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Kaid Benfield’s Blog

It's time to update the definition of "smart growth"

Kaid Benfield

Posted December 6, 2010

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    Via Verde affordable green housing, Bronx, NY (courtesy of Jonathan Rose Cos.)

It has been a dozen years or so, fifteen at the most, since a broad but committed group of advocates and organizations coalesced around a shared set of beliefs that, borrowing from then-Maryland-governor Parris Glendening’s landmark legislation, we called “smart growth.”  The phrase suited the movement because it emphasized that we were not opposed to population and economic growth, but we felt it was important to accommodate it in a smarter way:  one that reduces the environmental, economic and social costs of unchecked suburban sprawl and brings investment and opportunity back to communities that had been left behind in the building boom on the fringe of our cities and metro areas.

I’m still for that and, if you’re reading this, chances are that you are, too.  But what about the particulars?  Have we learned anything in the last decade and a half, and are we sufficiently applying what we have learned?  I would say yes, and no, respectively.  I’ll get to that in a minute but, first, let’s look at where we’ve been.

  Capitol Hill, Seattle (by and courtesy of Eric Fredericks,  rural Frederick County, MD (by and courtesy of Kai Hagen)

Of all the attempts to define what the content of smart growth should be, the one that has had the most publicity and staying power has been the set of ten principles crafted in the late 1990s for the Smart Growth Network (NRDC is a co-founder).  They are expressed as imperatives, the things we should strive for in pursuit of a smart growth agenda:

  • Create a range of housing opportunities and choices
  • Create walkable neighborhoods
  • Encourage community and stakeholder collaboration
  • Foster distinctive, attractive communities with a strong sense of place
  • Make development decisions predictable, fair and cost effective
  • Mix land uses
  • Preserve open space, farmland, natural beauty and critical environmental areas
  • Provide a variety of transportation choices
  • Strengthen and direct development towards existing communities
  • Take advantage of compact building design

I’m for those, too.  (Well, nine of the ten, anyway.  I’ve never thought “compact building design” should be at the forefront of our agenda, and in fact it never has been – we seldom advocate for smaller buildings.  That one was simply a mistake; the framers of the list were so scared of using the word “density” that we substituted “compact,” but what we meant was “let’s build more compact neighborhoods and communities,” not “let’s use small buildings.” The mistake has never been corrected.)

  community garden, Old North St Louis (courtesy of Old North St Louis Restoration Group)

Notice anything missing in those principles?  I do.  There’s nothing explicit about equity, health, food, water, access to jobs, parks, energy, green technology, and more – many of the things that have come to the forefront of community and environmental interests in 2010 were simply not on our minds in the 1990s or, if they were, not to nearly the same degree.  If we want to stay relevant, and honest and true to the issues that confront us and the people we represent, we need to do some updating.  

These are the things that I think have received the most emphasis in smart growth coalition advocacy:  transportation, particularly in support of public transit and transit-accessible development; infill development; increasing neighborhood density; regional planning; and, for many, affordable housing.  There have also been specialized issues in particular states, such as defending planning against property rights assaults in parts of the west, along with boutique national issues such as the National Vacant Properties Campaign.  Local groups also continue to fight proposed highway expansion that they believe would exacerbate sprawl. 

That’s not a bad decade’s worth of work, of course, and in fact, we have accomplished much:  since the mid-1990s driving rates have begun to go down; transit use and walking have gone up; central cities are growing again; sprawl has slowed dramatically in many places; light rail in Phoenix (by: Steven Vance, creative commons license)and some form or other of the smart growth agenda is now a mainstream objective of almost every municipal planning office in the country.  We have created institutions, too:  we now have the Smart Growth Network and the advocacy coalition/organization Smart Growth America.  Perhaps most significant, there is now a robust conversation about how and where development should take place, instead of a blind assumption that sprawl will always continue unabated.

I’m not saying that our work is done, but today we confront a very different set of trends than we did in the 1990s.  In fact, I would say that we have made so much progress on these things – with market forces on our side, now, too – that we who like to think of ourselves as “progressive” risk being anything but, if we don’t turn some attention to the issues that have emerged in the 21st century.

