BALTIMORE – “Smart Growth” ideas are gaining momentum among America’s environmentalists, architects and planners, say land- use professionals who took part this week in a major national conference.
“This is an incredible movement,” said Andres Duany, a Miami architect and town planner and one of the country’s leading proponents of New Urbanism — the process by which city planning puts the community and the environment back into city design.
The three-day “Partners for Smart Growth” conference, co- sponsored by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Urban Land Institute of Washington, D.C., drew an estimated 600 participants from across the country.
“Smart Growth” programs — including the initiative Gov. Parris N. Glendening announced in the summer of 1996 — promote neighborhood conservation and efficient use of land to combat suburban sprawl.
Lynn Simon, program director for Global Green in San Francisco, said the idea of Smart Growth “is very appealing.” To revitalize existing neighborhoods is “fabulous” because “you are using existing infrastructure,” she said.
But the serious challenge, Simon warned, is economics. As she put it, “if you can educate the developer that it’s energy efficient [and] beneficial, they would understand the return on their investment.”
Education is another challenge. “People want this,” Simon said, adding that it is just a matter of “getting everyone on the same page.”
That awareness may come naturally, said Carl Elefante, an architect for Quinn Evans in Washington, D.C.
Elefante said that people are very “self-interested” in choosing where to make their homes. He said he used to live downtown, but when his children were born, he went where there were good schools at an affordable price.
But, he said, that pattern is likely to change.
Elefante said many suburban communities are in bad shape. He compared metropolitan Washington to a “donut” with heavy growth around an empty center. “The rot in the middle threatens the edges,” he observed. “In the Washington area, the older close-in suburb neighborhoods are under attack…. So where do you draw the lines?”
Elefante thinks revitalization will take place as crime, traffic, congestion and commuting time increasingly affect people in their daily lives. Rather than build another ring around the donut, builders of new communities will look back at the center.
“It will get to a point where [potential development] sites that are somewhat undesirable will be economically feasible,” he said.
Jacquelyn Grimshaw, coordinator of transportation and air quality in Chicago, said her city’s push is to improve housing, schools and transportation where they already exist.
“We are preventing sprawl growth in a way that makes the best use of the infrastructure in place,” she said. “City people paid for suburban sprawl…. At some point, you got to say cease and desist — this is not benefiting us.”
Sam Ruark, director of The Harmony Project for Green Village Expo in Charleston, S.C., said Smart Growth converts tended to be among people of high and low incomes.
“There is growth towards sustainability,” he remarked, but “the middle income is in the sprawl method.”
Like Simon, Ruark said the key “is in education on how they can live better lives.”
Ruark said he is working with several communities in downtown Charleston where 20 percent of homes are condemned and 30 percent to 50 percent need upgrading. He said the project’s goal is to build a resource center within the next six years, where people will be educated on how to revitalize their neighborhoods.
John Frece, Glendening’s key Smart Growth aide, said Maryland has a big role in the larger movement because “Maryland is the only state, I believe, that has taken a statewide approach.”
He said part of Smart Growth’s success depends on developers beginning to see it as the preferable way of building. That, Frece believes, is happening. “The builders are getting on board,” he said. -30-