Friday, October 30, 2009

Smart Growth Lost

Dr Weast, US Surgeon General David Satcher, and MHTSA Administrator Dr. Sue Bailey at East Silver Spring ES for Walk to School Day. Harriet Tregoning is at the podium in the photo on the lower left.

I was first introduced to Smart Growt back in 2000, when I met Secretary of the Office of Smart Growth, Harriet Tregoning. She came to help celebrate Walk to School Day at East Silver Spring ES. In 2003, she came to speak at a meeting I organized to support Smart Growth in Montgomery County. Many "Slow-Growth" Councilmembers had just lost their seats, and I thought it was mainly because they seemed "anti-everything" to a lot of voters. I beleived that people wanted to vote for candidates who were FOR somet hings, too.

Many of the peoploe who came to the meeting were from Bethesda - the first wave of Smart Growth retro-fit in Montgomery County. These people were skeptical about Smart Growth, saying that it was used as an excuse to circumvent established Mmasterplans, and expedited the process where ordinary citizens couldn't keep-up. They claimed that Smart Growth was not real, but was being used to sell ultra-high density development.

The meeting was strange. I don't know what I was thinking at the time. Still, it informed me - if no one else. I got to spend a lot of time talking with some very smart people - with opposing views, in some case. I heard the stories about sprawl and loss of green space. Impervious surfaces, pollution, loss of habitat for wildlife, etc. I know first-hand how liviable an urban community can be if it is designed well. I thought fighting and losing this war was not an option. I had naive notions of people finding common ground and working together. Even thought I didn't agree with everything that was said, I respected the people who spoke-up. I was especially impressed with Marc Elrich and Jim Humphries. They had REASONS for their positions. They had experience and instincts that I didn't have.

I don't feel that way anymore. This is not to say that I have been won-over by one side or the other. I still beleive what I beleive - that working together is the key. I just don't know if our community can pull it together enough to demand that Smart Growth be Smart, not just Growth. I still beleive, but people have to fight for it. It won't happen by itself. Left unattended by the public, it will tilt towards those who are looking for profit.

Fortunately, Smart Growth came with a set of principles that we can refer to. Again, these were introduced to me by Harriet Tregoning.

Principles of Smart Growth
Create Range of Housing Opportunities and Choices
Providing quality housing for people of all income levels is an integral component in any smart growth strategy.

Create Walkable Neighborhoods
Walkable communities are desirable places to live, work, learn, worship and play, and therefore a key component of smart growth.

Encourage Community and Stakeholder Collaboration
Growth can create great places to live, work and play -- if it responds to a community’s own sense of how and where it wants to grow.

Foster Distinctive, Attractive Communities with a Strong Sense of Place
Smart growth encourages communities to craft a vision and set standards for development and construction which respond to community values of architectural beauty and distinctiveness, as well as expanded choices in housing and transportation.

Make Development Decisions Predictable, Fair and Cost Effective
For a community to be successful in implementing smart growth, it must be embraced by the private sector.

Mix Land Uses
Smart growth supports the integration of mixed land uses into communities as a critical component of achieving better places to live.

Preserve Open Space, Farmland, Natural Beauty and Critical Environmental Areas
Open space preservation supports smart growth goals by bolstering local economies, preserving critical environmental areas, improving our communities quality of life, and guiding new growth into existing communities.

Provide a Variety of Transportation Choices
Providing people with more choices in housing, shopping, communities, and transportation is a key aim of smart growth.

Strengthen and Direct Development Towards Existing Communities
Smart growth directs development towards existing communities already served by infrastructure, seeking to utilize the resources that existing neighborhoods offer, and conserve open space and irreplaceable natural resources on the urban fringe.

Take Advantage of Compact Building Design
Smart growth provides a means for communities to incorporate more compact building design as an alternative to conventional, land consumptive development.

Are these principles being observed in Montgomery County? Some? Most? You tell me. I, for one, can only answer one of these definitively. The Second Principle is , "Create Walkable Communities." We're definately not doing that. People are working hard to make things better, but we need to do more to say we are living-up to that principle in places like Silver Spring. I will be happy to repeat some suggestions in future posts...

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