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Cross-post: Brudaimonia | Link: dKos Environmentalists

As we look back on 2006, one milestone our country reached came in October, when the US population reached 300 million.  This is a vast and beautiful country with ample room for all of us 300 million (and many more), but the milestone should remind us that we can ill afford to accomodate our future population increase with more suburban sprawl.

Fortunately, there is an alternative in urban planning that is growing in popularity.  It preserves more open space, creates cohesive neighborhoods with distinct identities and local amenities, and reduces dependence on fossil fuels, to name just a few of its benefits.  This alternative works because it combines established and time-tested principles of town planning, innovative ideas, and democratic participation in land-use decisions (i.e. people power).  It is smart growth.

Note: This diary centers around a booklet entitled, "This Is Smart Growth," published by the Smart Growth Network (and assisted by an EPA grant), and the EPA's own Smart Growth Illustrated webpage.  Quotes excerpted from the booklet are marked by page numbers.  Photos from the Smart Growth Illustrated website are marked simply "EPA."

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(Belmont Dairy, Portland, OR - EPA)

In plain terms, smart growth (closely associated with the planning and architectural movement known as New Urbanism) is a set of principles that guide how our neighborhoods, towns, and cities are built and-or rebuilt.

When communities choose smart growth strategies, they can create new neighborhoods and maintain existing ones that are attractive, convenient, safe, and healthy. They can foster design that encourages social, civic, and physical activity. They can protect the environment while stimulating economic growth. Most of all, they can create more choices for residents, workers, visitors, children, families, single people, and older adults—choices in where to live, how to get around, and how to interact with the people around them. When communities do this kind of planning, they preserve the best of their past while creating a bright future for generations to come. [p. 5]

Smart growth works because it is built upon principles that relate to positive aspects of community development.

Smart Growth Principles

• Mix land uses
• Take advantage of compact building design
• Create a range of housing opportunities and choices
• Create walkable neighborhoods
• Foster distinctive, attractive communities with a strong sense of place
• Preserve open space, farmland, natural beauty, and critical environmental areas
• Strengthen and direct development towards existing communities
• Provide a variety of transportation choices
• Make development decisions predictable, fair, and cost effective
• Encourage community and stakeholder collaboration in development decisions

[p. 4]

Building our communities on a walkable scale is an essential component of bringing about energy security, energy independence, and sustainability.  It is easy to conceptualize energy efficiency in terms of electricity use: compact fluorescent lights (CFLs) instead of incandescents, Energy Star appliances, etc.  Smart growth, in a sense, is efficiency at an urban planning level.  As I pointed out in a previous diary, it is not a foregone conclusion that we have to burn as much oil as we do in our everyday lives.  The extent of our oil use is mainly a function of the extent of dependence of our built environment on the automobile.  Smart growth incorporates the notion that common community amenities (such as grocery stores or restaurants) should be within a 5- to 10-minute walk (or, at most, a short bike ride or drive) from any given home.

Environmental Protection and Conservation

There is no better way to save the planet than planning our cities and towns sustainably from now on.  It is rivaled only, in my mind, by actions such as purchasing local organic foods and bicycling/walking (both of which are influenced by city planning).

Smart growth protects the environment by allowing for greater preservation of open space, reducing dependency on cars while promoting biking and walking, improves water management by limiting the amount of paved or built-on land (and provides for water management and conservation measures on that land), mitigates threats to biodiversity, and allows for more arable land.

Examples abound of communities that have utilized smart growth to protect their natural surroundings, but two communities were highlighted in a recent article by Neil Peirce of the Seattle Times, excerpted below the photo.

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(Prairie Crossing, IL, north of Chicago - Prairie Crossing website)

Prairie Crossing is proudly re-creating pockets of the wildflower-dotted prairies that once thrived across Mid-America; with its easy rail connection to the Chicago Loop and O'Hare, it aims to be a national model of transit-oriented development.

[snip]

Prairie Crossing brought back prairie grass to fields occupied for decades by conventional corn and soybean crops that depended on heavy pesticide use. Before, six species of birds were seen on the site; now there are 120. The re-introduced prairie grasses, their roots running as deep as 15 feet, now hold the soil better.

[snip]

To assure views for everyone, Prairie Crossing built its houses around common garden areas, and in one case a 22-acre manmade lake. All the buildings are constructed to high-energy-efficiency levels.

But Prairie Crossing's most startling feature is its farm — 50 acres, nestled in the community and producing, organically, beets, grapes, herbs and fresh eggs. With an on-site farmers market and one other outlet, the husband-wife farmer team avoids wholesale markets and grosses an amazing $14,000 to $15,000 per acre per year.

Prairie Crossing quells the temptation to conclude that suburbs themselves are bad; it's just that the way most suburbs have been built over the last 60 years - pavement-heavy, car dominant, inefficient from an energy standpoint, filled with over-commercialization and hosts of big box stores, socially isolating, etc. - has negative consequences.  This is the irony of the suburbs: they grew out of the noble conception (first popularly articulated by Ebenezer Howard) of combining the benefits of both city and country while avoiding the downfalls, but today they ended up retaining the downfalls and missing the benefits.  Prairie Crossing, on the other hand, has established guiding principles that are nearly identical with smart growth principles.  This is no coincidence, as it was designed by New Urbanist mogul Peter Calthorpe.