Here are some items on which I would like to see more emphasis in an updated, 21st-century smart growth agenda.  Some organizations and advocates are working on some of them now, but we are not often addressing them as a national movement and they are not sufficiently addressed in our core foundation statements:

  • Equity.  We should be unequivocal that we stand for communities of fairness and opportunity; this includes but is not limited to the issue of affordable housing.   Gentrification fears - not always justified, but sometimes - are real, and detrimental to our cause.  How can an agenda be “smart” if it is not also inclusive?
  • Water.  I think we're slowly making progress in bringing things like green stormwater infrastructure into the smart growth mix, but we have a long way to go.    This wasn't really seen as a smart growth issue when Smart Growth America and the Smart Growth Network were created, but it needs to be - again, partly because it cagreen infrastructure (by: Green City Blue Lake)n defeat us in places if we don't embrace it.  Besides, in my opinion contributing to the restoration of urban watersheds is the right thing for urban development to do.  Should sprawl have to do more for water quality, because it does more harm to the watershed?  Absolutely.  But city projects need to do their part.  There is also the issue of water supply in arid regions.
  • Green buildings and technology.  Green isn't green unless it is smart, and smart isn't smart unless it's green.  I know the green building crowd doesn’t fully accept this, labeling buildings “green” or even “net zero” in the middle of nowhere.  But that doesn’t change what is right.  If a project built in 2010 doesn’t have green buildings and green infrastructure, it is not worthy of our applause.  It’s just not that hard anymore.  Beyond the buildings: what about neighborhood infrastructure such as on-site renewable energy generation, or district heating and cooling systems? 
  • Health.  This is another issue that wasn't seen as "smart growth" back in the day, but now seems a glaring omission.  This means placing walkability at or near the top of our design agenda (to their credit, the ten principles do feature walkability), but it also means taking stock in a more deliberate and robust way to be sure that our agenda contributes to health, including mental health.
  • Planning for people.  My friend David Crossley of the respected regional advocacy organization Houston Tomorrow believes that we have almost forgotten the human side, why we advocate, in our platform.  If we’re not improving people’s lives, then what, exactly, is the point?  This is related to equity, and also to health and walkability; but it doesn’t stop there. 
  • The quality of smart growth.  There's a lot of mediocre "smart growth" out there, and we should not support it.  We should be past the point where we applaud density or transit for its own sake.  In particular, high-rises withonot so smart, in my opinion, in Toronto (by: the 'Sauga via Skyscraper City)ut parks and amenities, without moderation, without respect for community, are in my opinion not only creating a lousy legacy in the long run but also hurting our cause today, because they are the easily caricatured public face of smart growth.  Why should we mindlessly support them simply because they are dense and near transit?  Fifteen years ago, merely getting any smart growth was a big deal.  But, now, smart growth is mainstream.  It's time to insist on quality.

Consider the differences between our ten principles, written a dozen years ago, and Mark Holland’s more recently conceived “eight pillars of a sustainable community”:

  1. A complete community
  2. An environmentally friendly and community-oriented transportation system
  3. Green buildings
  4. Multi-tasked open space
  5. Green infrastructure
  6. A healthy food system
  7. Community facilities and programs
  8. Economic development    

That’s a more up-to-date list that includes some items missing from the ten principles, though I also think the ten principles cover some important ground that the eight pillars do not (for example, collaboration, predictability of development decisions, existing communities, preserving rural and natural land).  In addition, I’m not entirely sure that “smart growth” and “sustainable community” are the same thing.  But should they be?  Is smart growth really smart if it doesn't include green space, incorporate access to healthy food and facilitate economic development for distressed communities?

  EffienCity (by: Greenpeace UK)

I’ve written about some of these things before, for example imploring us to understand what I like to call the environmental paradox of smart growth:  to reduce environmental burdens on the planet as a whole, or even on a larger community, we actually may need to increase them in some places.  That brings extra responsibility, in my opinion, to acknowledge and soften those impacts.  I also have challenged the smart growth community to be more ambitious and demanding

I was hoping to generate a buzz with those posts and, to be honest, I don’t think I succeeded.  None of the conversation changed in our community, at least not yet, though some of us are working on it. 

I’m going to keep at it.  The world has evolved, and what was good enough a dozen years ago just isn’t good enough anymore.  What we know how to do today is so much better and more exciting that what we knew how to do when we started.  I intend to advocate a more ambitious and holistic agenda for communities and for development, whether we call it “smart growth” or not.  And I hope some of you will join me.

Update added 12/13/2010: Readers may be interested in my followup post, in which I suggest a new list of updated principles. - K.B. 

Move your cursor over the images for credit information.

