"Smart Growth" Hits End of Buzz Cycle

Haya El Nasser at USA Today suggests that "smart growth" is showing its age, and will go the way of the dustbin along with "urban renewal." Meanwhile, "intelligent cities" is the new hot jargon word.

From the article:

""There's a 15- to 20-year cycle on urban planning terms," says Robert Lang, urban sociologist at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas. "Remember 'urban renewal'? Smart growth is near the end of its shelf life.""

Lang says that the ideas behind smart growth haven't gotten stale: in fact, they're so widely accepted that the term is no longer cutting edge.

Nasser looks into why "intelligent cities" captures the new spirit of planning today.

Thanks to Anita Williams

Full Story: Will 'intelligent cities' put an end to suburban sprawl?



intelligent cities complements smart growth, doesnt replace

I must say i find this kind of recent narrative odd and concerning - our short attention span perhaps leads us to conclude that a worthy long-term or never-ending goal, like sustainability or smart growth, is no longer shiny and new enough and thus must be replaced with a new, fresh buzzword.

Comparing smart growth to urban renewal is silly - urban renewal was rejected because it was fundamentally wrong, not because it reached a stale-date for coolness. And to suggest that smart growth is old news because its now common-place, ignores the facts that far too much of our policy and practice in North America still supports dumb growth. Smart growth may be common in our language, but its not common enough in our real practice. We've got A LOT of work to do to make smart growth common-place.

In thinking about this, I realized that one reason this article isn't resonating with me, is because i think it perhaps is U.S-focussed. It doesn't feel reflective of opinion here in Canada, and I doubt it is reflective elsewhere around the world. Does that mean American planners have a shorter attention-span? I think its more to do with the fact that big companies like IBM, Siemens and Cisco are out at every planning conference these days, hard-pitching their products as solutions to our planning problems. This is part of the "technology will save us" movement, which in its worst moments, gives cities permission to not make the hard choices that will really work.

At a conference last year in Spain, i found myself on panels discussing new technologies that will improve cities, surrounded by tech-company reps hard-pitching. I likely disappointed them, by stating that the "technologies" that will do the most good, are not new - compact, mixed-use, walkable communities; bikes, separated bike lanes and bike sharing; transit; small scale innovation like wheeled-luggage; and simple techniques that we've forgotten like passive design or globally-understood tech like district/neighbourhood energy based on renewable resources. But hey, those big companies weren't selling those products. They were selling smart city solutions.

I support the idea of putting new things on the table, like the need to be more intelligent in our measuring and monitoring, and think "smart cities" can be a good addition to the discussion on better cities. But perhaps only in the US media would it be characterized as a replacement for broader and more important concepts like smart growth that remain valuable over the very long term. I hope American planners, and planners everywhere, reject this suggestion.

Brent Toderian
City of Vancouver Director of Planning
President, Council for Canadian Urbanism

I agree with Brent

I heartily agree with your critique, Brent. In San Diego, the term Smart Growth is not to be used in some suburban communities because it's associated with plans to integrate higher density housing (without the necessary infrastructure or services) into existing low-density neighborhoods. Dumb growth is still the default form, and Smart Growth is about form, not technology, as you point out. We have no choice but to start with the form. But if "intelligent cities" gets more cache than "smart growth", I'll happily switch terms and continue to push for compact neighborhoods, mixed uses, and narrow streets.

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