The second community in Peirce's article is Habersham (note: website plays soothing guitar music), in Beaufort, South Carolina, not far north from Hilton Head Island.

Habersham, like Prairie Crossing, carefully constructed a system of swales and ponds to slow down and filter rainwater before it flows into the adjoining marshes and river. Its roads follow old cattle paths; at several spots one has to steer around a grand old oak or other tree left standing dead center in the roadway. In a prior developer's plan, rear yards of new homes would have occupied the land directly to the river; now the riverside features lovely walkways and roadways allowing grand views from the homes but keeping most of the riverbank and marshes open to all residents and visitors.

Habersham's plan (PDF) was created by New Urbanist pioneers Andres Duany and Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk.  The community's design incorporates a sensitivity to the marshy landscape situated close to many waterways and the Atlantic Ocean.

Economic Growth

There is, of course, a strong opposition to community planning that takes on many forms.  The 2006 election's four so-called takings initiatives (diaried by lokiloki and others, plus covered excellently in this Grist article) were just the latest manifestation to rear its ugly head.  (Luckily for Washington, California, and Idaho, their initiatives failed.  Sorry Arizona.)  Another example is this sloppy website created by an ultra-conservative group opposing a light rail plan for Madison, WI (replete with straw person comparisons, falsehoods, and an appearance that suggests a 10-year-old could have created it, but lets leave these critiques for a future diary).

Anyway, the opposition is trying to peddle the myth that smart growth will destroy the economies of the communities it serves.  In fact, the opposite is true: smart growth strategies are huge economic boons to communities, whereas suburban sprawl's unsustainability is leading it inexorably toward economic decline.

The Minneapolis–St. Paul Metropolitan Council found that by using smart growth techniques, "the region overall could save $3 billion..., 94 percent [of which] would come from local communities saving money on roads and sewers. These local savings could be even far greater by including lower spending on school construction and other services such as health care, public safety, libraries, etc." [p. 12]

In Florence, Alabama, city leaders struggled with an aging downtown that was losing stores and residents.  To make the most of investments in the area, Florence made a bold decision to build a state-of-the-art library in the heart of town. This investment reassured citizens and businesses that additional private dollars invested in the area would not be wasted, and now it is paying off: nearly 95 percent of downtown buildings are occupied. By working with what it already had to revive the downtown, Florence has given new meaning to its nickname, "The Renaissance City."

The Mefford family played a role in the city’s recent turnaround. "We really wanted to stay downtown," says Olin Mefford, whose grandfather opened a jewelry store there in 1945. Encouraged by the visible public investment and the commitment of business owners like the Meffords, other businesses have moved downtown, bringing hundreds of jobs. [p. 12]

One example of economic development (in Louisville) is described below, but for this section let's highlight a neighborhood in the next Yearly Kos host city (and now my own city of residence).

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(Bethel Center, West Garfield Park, Chicago, IL - EPA 2006 National Awards for Smart Growth Achievement)

Bethel Center is a model of environmentally friendly design. The center was built on a former brownfield, and its transit-accessible, walkable location gives people transportation options. The development incorporates green building technology and features a green roof, photovoltaic cells, and recycled and non-toxic building materials.

Bethel Center is a first step to revitalizing the area. Bethel New Life has also built 50 affordable homes within walking distance of Bethel Center and the train station.

Employment opportunities are important for residents in the West Garfield Park neighborhood. Bethel Center provides employment counseling, job training, and placement services. Approximately 600 visitors seek help each month, and retail tenants at Bethel Center hire from the employment training program. (Same link as photo)

Bethel Center also has a bank, shops, and a daycare, all provided near public transportation (which will be easy to get to from McCormick Place, for Kossacks interested in green sightseeing).  Because of these and other aspects of the innovative project, it won the EPA's 2006 National Award for Smart Growth Development in the "Equitable Development" category.  (Note: Bethel Center is also near the Chicago Center for Green Technology, a must-visit LEED Platinum building for Kossacks interested in green sightseeing at the convention.)

Inclusive Decision-Making

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(East Russell, Louisville, KY - EPA)

A wide variety of government, non-profit, and business organizations collaborated to revive the East Russell neighborhood in Louisville, Kentucky, by listening to the community's demands and responding to its needs. Like many traditionally African-American urban communities, East Russell declined as middle-class residents moved to other areas of the metropolitan region. With little investment, low homeownership, and scarce opportunity, the community was plagued by high poverty, unemployment, crime, homelessness, and school drop-outs.

In 1992, a progressive collaboration involving the University of Louisville; local businesses; federal, state, and city governments; foundations; philanthropic groups; local unions; and non-profit organizations began to revitalize the neighborhood. With the help of $3.5 million in federal grants and a matching donation of $1 million from local organizations, the partnership has supported the construction or refurbishing of more than 600 homes, with hundreds more in the pipeline. They have also supplied a wide range of critical services, including child care and health care. These efforts have improved the commercial areas of the community as pawnshops, liquor stores, and taverns have been replaced by a new bookstore, a movie theater, and an African-American museum. The partnership has been successful thanks to community empowerment. For example, when the initiative began, community leaders intended to provide a range of services along with a minimal number of rental units. However, when local residents expressed the desire to own their own homes, the partnership helped establish low-interest loans and other creative financing to provide former rental tenants with affordable 30-year mortgages. (EPA)

Affordable Housing
Two examples from Colorado, where two popular resort towns created distinct housing issues for lower-income residents, and how smart growth principles were put into effect to address these issues.

