Saturday, January 15, 2005

Is "Smart Growth" Just for Liberals?

A Bush administration EPA official is coming to Greensboro on Tuesday to present the 2004 Smart Growth Award to Greensboro for its work on the Southside development. He'll also be giving a a presentation: "Myths and Facts about Smart Growth Approaches to Development."

I'm very interested in what he'll have to say. I think a lot of people associate "smart growth" with left-leaning politics, mainly because it is pushed by environmental groups and by people like former Vice President Al Gore. Locally, conservative city councilman Tom Phillips has blogged skeptically about it.

But I think conservatives should beware of the idea that just because the Sierra Club is for it, we must necessarily be against it. There is a very strong conservative case for urban planning. As National Review (the nation's leading conservative opinion journal) observed recently,

The idea that suburbia is a spontaneous, market-driven phenomenon is completely false . . . . In this environment one doesn't encounter great civic monuments, not to speak of great civic architecture. And the generally abysmal quality of public space contrasts with the luxurious kitchens, media rooms, master bedrooms, and bathrooms-tokens of what the New Urbanist architect Philip Bess has called "America's true growth industry, the care and tending of the autonomous self." (Read the whole thing.)
Philip Bess is himself a strong cultural conservative who believes that civic virtue can and should be expressed and fostered by the way we arrange our urban spaces. I once heard him say, paraphrasing Aristotle, "The happy life consists of the exercise of virtue in one's neighborhood or town." That sounds pretty conservative to me.

I hope councilman Phillips -- and the rest of the city council, for that matter -- will come hear the talk. Here's the full information:

Myths and Facts about Smart Growth Approaches to Development
Mr. Geoffrey Anderson
Acting Chief of Staff for Policy Economics and Innovation
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

Location: Greensboro Historical Museum Auditorium, 130 Summit Avenue
Date: Tuesday, January 18, 2005
Time: 4-5 p.m.

Click here to download the flier.


Anonymous said...

David: Thank you for your comment about conservatives not being against Smart Growth just because the Sierra Club is for it. The Sierra Club has been promoting Smart Growth in Greensboro and Guilford County for over 6 years. The Sierra Club's Challenge to Sprawl Campaign works to fight poorly planned runaway development and promotes smart growth communities that increase transportation choices, reduce air and water pollution, and protect our natural places. I believe these goals are wanted by everyone regardless of their political leanings.

David E. Sullivan
Sierra Club Piedmont Plateau Group
Challenge to Sprawl Campaign Chairman
Greensboro, NC

Joe Guarino said...

David- I'm torn on this one. You may have seen John Hood's piece earlier this week ( suggested that smart growth can increase congestion, cost of housing, crime, cost of government, etc.

My concern is the impact this type of development would have on the working class/lower middle class. Anything that government does to add to the marginal cost of housing is effectively a regressive tax (which consumes a greater proportion of income in these groups) making home ownership less affordable. Is this a valid concern, and if so, how is it overcome?

David Wharton said...

Joe, I didn't see John's piece, but I'll have a look.

I'm worried about planned growth's effect on the poor, too. But I think unplanned growth also hurts them in a variety of ways -- by making public transportation less efficient, and making it harder and more expensive for them to get to jobs and government services, for example.

I also don't much like the the stark geographic division of social capital that happens when the talented and prosperous decamp to the suburbs. This is very damaging to urban neighborhoods and leads to reduced quality of life and safety for the poor.

So let's keep talking about it.

And by the way, I liked your piece in the N&R this morning. Have you thought about starting your own blog?

sam's notes said...

David- Thanks for the alert to the meeting. It'll will be great blog material over at my house.

As a conservative, who has sat through his share of county commissioners, city council and planning and zoning meetings, "urban sprawl" and "smart growth" are big issues with me.

My quick take is planning and development is a very complicated issue that is oversimplified by the media. As a result, the public is conditioned to think "trees" good, "development" bad. I criticized the N&R on my blog for its article on the Sierra Club's Guilford County report. I'm not saying it wasn't news, but why was it above the fold?

Trees are good. But not all development is bad. An example: I watched the zoning commission meeting on TV the other night where Betty "Lake Jeaneatte" Smith wants to put townhomes on property off New Garden Road and asked the commission to rezone from residential single family.

A lady in opposition to the project spoke about the many trees that would be cut down as a result of the project. That's true. But commission chairman Gary Wolff pointed that if a developer wanted to build under the current residential zoning, then more trees would likely be cut because residential zoning isn't subject to the tree buffer ordinance that multifamily development is.

Again, that's just one example. I'll be sure to attend the meeting. It's now time to watch some football.

Joe Guarino said...

Thanks for your comment on today's piece. Have thought a bit about starting my own blog, but I am not sure as of yet. I have to admit that blogging is a lot of fun for news junkies and students of public policy, and also can be pretty addictive. The luxury of being someone who merely submits comments is that there is no burden to develop ideas for creative posts on a daily basis. Will continue to watch the smart growth debate.