Friday, December 09, 2005

Sprawl & Smart Growth

This post is an article about sprawl and current thinking about it, which is playing a large role in the preservation of the Parkway.

In addition to this article, there is also a book out recently, Sprawl, by Robert Bruegmann, professor of urban planning at the University of Chicago, which makes a good case that sprawl isn’t the enemy most commentators would have us believe.

Here is an excerpt:
“Detractors call it sprawl and assert that it is economically inefficient, socially inequitable, environmentally irresponsible and ugly. Robert Bruegmann calls it a logical consequence of economic growth and the democratization of society, with benefits that urban planners have failed to recognize.

In his incisive history of the expanded city, Bruegmann overturns every assumption we have about sprawl. Taking a long view of urban development, he demonstrates that sprawl is neither recent or particularly American but as old as cities themselves, just as characteristic of ancient Rome and eighteenth-century Paris as it is of Atlanta or Los Angeles. Nor is sprawl the disaster claimed by many contemporary observers. Although sprawl, like any settlement pattern, has undoubtedly produced problems that must be addressed, it has also provided millions of people with the kinds of mobility, privacy, and choice that were once the exclusive prerogatives of the rich and powerful.”

One of the facts noted in this article, confirming Bruegmann, is that the cities touted as smart growth models are cities that are also driving out their children and consequently moving away from smart growth policies, cities like Portland, Oregon.

Rocky Mountain News: July 9, 2005
Smart Growth & Sprawl-reducing policies suffer setbacks around the country
By C. Kenneth Orski and Jane C Shaw

"Smart-growth" policies, which became popular nationwide during the 1990s, are regulations designed to reduce suburban sprawl and control growth. They encourage people to live close together within walking distance of shops and offices. One goal is to reduce the use of the automobile. Another is to create neighborhoods full of interesting "streetscapes." A third is to cluster people in high densities in order to preserve large areas of open space. Today, smart-growth policies seem to be in retreat. Setbacks have occurred in Maryland, Virginia and Oregon, and new census information suggests that the public does not really embrace the smart growth way of life.

Maryland: No dent in land-use patterns

One sign of smart growth's weakness comes from Maryland, where former Gov. Paris N. Glendening unveiled a statewide policy in 1997 to manage growth. The idea was to restrict the use of public funds for development to areas where public infrastructure was already being supplied. Counties were to submit plans to the state showing where they wanted growth to occur. These "priority funding areas" would be eligible for state infrastructure financial assistance, but projects outside these areas would not. The policy was hailed as a milestone. But as Peter Whoriskey reported last fall in a series of articles in the Washington Post, Glendening's initiative has yet to make a significant dent in Maryland's sprawling land-use patterns.

"A review of key state and local planning records shows no significant shifts in Maryland's development patterns since the passage of Glendening's smart growth package," wrote Whoriskey. "Growth still takes place where there was nothing, rather than where it has gone before."

Although he did not have recent figures, Whoriskey noted that in 2001, 75 percent of the land consumed by home building in Maryland was taken from pastures, woods and other parcels outside the smart-growth areas - almost the same percentage as before the program began, according to Maryland Department of Planning records. One possible reason for the failure of Glendening's smart-growth policy was that it lacked teeth. The state could refuse to fund the necessary public infrastructure but could not veto a project. Large developers and retail giants such as Wal-Mart built anyway, financing the necessary roads and sewers themselves. Local officials refused to stand in the way.

For the rest of the article: