Tuesday, December 20, 2005

On Smart Growth and Sprawl

Just a quick note on an interesting essay by Rick Bishop, Executive Director of the Western Riverside (CA) Council of Governments, called "Can't Smart Growth and Sprawl Just Get Along?"

Rick also has some problems, like I have had, with the nomenclature of what we call sprawl, smart growth, new urbanism, etc., and what it means (or doesn't mean) to people.

Bishop says, "Too often planners, the public, and decision-makers seem to make smart-growth an 'all-or-nothing' issue when discussing future development. In their simplest form, though, smart growth concepts should be one of many common and acceptable approaches utilized by jurisdictions to plan for and accomodate future growth."

Rick has some good ideas here. I'd like to hear your comments.


At 2:20 PM, Blogger James said...

I think it's interesting that he notes the relative market demands of suburbia vs. smart growth. I would believe his statistic that 85% of the market demands a suburban lifestyle. However, I don't believe this is necessarily evidence that it reflects what the true demand would be, were both suburban and smart growth options equally available. I say this for two reasons:

1- It has been well-documented that new urbanist projects sell above market price for equivalent products. When people see it for themselves, they'll pay more (this relates closely with my next point). While some critics point to this as a shortcoming of a purported goal of smart growth, proponents cite Economics 101: The law of supply and demand.

2- While I don't have hard data to support this, I have always been intrigued by the notion about how we perceive our surroundings. Generally, we take our environment for granted and (subconciously) assume that we can't do a lot to change it - we view such arrangements as a "given," whether it's the arrangement of furniture in room or the layout of our cities. Assuming this, when people are presented with alternatives to a lifestyle that's been ingrained in our society for decades, at best it's hard to understand, while at worst it's downright scary (and not just becuase of density).

At 7:59 AM, Blogger Wilf said...


Excellent comments. You raise some very good and interesting points.

As I've thought about how development occurs over the years I've been working as a planner, it seems we are in a kind of Catch-22 -- people buy homes in standard subdivisions because that's mostly what's available, and developers build standard subdivision tracts because they believe that's what people want because they buy so much of it.

But I've come to think that there is a third variable at work here, in greater measure than we may have thought in the past -- local zoning and development regulation, which seems to reflect the attitude of most homeowners of "now that we have our standard subdivision home, that's all we want around us." Local regulations have kind of frozen the market.

I really do think that if we were to "de-regulate" to some extent -- that is, allow for different kinds of developments in the suburbs -- we would still see a domination of the standard tract development, but we would also see some more variation and innovation and start to break the cycle.

At 8:01 AM, Blogger Nick said...

I think it odd that people prefer to live in the suburbs. I don't buy the argument that suburban type developments are what people want either. I agree with euclid on his points.

I point to the 15th and 15th area in SLC as an example. The typical lot size is right around 5,000 square feet (not really dense, but more dense-8 to 9 units per acre- than the typical suburban neighborhood-less than 5 units per acre), there is a mix of housing opportunities, including single family homes (typically smaller than what you find in the suburbs), duplexes, triplexes, and even a 20 something unit condo building. The area also has a neighborhood commercial element to it. One thing that I have noticed in this area is that you see a lot more people out and about than a typical suburb. Home values are increasing higher than most areas in SL CO (the biggest inddication that it is a desireable place to life, despite the smaller lot sizes and home sizes) and are often sold before a sign even gets put up in the front yard.

I think the demand for more dense neighborhoods is there, but the density cannot be density just for the sake of being dense. It has to be done well. A high density project in the suburbs that requires you to drive everywhere to get services is worse than a low density project would be in the same location. I hate to quote APA' motto, but it is about making better communities.

At 8:44 AM, Blogger James said...

I think your comments about the third variable are definitely valid, Wilf. Personally, I am of the opinion that the regulations are generally extensions of what the market is dictating, but do provide some stability (at the cost of a great deal of inflexibility)


Post a Comment

<< Home