American Planning Association on Smart Growth

Ashtabula County must move to the smart growth path and encourage higher quality development. We must learn to say no to development projects that detract from quality of life, deter good businesses and jobs from coming to the county, or undermine community development standards. For starters, we need better countywide and community planning. Here are some American Planning Association (APA) tips on how to approach smart growth.

Definition of Smart Growth

Smart Growth is not a single tool, but a set of cohesive urban and regional planning principles that can be blended together and melded with unique local and regional conditions to achieve a better development pattern. Smart Growth is an approach to achieving communities that are socially, economically, and environmentally sustainable.  Smart Growth provides choices — in housing, in transportation, in jobs, and in amenities (including cultural, social services, recreational, educational, among others) — using comprehensive planning to guide, design, develop, manage, revitalize, and build inclusive communities and regions to:

  • have a unique sense of community and place;
  • preserve and enhance valuable natural and cultural resources;
  • equitably distribute the costs and benefits of land development, considering both participants and the short- and long-term time scale;
  • create and/or enhance economic value;
  • expand the range of transportation, employment, and housing choices in a fiscally responsible manner;
  • balance long-range, regional considerations of sustainability with short-term incremental geographically isolated actions;
  • promote public health and healthy communities;
  • apply up-to-date local and regional performance measures of successful urban and regional growth;
  • encourage compact, transit-accessible (where available), pedestrian-oriented, mixed-use development patterns and land reuse; and,
  • increase collaboration and partnerships to advance place-based and regional goals and objectives, while respecting local land-use preferences and priorities.

Core principles of Smart Growth include:

  1. Efficient use of land and infrastructure
  2. Creation and/or enhancement of economic value
  3. A greater mix of uses and housing choices
  4. Neighborhoods and communities focused around human-scale, mixed-use centers
  5. A balanced, multi-modal transportation system providing increased transportation choice
  6. Conservation and enhancement of environmental and cultural resources
  7. Preservation or creation of a sense of place
  8. Increased citizen participation in all aspects of the planning process and at every level of government
  9. Vibrant center city life
  10. Vital small towns and rural areas
  11. A multi-disciplinary and inclusionary process to accomplish smart growth
  12. Planning processes and regulations at multiple levels that promote diversity and equity
  13. Regional view of community, economy and ecological sustainability
  14. Recognition that institutions, governments, businesses and individuals require a concept of cooperation to support smart growth
  15. Local, state, and federal policies and programs that support urban investment, compact development and land conservation
  16. Well defined community edges, such as agricultural greenbelts, wildlife corridors or greenways permanently preserved as farmland or open space.

Benefits of Smart Growth

While many Americans have benefited from decades of post–World War II suburbanization, many have not. It is also a development pattern has led to some negative consequences for the community as a whole. Our nation is now experiencing heightened concern over the social, environmental, and fiscal quality of our communities arising from development practices that aggravate the decline of many urban communities and older suburbs, congest streets and highways, demand higher levels of energy consumption, accelerate the loss of natural resources and deteriorate the natural environment, and limit opportunities for the retention and creation of affordable housing. Often these problems are simply and collectively labeled, “sprawl.” In response, the Smart Growth movement emerged.

Smart Growth is not, however, limited to combating the symptoms of sprawl. Rural communities are as essential as urban areas to our national economic health and well-being. Smart Growth principles are applicable to rural America as well as urban and suburban communities. Smart Growth is just as much about making existing suburban communities more walkable, efficient, and inviting as it is about preserving rural farmland or reinvigorating urban cores. Traditional approaches to both urban and suburban development both have shortcomings that can be addressed by Smart Growth.

At its core, Smart Growth provides choices for all Americans. American society is not monocultural and never was. The “American Dream” is not a single dream shared by all, but a common concept of realizing economic opportunity through upward mobility, with different dreams for different people. Smart Growth facilitates the opportunity for each individual and family to pursue and realize an “American Dream” of one’s own choosing, expanding housing and transportation choices that enable greater economic freedom. As much as Smart Growth facilitates various new “American Dreams,” it does not take away anything from anyone that they do not choose to leave behind.

Infill development and redevelopment, increased density of development, and the adaptive re-use of existing buildings result in efficient utilization of land resources, more compact urban areas, and more efficient delivery of quality public services. Efficient use of public and private infrastructure starts with creating neighborhoods that maximize the use of existing infrastructure. Special consideration should be given to the location and timing of infrastructure extensions in rural areas so as not to encourage growth that will promote inefficient and unsustainable development patterns; create the need for additional inefficient and costly infrastructure; result in the loss of viable agriculture, forest land, and important natural habitat; create conflicts between agricultural and urban land uses; or ultimately harm the character of the rural community. Smart Growth principles have an economic benefit to the communities and regions that employ them.

Mixed-use developments include quality housing, varied by type and price, integrated with shopping, schools, community facilities, and jobs. Human-scale design in harmony with the existing urban form and quality construction contribute to successful compact, mixed-use development and also promote privacy, safety, visual appeal, and compatibility among uses and users. In rural areas, a mix of housing types and price ranges should be encouraged to meet the needs of the entire community. Mixed-use development is not limited to vertical mixed-use structures; locating parks, neighborhood retail and services, schools, and housing all within walking distance is another way to create a mixed-use community.

A sense of place results when design and development protect and incorporate the distinctive character of a community and its unique context, whether urban or rural. Geography, natural features, climate, culture, historical resources, and ecology each contribute to the distinctive character of a region. Smart Growth principles contribute to a sense of place that differs from the “Everywhere USA” model and anonymous architecture that dominated the last quarter of the 20th century and first decade of the 21st.

Integrating land use and transportation planning to accommodate more than just the automobile and to provide increased transportation choices, including mass transit, bicycling, and walking is a hallmark of Smart Growth. Such development is pedestrian-friendly at a human scale. Rural residents, who range in age and abilities, also have needs for access to public transportation. All forms of transportation must be reliable, efficient, and user-friendly, creating opportunities for access by all segments of the population to housing, employment, education, recreation, and human and community services.

The American Planning Association recognizes that the efficient development of small towns and rural areas is critical to their long-term survival and sustainability. The preservation of smaller towns and rural areas in light of development pressures caused by sprawling development patterns is often more economically efficient. Making housing choices available to a range of households, ages, and incomes, all while maintaining the character of the community and the quality of life is important to new and existing residents alike. The high cost of providing basic infrastructure and services in rural communities demands efficient use of existing facilities, compact development as well as land conservation.

All planning processes, as well as the distribution of resources, must be equitable. A diversity of voices must be included in community planning and implementation. Citizen participation helps ensure that planning outcomes are equitable and based on decision making that derives from an inclusive process. Planning processes must involve comprehensive strategies that engage meaningful citizen participation and find common ground for decision making. Appropriate citizen participation requires an open process by which all stakeholders are free to participate regardless of their position on planning policies or their socio-economic status.

Smart Growth includes evaluating the appropriate geographies to improve air quality, water quality and quantity, habitat functionality, economic prosperity, and transportation choices; and for local jurisdictions within these geographies to establish and coordinate policies that address these elements in a manner that is appropriate for their regions and governance structures.

Smart Growth does not work without cooperation and partnerships among governments, property owners, developers, financial institutions, and the public. The principles of Smart Growth can form the basis for dialogue between these parties and challenge all to ensure that we create in America communities of lasting value. Smart Growth provides timely tools not only for long-range planning but also addressing current issues related to communities with high foreclosure rates, limited infrastructure, and fiscal challenges.

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