A "smart growth" advocate at UM admits it hasn't worked: How Smart Was Smart Growth?
There are a lot of takeaways in the Handbook on Smart Growth, a new compendium of essays from the University of Maryland’s National Center for Smart Growth about the 30-year campaign to create mixed use, compact and walkable communities. But the biggest takeaway might the hardest for ardent supporters to stomach: it has so far had limited impact on the problems it set out to address.
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Below, co-editors Knaap, Rebecca Lewis (M.P.P. ’08, PhD ’11), Dr. Arnab Chakraborty (PhD ’07) and Ph.D. candidate Katy June-Friesen offer a few lessons from the book for growing smarter into the next century:
The main ideas endure. Many of today’s seemingly popular ideas—such as bike sharing and limiting single family zoning--build on smart growth principles and prior innovations while adding appropriate focus on issues of justice and resilience. Still, some of the toughest challenges remain, says Chakraborty, such as limited resonance with the general public. “Lessons from smart growth research documented in this book are worthy of attention,” he said.
Smart growth has yet to slow drivers: Much has been learned about what shapes how people travel; evidence suggests that cities can be designed in ways that foster walking, biking, transit ridership, but there is little evidence that smart growth has gotten people out of their cars.
As much as they would rather make driving unpleasant to encourage the use of public transport, the horrible hoi polloi would still rather use their own autos if at all possible.
State governments no longer lead the way: Some state-adopted smart growth programs, said Lewis, were a “flash in the pan” that faded with the appointment of new governors, with many programs disappearing altogether. Other states rolled back existing smart growth policies during the Tea Party era. “It’s important to note that smart growth has never been a policy adopted at a national level,” said Lewis. “But the challenges it is meant to address remain.”
Stupid voters occasionally replace starry eyed leftist governors and mayors with pragmatists who actually studied math, or, God forbid, elect Republicans opposed to these ideas.
Smart growth can accelerate gentrification: An unintended impact of sustainable, compact development is the squeeze it puts on low-income residents of color, according to co-editor Katy June-Friesen. “Gentrification and displacement tend to occur at higher rates in metro areas that have adopted smart growth policies,” she said. What has been learned is that zoning changes, policy and public-private investment can ensure residents and businesses stay in place.
If, by chance, you do succeed in making small areas of the city pleasant to live in, rich white kids will move in, and drive prices up to a level where the target minorities will be unable to afford to stay.
In short, "smart growth" is an idea of bribing, or coercing people to live in ways that they don't want to, and is ultimately bound for failure.