First, Breckenridge:

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(Wellington, Breckenridge, CO - Poplar Wellington LLC)

Rising home prices were pushing workers farther and farther out, forcing some to brave a 45-minute commute over often-snowy mountain passes. To give Breckenridge residents more choices, the town government, citizens, and property owners worked together with state and federal officials to support the construction of Wellington, a neighborhood of more than 100 homes. Eighty percent of the homes are reserved for purchase by people who work in the county, who get them for about one-third
(or less) of the median home price in Breckenridge.

"You’ve got to find ways to keep the police officers, the teachers, the managers in the community," says Sam Mamula, who was mayor of Breckenridge when the Wellington neighborhood was built. "These people are both the economic engine and the soul of the town." [p. 9]

Aspen:

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(Benedict Commons, Aspen, CO - EPA)

Benedict Commons creates an affordable housing option in high-cost Aspen, Colorado. The community is designed for residents earning approximately $17,000 to $38,000 per year. In Aspen, a resort community, the average home price is over $1.75 million. Most workers cannot afford to live in the city, so many commute long distances to work. Economist Robert Frank has labeled the traffic jams and associated air pollution caused by this imbalance between jobs and affordable housing "the Aspen Effect."

Benedict Commons is the product of efforts by the city of Aspen and developers Jim Curtis and Jonathan Rose of Curtis/Affordable Housing Development Corporation to provide housing within Aspen for local workers. The studio and one-bedroom units originally sold for $57,000 to $130,000. The units are deed restricted and must be sold to people making less than a specified income. In addition, the resale price of the units can only rise at the rate of the Consumer Price Index. This keeps the housing affordable over time while allowing owners a return on their investment.

To make Benedict Commons fit within the context of the existing neighborhood, the multi-family building was designed to look like a collection of individual dwellings that reflect Aspen's history and style. Each unit has a private, outside entrance and a roof deck, garden space, or small entry deck. The apartments are built above an underground parking garage and around a central, sunlit courtyard with mountain views. The project's downtown location, near work places, encourages walking, and bicycle racks on the site encourage residents to bike rather than drive. The well-executed, compact design allowed a density of 78.4 units per acre on a small infill site. (EPA)

Safety, Health, and Community

One of the most important principles of smart growth is creating walkable communities, which has, at the very least, a triple benefit: reducing carbon emissions due to less car trips needed, creating a sense of community where people come into personal contact with each other and can stop and talk (instead of honking, yelling, and giving the finger to each other in a traffic jam on a six-lane highway), and enhancing safety.  This last benefit itself has at the very least two sub-benefits: walkable communities reduce crime (because you are never walking completely alone) and have streets with less dangerous traffic (Would you rather cross a two-lane main street with cars going 20 mph or a six-lane suburban collector road with cars going 55 mph?).

Children can get daily exercise by walking or biking to school, but many parents are concerned about safety. Many communities have come up with innovative solutions, like the "walking school bus," in which adult volunteers walk groups of children to school. The Broadway-Slavic Village neighborhood in Cleveland, Ohio, instituted such a program to encourage children to walk to school. In another effort, local teenagers got training on bicycle safety and repairs and received free refurbished bicycles; the kids then toured every street in Slavic Village to map safe bicycling and walking routes. [p. 18]

Furthermore, when children walk to school, they get exercise on a daily basis.  This is important when

one-third of U.S. children are overweight or at risk of becoming overweight. In total, about 25 million U.S. children and adolescents are overweight or nearly overweight. (Mayo Clinic)

In turn, this puts more American children at risk of developing type II diabetes and other health problems.  Suburbs provide less opportunities for children to get everyday exercise.  A recent study was only the latest to find a correlation between suburban living and obesity in youth.

Using data from a national health survey, researchers found that teenagers living in sprawling suburbs were more than twice as likely to be overweight as teens in more compact urban areas.

The findings echo those of a 2003 study by the same researchers that focused on U.S. adults. The researchers believe the same factors may be driving the link between suburban living and teenagers' weight -- the major one being reliance on cars.

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(Birch Street, Brea, CA - EPA)

Finally, smart growth aims to foster a sense of community, where residents can take civic pride in distinct places, places where people can meet and hang out, places that attract tourists, places where people can feel a sense of belonging, places you'd want to stroll down when you don't have to be anywhere.  This is the intangible side that is nevertheless essential to quality of life.

What We Can Do

I hope this diary provided a good overview of smart growth and its potential to positively affect our built environment in many ways.  It's important to remember that smart growth is primarily a set of principles that can be adapted to fit particular locations' culture, climate, and history.  There is no one way to build a smart growth neighborhood, but there is at least one way in every community.  I hope that those familiar with some of the areas I highlighted above will provide additional insights into those communities, as I am only personally familiar with a few of them.

