Are city planners out-SMART-ing themselves?

By Charles Battig, M.D.

The editors of the American Planning Association published a paper refuting many of the unfounded claims for “smart growth.” The APA has its own trademarked version: “Growing Smart.” It is to the credit of the APA that it published a paper that refutes a number of the un-proved tenets of this building block of governmental planning at all levels.

In the official abstract of this paper, “Growing Cities Sustainably,” in the May edition of the Journal of the American Planning Association, the authors note: “It is commonly asserted that so-called compact development is the urban form most able to sustainably accommodate growth by reducing travel distances and conserving land, but credible supportive evidence remains limited.” Compact development is commonly known as “smart growth” and follows the “neighborhood model” plan, with increased housing density.

The four authors included experts in land use and transportation, architecture, environmental science and engineering. Their conclusions: “The current planning policy strategies for land use and transport have virtually no impact on the major long-term increases in resource and energy consumption. … They generally tend to increase costs and reduce economic competitiveness.”

The negative consequences of smart growth principles include: “less housing choice, crowding, congestion, property price increases, and increases in overall respiratory disease burden as exposure to traffic emissions is increased.”

The “smart growth” model appears not to be so smart. The question is whether our local planners are smart enough to accept the reality that their favorite concept is flawed. Forcing people into compact enclaves as a claimed solution to urban sprawl stifles human individuality, and delivers negative outcomes in place of long-term environmental benefits.

A new paradigm is needed. People tend to be most creative and productive when freedom of choice is assured.

This paper gives reason for planners to reconsider the micromanagement of taxpayers’ housing and land-use choices.

Charles Battig is a CFACT supporter and President of the Piedmont Chapter of Virginia Scientists and Engineers for Energy and Environment. He currently resides in the Charlottesville, VA area.  This article first appeared in the Charlottesville, Virginia, Daily Progress (7-31-12).

[Marcial H. Echenique, Anthony J. Hargreaves, Gordon Mitchell & Anil Namdeo.  “Growing Cities Sustainably: Does Urban Form Really Matter?”   Journal of the American Planning Association, Volume 78, Issue 2, May 2012, pp. 121-137; available for purchase or free online to subscribers; http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/01944363.2012.666731.]

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