Sell It As 'Smart Growth'

<p>Savvy real estate developers who can promote their projects as smart growth developments are attracting significant capital from public pension funds -- regardless of the actual merits of the project.</p>
June 7, 2007, 3pm PDT | Christian Madera | @cpmadera
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"In just a short decade, smart growth has become the chameleon of urban planning, changing its appearance depending on the need of the lobbyist, real estate developer or investor. Politicians use the phrase to quiet angry neighborhood leaders, even arguing that new development will fight congestion, not increase it. Developers insist they are pursuing smart growth simply by adding stores and restaurants to residential projects.

Smart growth is not just being used to secure public support for mega-projects. It is also helping investment-fund managers to secure hundreds of millions of dollars in public-pension money - funds invested on behalf of retired California teachers, police officers, firefighters and thousands of other retired government workers.

Smart growth is supposed to help make neighborhoods walkable, put jobs and homes close together, and deliver new housing for a wide range of income levels, not just the rich. But some of the public-pension funds - entities with the words "smart growth" in the name - are investing in projects that perpetuate rather than limit the sprawl."

""There's no smart-growth police going around saying, ‘This isn't smart growth,'" says former Los Angeles City Councilman Mike Woo, an urban planner on the city's planning commission. "So in the absence of a smart-growth police, it's the Wild West out there, with people using any name they want.""

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Published on Wednesday, May 30, 2007 in LA Weekly
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