If you're interested in incorporating smart growth principles into your community's future, there are a number of ways to get involved.  Every community has comprehensive plan reviews at some point.  These reviews take citizen input.  The next time your community reviews its plan, attend the meetings and advocate for smart growth principles.  Urge newly elected mayors to appoint a planner who practices New Urbanism or is overtly dedicated to smart growth principles.  The planning commission is also extremely influential in how communities grow.  Know how members obtain seats on the commission, and provide input when a new seat on the commission is about to be filled.  Attend public meetings for permitting of new developments, and scrutinize how the development will affect the community.  And these are just a few examples.

So as we begin 2007, when the challenges of Energizing America will become more pressing, we can find in smart growth a more sustainable, valuable, safe, uniting, and democratic strategy for building the futures of our cities and towns.

Websites
Smart Growth America
Congress for the New Urbanism
American Planning Association (a smart growth advocate)
NRDC Smart Growth Page
Sierra Club Smart Growth Page
Center for Program Development (Pennsylvania DOT) (recommended by terrypinder)

Update: A comment from Joe Bob that I think bears repeating in the diary.

All of the points raised in this diary are ones worth repeating. Especially from the perspective of energy, planning often gets overlooked in favor of sexy technology like hybrid cars and renewable fuels. The most renewable fuel is the one that never gets used in the first place, and that's much of what smart growth is all about.

The beauty in smart growth strategies is that we already know what to do and it wouldn't really cost us anything to implement them. Relative to building a renewable energy infrastructure from the ground up, conservation via better planning is cheap and the payoff will come a lot sooner. More than anything it's a question of political will.

Originally posted to Brudaimonia on Mon Jan 01, 2007 at 12:56 PM PST.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip Jar (38+ / 0-)

    I normally feel a bit of selfishness if I post a tip jar, but I worked hard on this one.  Hope you enjoy. :)

    broo-'dye-mo-NEE-uh | I could wish my days to be / Bound each to each with natural piety - William Wordsworth

    by Brudaimonia on Mon Jan 01, 2007 at 12:53:49 PM PST

  •  are you a planner? (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Jerome a Paris, mattes, greenearth

    this is a pretty cool diary. Recommended

  •  I live in a master-planned community (6+ / 0-)

    here in Minneapolis area. It features a massive complex of man-made lakes, and about sixty percent of the households, when all is said and done, will be in townhomes like mine. We also have monster homes, and single family.

    Unfortunately, the monster home set are attempting to sabatogue the entire master plan. The developer is going to be putting in a 400 unit apartment complex--part of the whole thing from the start--and at the last planning commission meeting, the monster homers showed up en masse and whined for an hour about nasty renters messing up their view. Never mind that it's a high end complex.

    Without the apartment complex, it is doubtful we will get the village of 60 shops that was promised to us from the beginning, as the density is required for that to make sense. So we may go from a smart growth development to a dumb growth development just because of some whiny monster homers.  

    I wrote to my councilman, but I doubt many others will. Ironically, all this diversity of housing will in my view make the development more unique and attractive. But these folks can't see past their own bad stucco.

    Writing, photography, cartoons and more in A Cold & Snowy Place.

    by decembersue on Mon Jan 01, 2007 at 12:59:42 PM PST

    •  A common issue in community planning (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      barbwires, rapala, greenearth, A Siegel

      that being the sensitivity towards mixed-income housing.

      Speaking of Minneapolis, I think that the city has done some wonderful things to promote distinct communities and a strong local cohesiveness.  I got my undergraduate degree in St. Paul, and loved biking or walking around the Minneapolis lakes areas on warm days.  (St. Paul has some excellent neighborhoods too.)

      broo-'dye-mo-NEE-uh | I could wish my days to be / Bound each to each with natural piety - William Wordsworth

      by Brudaimonia on Mon Jan 01, 2007 at 01:15:12 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  A Minneapolis tale (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      pHunbalanced, gecko, greenearth, A Siegel

      I'm an architect working in the Twin Cities who has stood before many a Planning Commission and the asinine suburban homeowner attitudes you describe are very common.

      Last year I was working on a proposal for a major urban infill project. It consisted of a much-needed overhaul of a declining area and I thought it would be no problem to get neighborhood groups on board. I was wrong.

      The NIMBY attitudes were just as entrenched and irrational as those in the second-ring suburbs. People didn't want to have tall buildings in their neighborhood; tall being all of eight stories, in a totally commercial district no less. What's wrong with tall buildings, you ask? The best I could figure was that people just didn't want to look at them.

      I'm rarely a cheerleader for developers. Yet, in this case you had one willing to drop $60 million on an urban site, when they could have just as easily spent that money in a 'business-friendly' exurban locale building big boxes and strip malls. You would think that urban liberals could see the greater good in this sort of thing but, nonetheless, their feelings of entitlement to a particular 'view' outweighed all that.

      •  That's the challenge for planners... (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        greenearth, A Siegel

        All future planners (like myself) need to realize the hurdles that the planning commission and homeowners will not always be on their side.  It takes innovation and persistence to try to find a compromise that still works toward the ideal you had in the first place.

        broo-'dye-mo-NEE-uh | I could wish my days to be / Bound each to each with natural piety - William Wordsworth

        by Brudaimonia on Mon Jan 01, 2007 at 01:42:15 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  No compromise should happen here (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          greenearth

          The master plan was already approved. The city needs to stick to its guns, period. Why approve the master plan and then water it down? These people had a copy of it presented to them when they purchased their homes...just as I did. I bought my home BECAUSE of the plan.

