About Smart Growth

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Current growth practices envelop rural communities, threaten urban cores, destroy our open spaces and natural areas, and threaten our small communities. Smart growth offers a different approach to land use planning.

Smart growth promotes a sustainable way to develop our land resources through the efficient use of land resources, maximizing our current urban services, developing mixed-use neighborhoods, providing transportation options, and incorporating human-scale design to make our communities more livable. It also encourages the development of communities we all want to live in, communities that have a sense of place, that meet our needs, and that give us choices.

Five Smart Growth Principles


Smart growth has five key principles that build on each other to create communities that leave room for open spaces, efficiently use our public investments in streets and utilities, meet the needs of our families, give us the options we need to travel during the day and week, and are attractive. This is the promise of smart growth.

1. Efficient Use of Land Resources

Smart growth promotes the efficient use of land, providing for the uses we need while maintaining green spaces and protecting wetlands and waterways.

Efficient use of our land includes: building compactly on vacant lots, encouraging infill that is scaled to the neighborhood, encouraging brownfield redevelopment where economically and ecologically possible, and considering the best use of the land when planning for vacant land on the edges of our communities.

2. Full Use of Our Current Urban Services

By using land efficiently, we can absorb significant amounts of growth into neighborhoods and business centers that are served by existing public facilities and public services and reduce service costs. Developing outlying areas, or greenfields, requires huge investments in public facilities and services including sewer lines, water lines, streets, roads, highways, and storm drains. These facilities are costly to maintain and service. In many cases urban areas that have existing public facilities also have enough unused capacity to support denser growth within those areas.

3. Mixed-Use Neighborhoods

Mixed-use development integrates appropriately-scaled retail uses and offices with residential areas, schools, and recreation spaces. Mixed-use neighborhoods reduce automobile reliance and use, offer a variety of housing choices creating a more diverse neighborhood, and provide opportunities for increased social contact and community involvement.

4. Transportation Options

Transportation solutions need to include a variety travel modes. These options need to be convenient, safe, and reliable. In compact, mixed use neighborhoods, walking, biking, and transit can be efficient choices. Streets must include safe sidewalks, street crossings, and bikeways. A well-designed street system increases safety by channeling heavy traffic around the neighborhood. Having the jobs and services we need close to home also reduces the need to travel long distances during the day.

5. Human-Scale Design

The automobile has driven American scale and design since the 1950s with the adoption of the interstate highway system and the development of the American suburb. Such large-scale design has left people stranded at home, required them to traverse immense parking lots, forced them to travel busy streetscapes, and made them struggle to remain connected to their neighbors and communities.

Human-scale design helps reduce these traumas by preserving a neighborhood's character, building pedestrian-friendly connections, encouraging the use of transit, developing buildings sized to a pedestrian's scale, and encouraging people to participate in their neighborhoods rather than isolate themselves in an automobile. Overall, human-scale design is the attention to detail needed to make all the other tools of smart growth possible, an important tool to accomplish attractive, comfortable, and livable communities.

 
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