is problematic because it fails to account for the different needs of the many residents and families within that region. The unfortunate result that follows is that certain individuals are left out of the equation, finding it impossible to live in that development. Talk about forced choice.

To ameliorate the problem of single-type developments, a municipality can modify its land use patterns, as well as increase housing choices in already-established neighborhoods that have existing infrastructure. By utilizing the resources that are already in place, new developments will have less impact on the entire community (which translates into cost savings) while simultaneously providing choices.

Relatedly, access to a variety transportation choices within a municipality is equally important. I have already mentioned some benefits of transit-oriented development, but it is important to specify that such development focuses on an increase in transportation choices. That is, it is not sufficient to simply keep building developments that make its residents auto-dependent. Rather, the availability of many modes of transportation is essential for strong communities and vibrant neighborhoods. Pedestrian-friendly streets outfitted with wide sidewalks, abundant bike lanes, and close proximity to bus and rail are essential for well-planned communities that account for the needs of ALL its citizens.

The recent availability of federal money for high-speed rail projects has sparked several discussions over feasibility and requirements for these projects. And while these are crucial aspects in the assessment of whether rail should be established, another feature that has been missing from the debate is that of providing choice. Paul Krugman, columnist for the New York Times, expresses his thoughts on this matter in his latest piece, in which he assesses the different types of transportation available to most Americans. He compares the American condition to a part of Europe:

You can fly from Paris to Lyon, you can drive it, and some do. But a lot of people take the TGV [high-speed rail], because for them it’s better. In most of America, we don’t have that option.

Returning to my first point, in the context of smart growth, changes in housing and transportation policy are not about restricting choice – it’s about CREATING choice. The goal is to create livable communities. And, as Krugman states, in much of America, we don’t have the option. I say, let’s make that option.

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About Beata Bujalska

Beata Bujalska is the former Campaign Coordinator for Renew Lehigh Valley. She currently lives in Panama, a place that fascinates her due to (among other reasons) its recent development boom.

Posted on August 29, 2009, in Housing, Media Coverage, Municipal Government, Neighborhoods, Public Infrastructure, Regions, Transportation, Urbanism and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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