          Writing, photography, cartoons and more in A Cold & Snowy Place.

          by decembersue on Mon Jan 01, 2007 at 01:57:56 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

      •  I'm in a second ring suburb (0+ / 0-)

        just to clarify--north of Minneapolis.  I agree that in this case the developers (there are many int his huge project) have done a very good job, at least compared to other one-note developments in this area.   I mean, for goodness sakes, they could be building the entire development in monster homes. I guess these nimbys would like that...

        Writing, photography, cartoons and more in A Cold & Snowy Place.

        by decembersue on Mon Jan 01, 2007 at 01:53:37 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

      •  Higher is not the only vertical direction (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        greenearth, Brudaimonia

         High rises have acquired a bad reputation for a variety of reasons. There have been some truly bad designs, there have some really badly administered complexes, and they've too often been associated with welfare moms, drugs dealers, and crime. Of course, luxury high rises proposed by a Donald Trump are another story....

        There's another way to go, it can be incredibly energy efficient, and it reduces the impact of buildings on the land. Go down. The results may surprise you, and they're more common than you think.

        "No special skill, no standard attitude, no technology, and no organization - no matter how valuable - can safely replace thought itself."

        by xaxnar on Mon Jan 01, 2007 at 02:09:07 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

  •  Thanks! (5+ / 0-)

    I live in the Seattle area, and while urban planning is not my profession, I take a great interest in it here locally. The promotion of smart growth should be a major initiative by the federal government...I would like to see its influence in the party platform and party policy.

    Gore, are you out there?

  •  Excellent diary (7+ / 0-)

    Salt Lake City is doing something with its downtown area:

    Downtown Rising

    I hope it achieves a similar goal. I think that Utah needs to focus on Smart Growth more because the Wasatch Front population is growing at an incredible rate.

    utahgirl

    •  Salt Lake City (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      pHunbalanced, gecko, greenearth, A Siegel

      Interesting website...they are important for community revitalization projects because residents can see visually how their communities will look in the future.

      The smart growth booklet has a section about Salt Lake City that I almost included in my diary (but it was getting a little long, so I'll include a parahraph here):

      Thinking about the long term prompted steel industry
      CEO Robert Grow to wonder, "What are the choices
      we’re leaving our children and grandchildren about
      how they’re going to live? Are we actually robbing them
      of opportunities and choices we had ourselves?"1 To
      answer these questions, Grow and other leaders in the
      Salt Lake City area formed Envision Utah, a partnership
      of business and civic leaders and policy makers, which
      engaged thousands of residents to discuss their vision
      for growth in the region. In essence, Envision Utah gave
      the people who would be affected by future decisions a fair chance to infl uence those decisions, ensuring that
      everyone had a stake in the outcome. The resulting
      vision was a future that conserved more land, provided
      transportation and housing choices, and invested public
      money wisely—all crucial components of a smart growth
      approach to development. [p. 10]

      A steel industry CEO - not you're typical smart growth advocate, perhaps, but it's heartening to know that it has such widespread support in some places.

      broo-'dye-mo-NEE-uh | I could wish my days to be / Bound each to each with natural piety - William Wordsworth

      by Brudaimonia on Mon Jan 01, 2007 at 01:20:02 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Excellent stuff. (5+ / 0-)

    I loved the one about the on-site farm--great for the farmers and for the residents.

    I really appreciate success stories--they give me hope that we haven't run completely off the rails yet!

    •  This success story is my penance... (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      greenearth, A Siegel

      Thanks...A few of my previous environmental diaries have been pretty cynical, and I'm sure others will be in the future, but it was really enjoyable to write about so many success stories, especially regarding my personal passion (environmentalism) and future career field (urban planning).

      broo-'dye-mo-NEE-uh | I could wish my days to be / Bound each to each with natural piety - William Wordsworth

      by Brudaimonia on Mon Jan 01, 2007 at 01:22:48 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Smart growth is where it's at (4+ / 0-)

    It moves us past the runious NIMBY anti-growth politics of the 1970s and 1980s that simply fueled sprawl and helped create unaffordable housing in many metro areas.

    Mixed use, density, and available mass transit are the keys to all of this. It needs to have as much as possible to realistically get people out of their cars.

    I'm not part of a redneck agenda - Green Day

    by eugene on Mon Jan 01, 2007 at 01:20:53 PM PST

  •  Great diary (6+ / 0-)

    All of the points raised in this diary are ones worth repeating. Especially from the perspective of energy, planning often gets overlooked in favor of sexy technology like hybrid cars and renewable fuels. The most renewable fuel is the one that never gets used in the first place, and that's much of what smart growth is all about.

    The beauty in smart growth strategies is that we already know what to do and it wouldn't really cost us anything to implement them. Relative to building a renewable energy infrastructure from the ground up, conservation via better planning is cheap and the payoff will come a lot sooner. More than anything it's a question of political will.

  •  This is a wonderful (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    pHunbalanced, mattes, Brudaimonia

    and beautiful discussion ...  

