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Smart Growth Has Entered The Mainstream

The Project for Public Spaces has been sending around the e-mail circuit a mock-up of a Time magazine cover dated April 1 (no fooling) 2017, with a “Placemaking” headline acclaiming the triumph of smart growth principles. 2017? They’re being way too modest.

Anonymous | April 12, 2007, 11am PDT
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The Project for Public Spaces has been sending around the e-mail circuit a mock-up of a Time magazine cover dated April 1 (no fooling) 2017, with a "Placemaking" headline acclaiming the triumph of smart growth principles. 2017? They're being way too modest.

Time Magazine CoverQuietly, almost suddenly, what people in the movements of new urbanism, place-making and smart growth have been advocating for more than a decade, has entered the mainstream. The labels don't always show up on the package, but whether you're driving or flying, just looking will tell you that most American regions are now pursuing a pattern of development that is predominantly denser, more likely to be putting residential and retail and commercial in the same districts, if not the same blocks and buildings. The interest in building alternative ways to get around has spread so fast that the Federal Transit Administration has the highest ever ratio of applications to start-up money.

For most of the 1990s and into this century, mixed-use, pedestrian and transit friendly places were the oddity, the enclave, some place to visit. Planner-tourists went to Seaside, the Kentlands, Celebration, Mashpee Commons, Laguna West. Meanwhile some communities were steadily, without much fanfare, remaking the physical form of their place.

About six years ago, Fort Collins, Colorado, even while under constant growth pressure, started restoring the notion of authentic neighborhoods by requiring a mix of housing types in each neighborhood and specifying a proportion that had to be within three-fourths a mile from a neighborhood center or commercial district. They worked on better street connectivity.

Charlotte, North Carolina's been doing the hard work of passing ordinances to make a Centers and Corridors policy become real. People are moving to town centers to live where people never lived before, such as downtown Chattanooga. These places are not citadels of progressivism; they're not Portland, Oregon. Salt Lake City is home to a huge emerging mixed-use residential community that could be a monument to the principles of smart growth. These are places better known for conservative, limited government intervention in the marketplace. But they're also cities where public officials have figured out that building places that attract people to live and work and walk in a more vibrant urban scene pays off in building a population base that is better educated. And that brings the most coveted employers.

In the world of young fashionistas, you know something isn't hip any longer when someone shows up wearing it who shouldn't – like an aging boomer wearing a hoodie. Perhaps the same principle applies here. More likely what we have is a situation in which smart-growthers, getting older themselves, don't seem to have this figured out yet that their core argument is winning. Their conference agendas look stuck still in the drive for legitimacy, in persuading people to see the first light. We'll know for sure that new urban and smart growth and place-making are now mainstream when we see those conference agendas focused on helping communities get their plans and ordinances aligned with the new market.

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