Smart Growth 2.0

At the 2nd Annual New Partners for Smart Growth Conference, participants discussed how to position smart growth for widespread adoption.

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Christian Peralta width="72" height="105" hspace="10" vspace="6" align="left">In
1991, a group of leading architects and planners came together and
drafted a set of planning principles outlining an alternative
development model to the urban sprawl of American cities and towns.
These principles, named for the Ahwahnee hotel in Yosemite,
California where they where originally presented, have generally
been considered one of the first articulations of what is now commonly
referred to as "smart growth."

Twelve years later, smart growth supporters converged in New
Orleans, Louisiana – a somewhat less pastoral location – for the 2nd
Annual New Partners for Smart Growth Conference. Organized by the
Local Government Commission, which also sponsored the drafting of
the Ahwahnee principles, and Penn State University, the conference
brought nearly 1,000 elected officials, planners, developers and
community activists to learn how to further implement smart growth
planning principles in our nation’s neighborhoods, cities, towns and

Though the official theme of the conference was "building safe,
healthy and livable communities," a much stronger theme permeated
much of the discussion: “how can smart growth be effectively

After years of effort, many smart growth advocates believe they've
succeeded in educating planners and policy makers about the problems
of urban sprawl and the merits of smart growth. The task now, as
they see it, is to begin moving smart growth development practices
from the margin into the mainstream, and to make the public at large
accept and even demand smart growth projects in their own

To address the issue, many speakers cited the need for a coalition
of prominent groups and organizations to market smart growth to the
American public. While planners are mostly enthusiastic about the
merits of smart growth, they said, developers and local officials
are still weary of the public's reaction to some of smart growth's
prescriptions, including increased density and reduced dependence on
the automobile in favor of public transit.

Illustrating the growing support for smart growth at the conference
was a number of representatives from an assortment of fields, most
notably public health and safety. In various sessions throughout the
conference, several law enforcement officials cited the success of
crime prevention programs that emphasized environmental design to
define public and private spaces and thwart criminals. Also voicing
their support were several physicians and health care providers, who
praised smart growth as a way to promote active, healthy lifestyles
that encourage people to get out of their cars and walk while
reducing air pollution levels that have led to high occurrences of
respiratory problems, especially in children. Highlighting the role
of public health partners at the conference was the presence of the
Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, a national foundation dedicated to
improving health and healthcare in the United States and a major
sponsor of the conference.

The multi-disciplinary theme was extended to other conference
sessions which sought to involved seniors, youth, and
under-represented groups in community planning and the debate of
where and how growth should occur. Many participants lamented that
fact that many smart growth demonstration projects have excluded
minorities and lower-income segments of the population, and
re-emphasized the importance of incorporating a stronger commitment
to social equity in future smart growth projects.

Other discussions centered on plain old marketing strategies to move
smart growth forward, and there were several speakers throughout the
conference who suggested that smart growth just hasn't been marketed
well. Andres Duany, a charter member of the Congress for New
Urbanism, criticized the "anhedonic" approach to marketing smart
growth in his speech at the close of the conference. Duany suggested
that rather than highlighting what smart growth prevents or
discourages developers and individuals from doing, emphasis should be
placed on the increased quality of life from the enjoyment of a
safe, walkable neighborhood or abundant nearby green space.

Some of the most persuasive arguments came from some local elected
officials, many of them conservatives, who have begun to implement
smart growth policies on the merits of efficiency and
cost-effectiveness. Speaking during the opening session, Patrick
McCrory, the Republican Mayor of Charlotte, North Carolina,
acknowledged that smart growth principles can help fast growing regions
to cope with increasing traffic and housing prices, while minimizing
public infrastructure costs in the long term. Mayor McCrory offered
several examples smart growth policies he helped enact in Charlotte,
including a restriction on cul-de-sac subdivisions and a $1 billion
mass transit initiative, while challenging other elected officials
to do the same.

Another important issue that was raised was the continuing obstacle
that outdated planning and building codes pose to smart growth
projects. Addressing the problem during several sessions, planners
and local officials highlighted the importance of getting "smart"
codes adopted by cities and towns in order encourage more smart
growth developments and discourage sprawl. Several developers
acknowledged that “codifying” smart growth could significantly
reduce the cost disparity between smart growth and conventional
development by eliminating the lengthy entitlement and approval
process many smart growth developments require.

A special and welcomed component to the 2nd Annual New Partners for
Smart Growth Conference was a delegation of over 30 high school aged
youth from around the country. Members of the youth delegation sat
with the attendees throughout the entire conference, asking
questions and offering their unique perspectives on many of the
issues being discussed. During the final conference session,
representatives from the youth delegation expressed their desire to
see smart growth positively impact their communities, and urged the
conference attendees to work with youth in their respective
communities as a resource to further smart growth efforts. The group
received a standing ovation from the grown-up participants at the
conclusion of the presentation.

After two and a half days of keynotes, sessions, workshops, and a
little late-night carousing (it was New Orleans, after all), the
participants headed home to reflect on what they had learned from
each other during the conference, and face the many challenges in
their communities armed with a new and more informed perspective on
implementing smart growth policies and creating successful projects.

And while the Ahwahnee principles still infused much of the
discussion and dialogue around smart growth, it was also clear to
conference attendees that the overall concept of smart growth has
evolved, emerging from more than a decade of trial use into a newer,
more comprehensive yet more succinct version of smart growth. This
new version of smart growth, which leverages a broad-based coalition
of support to build communities that are ecologically and economically
sustainable while inclusive to all residents, must now be
effectively communicated to the American public at large if smart
growth is to deliver on its promises for a better quality of life
for all.

Christian Peralta is
a senior at the University of
Southern California
majoring in urban planning and development.
When not studying, he splits his time between href="">Urban Insight, a Los Angeles
Internet consulting firm, and href="">Livable Places, a
nonprofit housing developer.



New Partners for Smart Growth

Thanks, Christian, for your great article about the New Partners conference in New Orleans. I went to the first one in San Diego, but was unable to attend this year. Your summary brought back the excitement and substance I recall from last year, and gave me a good sense of this year's themes. Thanks!

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