    While I have a casual knowledge/background in smart growth, "infrastructure" (smart growth patterns) and "agriculture" were two areas of weakness in Energize America -- v 5.0. Hopefully we will do better with 6.0. (Though, to give credit, challenge was keeping ourselves within a 20 point program for 2020.)

    The Energy Conversation: Learn - Connect - Share - Participate: For a new dialogue on Energy issues.

    by A Siegel on Mon Jan 01, 2007 at 01:41:42 PM PST

    •  Thanks (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      A Siegel

      for the compliment and also for your inspiring diary today.

      I also see smart growth and city planning as important to consider for future EA2020 versions.  Although how communities grow is by nature a local issue, there are several connections at the federal government level.

      One of the most important is transportation funding.  We need to change the imbalance that exists when roads and unnecessary bridges gobble up most of the federal money, at the expense of funding for transit/bike lanes/etc.

      broo-'dye-mo-NEE-uh | I could wish my days to be / Bound each to each with natural piety - William Wordsworth

      by Brudaimonia on Mon Jan 01, 2007 at 02:05:13 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  You are welcome ... and thank you ... (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Brudaimonia

        Inspiring ... I'm honored to be called that.

        By the way, sent out your discussion to about 100 people.

        And, it is simply a budding site (with lots of problems), but consider posting this to the site in my sig line.  (Can't promise much traffic -- but at 250 people will get a heads-up of the posting.)

        The Energy Conversation: Learn - Connect - Share - Participate: For a new dialogue on Energy issues.

        by A Siegel on Mon Jan 01, 2007 at 02:08:21 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

  •  Thanks (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    pHunbalanced, rapala, Brudaimonia

    Great diary!!  I am the president of a local anti-sprawl group in the greater Hartford, CT area.  CT is quickly becoming New Jersey.  Trying to convince people that Smart Growth works and has been implemented across the country is difficult but is starting to gain traction.  CT loses almost 10,000 acrea of farmland every year to sprawling residential housing development (McMansions) and big box stores and has almost no mass transportation system, let alone an integrated system.  We have a lot of work to do, but examples of smart growth success definitely help.  Thanks again for the diary!

    To say my country right or wrong is something no patriot would utter; it is like saying my mother drunk or sober. -- G.K. Chrsterton

    by commonweal on Mon Jan 01, 2007 at 01:45:05 PM PST

  •  The Dirty Secret of Urban Planning Opponents (6+ / 0-)

     What isn't often brought up when people oppose urban planning is the race and class issue. The 'wrong' people will move in and trash the place; why should tax dollars be used to subsidize the less well off who haven't earned it; the character of the community will be destroyed, and so on. Plus - 'those people' will vote for the wrong party. Gotta keep 'em out. This is the voice of fear beneath it all, a voice the Right Wing has made its own.

    The Right Wing has ridden to power on the backs of those least fortunate among us. Instead of justice, Law & Order. Instead of building the economy and investing in America, ship jobs over seas and give tax cuts to the wealthy. Instead of sensible land use and sound science based policies, full speed ahead for development. While these policies have worked for them, they've been running America into the ground.

    The biggest, most visible, opportunity for urban planning is right here, right now - and it isn't happening. It's the city of New Orleans. The people in the neighborhoods that got wiped out were the people the elite wanted to get rid of - and keep out.

    It's a lot easier than installing a progressive city government, reforming old building codes, making a school system work, overhauling a city, state and national political establishment rooted in the Way Things Have Always Been Done, and dealing effectively with endemic crime, corruption, and unemployment.

    Smart growth requires smart people; the man sitting in the White House and the idiots just shown the door from the 109th Congress show what we've had instead. All the more reason to start taking back the future. Any Democratic candidate serious about changing the way America works can start by embracing Smart Growth and seize the opportunity that is New Orleans.

    John Edwards gets it - that's why he opened his campaign in New Orleans.

    "No special skill, no standard attitude, no technology, and no organization - no matter how valuable - can safely replace thought itself."

    by xaxnar on Mon Jan 01, 2007 at 01:51:08 PM PST

    •  i hate to agree (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Sharon in MD, greenearth

      but I agree

      in Harrisburg there are these new gorgeous townhomes in a fairly depressed neighborhood. I like them. But even I with my fairly decent income can't afford them. The 3 bedroom model starts, STARTS at 175,000 dollars.   Further downtown across from the old housing project are another group of townhomes. They START at 135,000 dollars. How are low income people supposed to afford this in Harrisburg?

    •  Re: New Orleans (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      xaxnar, greenearth

      I just read this article on the latest planning updates.  Pretty informative about both the successes and challenges.

      I was also heartened that Edwards opened his campaign in N.O.  It truly is a test for America to see how wisely and justly the city can be rebuilt.

      broo-'dye-mo-NEE-uh | I could wish my days to be / Bound each to each with natural piety - William Wordsworth

      by Brudaimonia on Mon Jan 01, 2007 at 02:00:11 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Has to be in the top 10 (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    greenearth, Brudaimonia

    of the best diaries I've read here if not the top 5.

    Thanks!

  •  Smart Growth Is Critical in the Mid-term (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    greenearth, North Central

    I agree with you wholly on that.