Kaid Benfield writes (almost) daily about community, development, and the environment.  For more posts, see his blog's home page. 

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ChewieDec 6 2010 10:27 AM

I'd say the issue of parking has to be explicitly addressed in the definition of smart growth. We know a lot about how minimum parking requirements impede multimodalism, how poorly placed parking facilities hinder walkability, and how typical parking lot designs harm watersheds.

Also, we need more bike parking!

Kaid @ NRDCDec 6 2010 10:59 AM

Chewie, I wouldn't necessarily disagree, but transportation is not the part of our agenda that needs a greater portion of our resources in my opinion. Still, you have a good point with respect to parking design, particularly with respect to water runoff.

Jon ReedsDec 6 2010 11:39 AM

Maybe - but from a perspective across the Pond I'd say proceed with caution.
Often when I explain Smart Growth to people in England they wonder how it differs from the wider sustainable development agenda. My response is that it doesn't, it concentrates and refines important elements of it. More specifically these are major elements of the spatial, transport and community development agenda.
It's obviously tempting to expand it into areas like water supply and wastewater (currently one of the few things limiting housing sprawl in south-east England is the knowledge that parts of it are simply too short of water to supply many more homes). But where do you stop? What about waste management? Local food production or agriculture more generally? Energy supply? Redistribution of wealth? They're all important issues, so where do you draw the line?
One of Smart Growth's greatest contributions, to my mind, is its ability to break down "silo thinking" on sustainability and the environment - to show it's pointless having wonderfully green buildings if they're in the wrong place, for instance, or believing that comprehensive urban redevelopment is the way to a more sustainable society.
But where do you draw the line? Surely some core issues have to remain, even if their definition changes slowly over time and policies to secure them develop too.
Develop more holistic and wide ranging philosophies if you will, but please remember parts of the English-speaking world are yet to come to terms with some of the basics of Smart Growth.

Kaid @ NRDCDec 6 2010 11:47 AM

Jon, those are thoughtful points, and of course you know the situation in the UK much better than any of us here do.

But I don't think my six initial suggestions, at least, go too far. In the US I think the risk is greater if we ignore them than if we don't. And, if we do ignore some of them, let's at least make sure that it is a conscious choice, not one that happens because we aren't paying attention.

Peter ConradDec 6 2010 04:27 PM

I think you’ll find many of these “newer” concepts in Maryland. Maryland recently (2009 Legislation) updated its eight planning visions to twelve. Maryland’s Planning Visions law created 12 Visions which reflect more the State’s ongoing aspiration to develop and implement sound growth and development policy. These new planning visions are the State’s land use policy and a local jurisdiction is required to include the visions in the local comprehensive plan and implement them through zoning ordinances and regulations.
See the descriptions of the Visions below.
1. Quality of Life and Sustainability:
A high quality of life is achieved through universal stewardship of the land, water, and air resulting in sustainable communities and protection of the environment.

2. Public Participation:
Citizens are active partners in the planning and implementation of community initiatives and are Sensitive to their responsibilities in achieving community goals.

3. Growth Areas:
Growth is concentrated in existing population and business centers, growth areas adjacent to these centers, or strategically selected new centers.

4. Community Design:
Compact, mixed–use, walkable design consistent with existing community character and located near available or planned transit options is encouraged to ensure efficient use of land and transportation resources and preservation and enhancement of natural systems, open spaces, recreational areas, and historical, cultural, and archeological resources.

5. Infrastructure:
Growth areas have the water resources and infrastructure to accommodate population and business expansion in an orderly, efficient, and environmentally sustainable manner;

6. Transportation:
A well–maintained, multimodal transportation system facilitates the safe, convenient, affordable, and efficient movement of people, goods, and services within and between population and business centers;

7. Housing:
A range of housing densities, types, and sizes provides residential options for citizens of all ages and incomes;

8. Economic Development:
Economic development and natural resource–based businesses that promote employment opportunities for all income levels within the capacity of the State’s natural resources, public services, and public facilities are encouraged;

9. Environmental Protection:
Land and water resources, including the Chesapeake and coastal bays, are carefully managed to restore and maintain healthy air and water, natural systems, and living resources;

10. Resource Conservation:
Waterways, forests, agricultural areas, open space, natural systems, and scenic areas are conserved;

11. Stewardship:
Government, business entities, and residents are responsible for the creation of sustainable communities by collaborating to balance efficient growth with resource protection; and

12. Implementation:
Strategies, policies, programs, and funding for growth and development, resource conservation, infrastructure, and transportation are integrated across the local, regional, state, and interstate levels to achieve these Visions.

