Want Smart Growth? Break Out the Carrots and Sticks

To paraphrase B.F. Skinner, if you want positive behavior, either reward it in return, or remove something unpleasant in response; to paraphrase R. Steuteville's commentary, if we want a green economy, we need to do the same thing with development.
October 18, 2008, 1pm PDT | The Intrepid Staff
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"Many new urban projects are built successfully with no public subsidies. But without incentives, the transformation to smart growth takes place much too slowly. Green technologies require a helping hand to compete in the mass market. Industry is heavily invested in current methods, and transition costs are high. Comfort with the status quo and fear of the unknown are barriers to change.

"Smart growth is the green technology of the real estate development industry. Consumers are most familiar with houses on automobile-dependent one-acre lots. One way to encourage more people to try something new is to build a really high-quality public realm loaded with parks and amenities, as planned in Verano [a large green development project SW of San Antonio, TX, supported by tax-increment financing]. This approach costs money. Today's smart growth is not your great grandfather's urban neighborhood - where they laid down a basic grid of streets and let the builders do the rest.

"In most municipalities, builders are strongly discouraged from creating anything but automobile-dependent suburbs. Zoning generally requires dumb growth, and developers are forced either to build sprawl or plead for permission to do something better. Where Verano is planned, officials got rid of that disincentive by approving e SmartCode. The new zoning is, like the TIF, appealing to the developer because as long as the plan meets the SmartCode, public approvals are streamlined.

"Do we want a green America that spends less of our national treasure propping up dictators? We can move in that direction by removing regulatory incentives for sprawl and adopting tax incentives for green development. The development industry will respond with smarter plans that offer residents transportation choice."

Thanks to The Intrepid Staff

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Published on Monday, October 13, 2008 in New Urban News
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