    But I strongly disagree with your opening:

    As we look back on 2006, one milestone our country reached came in October, when the US population reached 300 million.  This is a vast and beautiful country with ample room for all of us 300 million (and many more), but the milestone should remind us that we can ill afford to accomodate our future population increase with more suburban sprawl.

    The road from 200 million to 300 million Americans has been responsible for an entirely unacceptable level of environmental degradation and corresponding decline in quality of life.

    Smart growth is an essential stopgap measure in the short and mid-length terms. But in the end, it's just a way to warehouse excess population in the most efficient way possible, while minimizing -- but not eliminating -- the continuing environmental degradation and reduction in quality of life associated with continuing population increase or EVEN maintenance of current population levels.

    If we're very, very lucky, and work at it very, very hard, a concerted commitment to Smart Growth will give us the time to reduce US population to a manageable 150 million that can be supported by the North American ecological resource base, a project that will likely require a century to a century and a half.

    •  I didn't mean to say (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      North Central

      that population growth isn't a huge issue.  On a global level, it is.

      But the reason that the road from 200 million to 300 million Americans has been so damaging to the environment is because those 100 million by and large took on the American lifestyle, especially as suburbanization ramped up post-WWII.  Obviously everyone uses up resources, no matter how frugally they live, but it would have been a lot different story if that population growth had been accomodated by wiser city planning.

      broo-'dye-mo-NEE-uh | I could wish my days to be / Bound each to each with natural piety - William Wordsworth

      by Brudaimonia on Mon Jan 01, 2007 at 02:14:24 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  ayep (0+ / 0-)

        if we hadn't built those highways, we'd all be crammed up in the cities. That of course may have convinced people not to have so many children during the Baby Boom and in turn the Second Baby Boom when the boomers all had kids in the late 1970s early to mid 1980s

        But I do like the Smart Growth concept and the New Urbanism. They're a start and we'll have more livable communities, even when we reach 400 million people....but I don't want to see the movement go the way of denying people's biological wish to send their genes into the next generation.

      •  Sprawl Certainly Multiplies Damage (0+ / 0-)

        But damage is a natural correlate of increased population. The best that Smart Growth can do is minimize the damage attendant to population growth.

        The underlying ideology of perpetual increased population is indistinguishable from the operating principles of cancer.

        The other factor which is unaddressed is that our population hasn't been growing as a result of live-births to American-born parents for a couple of decades.

        Our population is growing because of a conscious policy of essentially uncontrolled immigration.

        Political parties can be pressed to incorporate Smart Growth, because electoral politics are general about palliatives that allow everyone to avoid genuinely dealing with issues and making hard choices.

        Smart Growth is an essential tool in a basic "harm reduction" approach to our current pathological approach to population.

        But in the long run, for a society strung out on ever-growing markets and workforces, the difference between Smart Growth and population reduction is like the difference between needle exchange and kicking smack.

        Smart Growth may keep us alive long enough to see what really needs to be done, but that's the best it can do.

        •  Your argument approaches a tautology (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          pHunbalanced

          Every human being damages the environment simply by maintaining his or her existence.  If no humans existed, there would be by definition no human-induced damage to the earth.  However, then there would be no human consciousnesses to strive for happiness.

          The best that Smart Growth can do is minimize the damage attendant to population growth.

          Which is the best we can hope for for any environmentaly-conscious strategy besides decreasing population itself.

          The underlying ideology of perpetual increased population is indistinguishable from the operating principles of cancer.

          I agree.

          The other factor which is unaddressed is that our population hasn't been growing as a result of live-births to American-born parents for a couple of decades.

          Our population is growing because of a conscious policy of essentially uncontrolled immigration.

          What does immigration matter from a population-environmental perspective?  As simply a movement of people across an imaginary line, it doesn't in and of itself add to the amount of people on the earth.  How is that any more harmful to globa resource use than someone moving from southern California to Northern California?

          Political parties can be pressed to incorporate Smart Growth, because electoral politics are general about palliatives that allow everyone to avoid genuinely dealing with issues and making hard choices.

          Actually, smart growth has been unfortunately absent from any place in mainstream political debate.  James Howard Kunstler is fond of pointing out that politicians for the most part do not want to upset suburban residents (who now make up more than half of our population) who are their constituents.

          Smart Growth is an essential tool in a basic "harm reduction" approach to our current pathological approach to population.

          Achieving negative growth of population is also just a "harm reduction" tool.  Like I said, the only situation where human-induced harm to the environment would be eliminated would be if humans didn't exist.

          But in the long run, for a society strung out on ever-growing markets and workforces, the difference between Smart Growth and population reduction is like the difference between needle exchange and kicking smack.

          For the reasons above, I don't find that metaphor especially accurate or useful.

          broo-'dye-mo-NEE-uh | I could wish my days to be / Bound each to each with natural piety - William Wordsworth

          by Brudaimonia on Mon Jan 01, 2007 at 03:23:00 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  Come to New Jersey (0+ / 0-)

            Smart Growth is not only not "unfortunately absent," it's the dominant mode of planning doctrine taught at both the MCRP Program at Rutgers' Bloustein School in New Brunswick and the Master of Infrastructure Planning Program at NJIT in Newark.

            Negative population growth is far more than "just harm reduction."

            That something more involves valuing the simple right of non-human life to exist as much as we currently value the cheapest and most uninformed satisfaction of the basest human desires.

            But then I would gladly give up half the human population of the world for a breeding population of passenger pigeons or ivory billed woodpeckers or baixi.

            Because unlike idiot humanists and anthropocentrists, I value genuine diversity in its fullest sense.

            •  Planning schools do not equal mainstream politics (0+ / 0-)

              Smart Growth is not only not "unfortunately absent," it's the dominant mode of planning doctrine taught at both the MCRP Program at Rutgers' Bloustein School in New Brunswick and the Master of Infrastructure Planning Program at NJIT in Newark.

              Smart Growth is the dominant mode of planning taught at most urban planning grad programs.  Our discussion, however, is about the political mainstream, where it rarely rises above the local level, and is totally absent on the national level - one reason I wrote this diary.

              Negative population growth is far more than "just harm reduction."

              That something more involves valuing the simple right of non-human life to exist as much as we currently value the cheapest and most uninformed satisfaction of the basest human desires.

              What, then, is the just human population level for the earth?  If you agree that it is some number above 0, then you are forced to accept that some human-induced harm is justified (namely, the inevitable harm arising from that number of people maintaining their existence).

              So, while the idea might be founded on the belief that non-human life has a right to exist as much as our basest pleasures, it still amounts to "harm reduction" in its effect, rather than "elimination of harm."  A smart growth advocate could rightfully use the same foundation: non-human life has some value, so we should reduce our negative effect on it in our own lifestyle.

              This whole discussion gets at the root of one of the most fundamental ethical questions, which is the value of human life in relation to other life forms, and whether consciousness and the ability to make value judgements itself makes human life more valuable than other species.

              broo-'dye-mo-NEE-uh | I could wish my days to be / Bound each to each with natural piety - William Wordsworth

              by Brudaimonia on Mon Jan 01, 2007 at 04:42:10 PM PST

              [ Parent ]

  •  I like smart growth (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    SoCalLiberal, greenearth

    and transit oriented development.

    http://www.keen.com/jiacinto For DC related travel advice, please visit that link.

    by jiacinto on Mon Jan 01, 2007 at 02:17:44 PM PST

  •  Transit is more than just connecting towns (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    pHunbalanced

    Successful transit systems happen when the developments are planned around the transit stations.  Here in badly-sprawled Ohio, it would not work to just string rail lines between the far-flung suburbs: the commute times would be long and the cost would be huge.

    I hope that we could plant mass transit to connect new neighborhoods built into the old city and inner suburbs.  The homes in those areas are functionally obsolete in that they are 19th century homes, small, and could not be refitted for a scant use of carbon/fossil-fuel energy.

    I hope we can do it without gentrification.

  •  Excellent diary! Definite recommend. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Brudaimonia

    I read a National Geographic a few years ago (2001) that dealt with the effects of urban sprawl.

    A search of Google turned up a web page on the NG site that references that article and includes nighttime satellite pictures of U.S. urban sprawl, links to resources and a walkthru of a virtual "Smart Growth" suburb.

    "Peace cannot be kept by force. It can only be achieved by understanding." - Albert Einstein

    by scoff0165 on Mon Jan 01, 2007 at 03:09:46 PM PST

  •  One reason it works economically ... (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Brudaimonia

    ... is simply because it allows less money to be spent on accomplishing transport tasks. And most money spent on motorized transport flows out of the local community ... so the lower the share of income going to transport, the more available to recirculate in the local economy.

    It is, in short, good for Main Street ... it is more cash in the pockets of local consumers.

  •  I am a huge fan of Smart Growth (0+ / 0-)

    And I reccomended your diary.  Democrats have to be the party of Smart Growth and TOD.  

  •  Saving this diary for a later read (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    pHunbalanced, Brudaimonia

    I am on the road doing holiday traveling and borrowing the family's only phone line to get my email when I saw the link to this diary pop up from the DKos environmental list.

    So popped over to save this one to read when I get back home and thought I would mention that I read about this program, "Subdivided" in the paper today:

    Subdivided is a documentary film about life in contemporary suburbia: a personal study of isolation and the struggle to find and maintain maintain community in an era of careless development, the uninspired design of the modern subdivision, urban sprawl, and the invasion of the McMansion.

    American life is more divisive than ever, and poorly designed neighborhoods further encourage isolation and separation. With no sense of place or belonging, is this the new American Dream?

    The film is written and directed by Dean Terry and features interviews with Andres Duany, James Howard Kunstler and Robert Putnam, with aerial photos by Jim Wark.

    http://www.subdivided.net/

    Subdivided premiers on Dallas PBS station KERA on Wednesday JANUARY 3rd @ 8pm.  See the trailer! The DVD is in Production, and the blog is up. For occasional notifications send an email to: list (at) subdivided.net

    •  I will anxiously wait the DVD release (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      SarahLee

      This looks really good.  Any idea when the release is?  I couldn't find it on the website.  Hopefully in time for my birthday (in a month).

      There are few writings so entertaining as a James Howard Kunstler rant against suburbia.

      broo-'dye-mo-NEE-uh | I could wish my days to be / Bound each to each with natural piety - William Wordsworth

      by Brudaimonia on Mon Jan 01, 2007 at 07:52:32 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

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