Kaid @ NRDCDec 6 2010 04:56 PM

Thanks, Peter. Keep up the good work.

DdvpDec 6 2010 08:37 PM

The article mentions most cities now embracing some sort of smart growth, but I would like to remove Milwaukee from that list because there has been no smart growth or smart anything to do with development. It is a city that refuses to let go of 1960's and 70's ideals of the car and free parking everywhere

Jim NoonanDec 6 2010 09:04 PM

Great article. I also like the responses. As for changes in Maryland... well they try and their hearts are in the right place. But they need your help. A bit more vision and less bureaucracy wouldn't hurt. For example, no where in the 12 visions that Pete Conrad paraphrases will you find environmental streamlining that was in the oriiginal 8 visions they replaced. Nor will you find anywhere in Maryland, the concept of 'predictability of development decisions'. But I am nitpicking (maybe not). They do try...

Ellen Dunham-JonesDec 6 2010 11:12 PM

Great post. I agree with the need for the updated goals and the raising of the bar. However - I can't but also wish for a re-emphasis on one of the earliest goals: smart locations and regional planning. As I recall, back in the mid-90s when Harriett Tregoning was at EPA and talking up Smart Growth (to folks like me at CNU), the emphasis was on targeting where to grow, where to conserve, etc., and evaluating. LEED-ND has brought back some aspects of smart location - but at the project scale, not the regional scale. The original goal of directing growth to strengthen existing communities comes closest to this intent - but has it gotten as much attention as it should?

Zoe AntonDec 7 2010 06:02 AM

As someone who has been looking into this for a while, I really appreciate your additions. I think we need a very holistic approach for truly sustainable communities.
My question is how do we know these initiatives are effective? Is there a measuring or monitoring mechanism that allows us to look at new developments or regeneration projects and say that they have enhanced the social, natural and financial environment along with the built? What criteria or indicators should we use?

Caren MadsenDec 7 2010 08:21 AM

Thank you for writing this. So much of this has been on my mind lately and you've articulated things so well. We are struggling in Montgomery County with the way the term "smart growth" is being used to the extent that I am reluctant to call anything smart growth lately. It has been used more for greedy growth, to shoe-horn high density development near a Metro stop or a bus stop and call it a day. Hey, it's smart growth just because it's near mass transit, right? Wrong.

As you have pointed out, " isn't green unless it's smart, and smart isn't smart unless it's green.." May I add to your paragraph on that: Can we emphasize in addition to the built green building scenario, the inclusion of healthy mature trees? Mature trees can actually be moved and transplanted. It's done all the time with success. We can also build around them using site fingerprinting instead of clear-cutting. There are a lot of "smart" options for preserving urban tree canopy and maintaining respect for communities and the quality of life in existing neighborhoods.
Great job on the piece, Kaid. I'm proud to know you.

Caren MadsenDec 7 2010 08:24 AM

And by the way, you also rock for making note of the role of public participation in the community planning process. I hope we don't see a whole lot more mediocre or poorly executed "smart growth" in Montgomery County. Our developers and planners need to see your blog post.

Kaid @ NRDCDec 7 2010 08:55 AM

Caren, thanks for those extremely kind words. I believe we *must* have more density, but also that we need to make it thoughtful.

Ellen, I like your sentiments on location. Unfortunately, many of our "urbanist" friends fought the location standards in LEED-ND passionately and still do. Please work on them.

DanielDec 7 2010 05:16 PM

I think the question of how holistic of a smart growth vision to shoot for ought to be a fairly localized decision. In some regions, just exchanging sprawl for a little redevelopment of existing areas is a victory, and insisting on high-quality design, x% affordable units, green features, and so forth may jeopardize the chance for any improvement (or even be a cynical attempt to block it from happening). In other areas, there's the political clout and sufficient demand to warrant asking for much more community-serving aspects of the development. These really are questions of strategy.

That being said, you've done a great job in setting up the ideal. Even in a compromise, you have to know what you're compromising. So I don't write this as a criticism, but as a follow-up question. I know this list isn't intended to be in order of priority, but I wonder how someone might go about making trade-offs between these values.

Kaid @ NRDCDec 7 2010 06:02 PM

Thanks, Daniel. That's a good point. I guess I think even the ten principles we have now are idealistic, and probably aren't ripe for advocacy in all places. But they articulate what we stand for. Any improvements we might want to make would be the same - idealistic as a desired outcome, but flexible situationally.

