What Smart Growth is . . . and is not

Defining a term: Land-use philosophy elicits great debate, and scant agreement.

June 09, 1999

SMART GROWTH: Gov. Parris N. Glendening has been credited with coining the term (though it's unclear that he did). Vice President Al Gore has championed it. Everyone from the Sierra Club to homebuilders claim they're for it.

But they don't all agree what constitutes Smart Growth.

Here's our view of it:

Smart Growth is the government weighing the long-term impact of investing in roads, schools and infrastructure.

Smart Growth is not a one-size-fits-all building code, as Mr. Glendening proposes.

Smart Growth is a broad philosophy that attempts to "turn an ocean liner" of land-use strategies that have encouraged sprawl for half a century.

Smart Growth is not yanking funds from a half-completed police training center because it is too far from a city and then suggesting that housing or industry, which would have a more adverse impact on the countryside, belongs there instead.

Smart Growth is nourishing older neighborhoods, such as Essex, Pikesville and Highlandtown, that have begun to slide downhill.

Smart Growth is not simply better-designed subdivisions. Expansive Chapman's Landing in Southern Maryland, for example, was well-planned but poorly placed.

Smart Growth is preserving agriculture because farmland may become a shopping center, but a shopping center never becomes farmland.

Smart Growth is not about restricting builders and simply changing government's habit of subsidizing rampant development.

Smart Growth is about shaving the ridiculously long commutes that many feel they must endure to buy a desirable, affordable home.

Smart Growth is not as meaningless as the National Association of Home Builders apparently thinks. It touts support on one hand, yet argues for the status quo by citing surveys that say people overwhelmingly favor big yards and big homes far from apartments and townhouses.

Smart Growth is realizing that communities shouldn't be discarded like fast-food wrappers.

Smart Growth is about public safety: Few people will move to a place they perceive is unsafe.

Smart Growth is about education because even fewer people will send their children to schools considered ineffectual and unruly. Private schooling is a refuge available or affordable only to one-fifth of the population.

Smart Growth is merely today's political wrangle, to be forgotten tomorrow, unless people start spending more time discussing the benefits and pitfalls of this movement and less time arguing about the differences.

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