The concept of Smart Growth
by David Busey, Former Director of Community Development
For many small cities across Texas and other parts of the nation, rapid growth and the resulting urban sprawl is becoming more of a detriment than an asset. Increasing demands on limited water resources and existing, sometimes outdated city infrastructure is causing some mayors and city councils to say “put on the brakes!”
“Smart Growth” is an overarching concept of community development that takes into consideration the aspects of appropriate planing, environmental factors, sustainable community economics, and a localized consensus of the community’s “quality of life.”
Growth is inevitable, growth is necessary, but how growth is accommodated can be good or bad. In setting the framework for land development and redevelopment, we should focus on practices that are environmentally sound, economically vital, and that encourage a livable community; in other words, smart growth.”
The concept of smart growth is considered new and distinctive in that it seeks to identify a common ground where developers, property owners, public officials, citizens, environmentalists, and financiers all can find ways to accommodate growth that is acceptable to each entity. According to keynote speakers at the National Partners for Smart Growth Conference that was held in Austin and included Urban Land Institute chairman Jim Chaffin and several state governors; the goal of smart growth is not “no growth” or even “slow growth.” Rather, the objective is “sensible and sustainable growth” that “balances our need for jobs and economic development with our desire to save the natural and cultural environment before it is forever lost.”
This concept has gained considerable recent attention nation-wide with American voters passing many local and state ballot initiatives related to the control of sprawl and growth management. When the votes were counted, livability was the big winner. In a bi-partisan show of support for quality-of-life measures, voters approved–often by impressive majorities–a range of locally managed programs to preserve farmland and open space; to
control visual blight; to encourage the rehabilitation of historic buildings; and to rein in the poorly planned growth that many rank as their number-one environmental concern.
Numerous local governments, working with town planners and architects, are adopting alternative zoning overlays that permit a greater mix of uses, lower parking minimums, smaller setbacks and other design features that promote more density in downtown areas and reduce “sprawl” on the city fringes by encouraging quality “in-fill” development in underdeveloped areas closer to existing central shopping and services; thus conserving on new city infrastructure and creating alternatives to a total dependance on the automobile.
In Alpine’s case It seems that to sustain our economy – considering the role played by tourism, higher education, and relocation of those escaping from larger cities – we must maintain our environment. To do this we need to form a private-public partnership, a partnership that involves vision, trust, and most of all accountability to the future.”
Alpines unique “sense of community” is well worth preserving for many reasons. And because sensible growth and development are key factors in creating community and quality of life, those communities that know how to take advantage of growth will hold a competitive advantage in attracting the best forms of economic development to create a sustainable future for those who wish to live here.