Eric BDec 7 2010 07:52 PM

A greater focus on predictable development decisions is all too often overlooked. As you pointed out, most municipal planning departments "get it" to at least some extent. Out in California the issue we're facing is turning plans into reality. Our antiquated environmental laws create an extraordinarily unwieldy development review process that may or may not produce an environmentally superior project.

Your observation that smart growth may involve concentrated impacts in existing urban areas to avoid dispersed impacts elsewhere cannot be repeated enough. We need to acknowledge this reality in the legislative and development review process. In California, CEQA is excellent at identifying and mitigating local impacts, but often misses the forest for the trees. Developments are not allowed to degrade local conditions such as traffic congestion, noise, municipal services, etc. The dreaded NIMBYs are able to leverage any of these local impacts to delay or kill good infill projects. CEQA may require analysis of biological impacts from peripheral growth, but at the end of the day wildlife doesn't vote, so decision-makers redirect impacts to greenfield sites.

The difficulty of bringing "smart" development to existing urban areas encourages developers to continue greenfield development on the urban edge, but just at greater densities. The new master planned communities include excellent amenities like bike lanes, wide tree-lined sidewalks, mixed housing, etc., but at 7AM all the new residents still pile onto the freeways to their jobs in the urban core.

And so the paradox of planning in California is that we create beautiful, relatively dense New Urbanist developments on the urban fringe, but ultimately fail to redirect population growth and economic development into existing communities. Single-family neighborhoods with political clout are all but untouchable for change.

I don't know what the solution is to this paradox: it's probably some combination of a better planning processes in urban cores, different threshold criteria for impacts, public education, and revised environmental laws that give leeway in exchange for locational efficiency.

Kaid @ NRDCDec 8 2010 11:17 AM

Excellent points, Eric.

E M RISSEDec 8 2010 11:31 AM

Great post and good comments!

At least I think they are. Not sure what words like uncapitalized 'city' means.

PRIMER coming soon.


E M RisseDec 8 2010 11:58 AM

One other thought::

We are not sure that the opening qualification is still useful when talking about ‘smart’ or even ‘smarter’ growth

(“not opposed to population and economic growth”).

There are finite limits.

They must be considered.

The New Economics Institute is trying to address this as is the DeGrowth movement.

“The Not So Big House” and “The Not So Big Life”may be a place to start.

Smart growthers need to hang onto “compact building design” as well as compact design of Urban fabric at the Alpha Dooryard, Alpha Cluster, Alpha Neighborhood, Alpha Village scales – and ESPECIALLY at the Alpha Community Scale (except for Balanced But Disaggregated Communities in the Countryside).

Smart growthers also need to embrace population stabilization on all continents, in all MegaRegions and in all Regions.

Without less per capita consumption and at least no more capitas ‘smart growth’ plays into the hands of Business-As-Usual and supports Mass OverConsumption .

Mass OverConsumption is not sustainable, period.


Kaid @ NRDCDec 8 2010 12:05 PM

You make an interesting point, Ed, but we need to tread carefully. Community-based opposition to growth has been one of the prime drivers of sprawl.

E M RISSEDec 8 2010 05:41 PM


Not sure what you mean by ‘sprawl.’

Do you mean scattered Urban land uses creating dysfunctional human settlement patterns outside the logical location of The Clear Edge (an approximation of the “growth boundary between Urban and nature” per your 23 August 2010 post) which you and I have been fighting for decades?

If that is what you mean, it looks like that is becoming yesterdays problem due to Aftershock from The Great Recession.

See Leinberger’s take at

SYNERGY has found dwelling and property values falling in the Radius Bands outside the logical location of The Clear Edge in New Urban Regions we have checked.

It is getting worse by the week but is not yet on anyone’s screen except for Case-Shiller’s declining house values, new home sales being down, etc. That is just the tip of the iceberg.

What we need are great Neighborhoods that make up great Villages that form great Communities so that there are models for a sustainable future.

Keep up the good work.


Kathy BlahaDec 8 2010 08:26 PM


What a great idea to revisit the principles - sustainability after all is all about monitoring, measuring and adjusting. Why not challenge Smart Growth America to take this on?

Kaid @ NRDCDec 8 2010 08:54 PM

Ed, if you go back over my blog posts you'll find at least a dozen on the subject of falling home values on the fringe and steady or rising values in inner locations.

And you know well what "city" and "sprawl" mean in the context of this particular discussion. When I say that community opposition to growth has been a major driver of sprawl, I mean that a no-growth policy in one place encourages that development to go elsewhere. Your work suggests that you are familiar with that paradigm, too. If sprawl as we have known it is declining, as you, Chris and I agree, let's don't give it any extra life support by loose talk about "no growth."

I'm all for addressing overconsumption in all its forms - that's something else we agree on - but you and I also both know that most regions, including the one you and I live in, are in fact going to absorb substantial population growth in the coming decades. It is important that as much as possible be absorbed into areas within the existing regional development footprint. I have a feeling we are wasting energy parsing words here, but yes, that means "growth" in some places, if "no growth" in others.

Since I am dedicating the current phase of my career to creating and assisting the development of great neighborhoods that can become models, we have no disagreement at all on that point.

Kaid @ NRDCDec 8 2010 08:55 PM

Kathy, great to see you here! We have, in fact, begun talking about the issue within Smart Growth America.

E M RISSEDec 9 2010 07:00 AM

Sorry Kaid:

I really do not know what anyone means when they use ‘city’ uncapitalized or others of the Core Confusing Words (‘suburb’ ‘suburban’ ‘sprawl’ etc.) for the reasons spelled out THE SHAPE OF THE FUTURE and in GLOSSARY available on our web site.

“Experts” with very good APA credentials have called places we have built at Village scale (20,000 + / - citizens) and Neighborhood scale (500 – 1,500 citizens) ‘sprawl.’

Others with equally good APA credentials have called them great places to live, work and seek Services.

The residents, as surveyed by the national media, love to live, work and seek Services in these places, the property values are stable, kids can walk to school, there is lots of accessible common open space, the stream valleys are preserved, etc, In the biggest one we dedicated a commuter rail station (in 1976) and worked for 20 years to get VRE running. (Now the station is served by Amtrak as well), etc.

These places are without question the best places in their Regions that could be built in economic and land use control environment of the 70s and 80s.

But in some eyes they are ‘sprawl.’ These same experts say the same for the 8 Planned New Communities (55,000 citizens plus) across the US in which we played a role.

On the larger topic, it seems we are looking at the world from two different ends of the telescope.

Four ongoing projects do no allow time to mention more than the tip of the Vocabulary issue for now. (Note the time stamp on this comment – and I am an old guy who needs 8 hours of sleep...)

Have a great Holiday and be prepared to look at the world in a new light in the coming year.

And, keep up the good work on quality Neighborhoods and all the other things we agree on.


Klaus PhilipsenDec 13 2010 07:41 PM

I agree we need to redefine smart growth for the 21st century. First question is, of course, for which country? or all countries? The term smart growth was especially useful in the US where the traditional (European) separation of town (village) and landscape has been blurred by amorphous sprawl. Smart growth was initially mostly addressing the issue of ineffective and wasteful land consumption, more and more space for each added person. The purpose was not to define sustainable community. I would maintain these are still two topics, albeit overlapping. Considering that we have ongoing wordlwide urbanisation, the question of spatial order of these megalopolis metro areas is still a huge question. And this order is mostly informed by the transport system in the way that the available transport really defines the allocation of everything else.
I like the Maryland Principles as well (I live there), but we still need much stricter land use policies, particular real protection of agriculture and forestry. And for that to work viable farming economics. These items are vital and I would like them added to any new list or definition. Thanks for kicking this discussion off!

Charles BrentonDec 14 2010 09:14 AM

Great discussion! Would it be useful to distinguish between 'smart growth' as a practical planning tool and 'smart growth' as an ideology. Maryland's smart growth legislation was proposed as a state planning tool. It was intended as a guide to promote more efficient spending on roads, schools, and other infrastructure, and to preserve open space. It provided a standard for state planners to assess county comprehensive land use plans. Looking from this perspective, I would ask what is the valid reach of the comprehensive plan; and conversely, what matters are better resolved by the investors and their design professionals?

Kaid @ NRDCDec 14 2010 10:51 AM

More excellent points and Charles, your distinction between the visionary and the pragmatic is important. Personally, I've been thinking more about the goals, the vision, while assuming that there will be variation among where, when and how aspects can be achieved. Having said that, though, I think one of the strengths of the smart growth movement so far has been its pragmatism, and I don't want to lose that.

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