By Nate Dolha
Published: Oct. 26, 2012
There is a much abused concept trotted out frequently at municipal hall: Smart Growth.
It is a concept that, depending on interpretation, performs a fabulous double duty for our community leadership; it can be the hero, opening doors for the right development proposal.
It can also be the villain; causing irrefutable damage to proposals, and in some cases, that damage ends up being fatal.
In a nutshell, Smart Growth is a collection of land use policies to encourage urban growth that is environmentally, socially, and fiscally sustainable.
These policies rely on prioritizing three modes of growth ahead of Greenfield development: Infill, redevelopment, and densification to use as much of our existing infrastructure as possible.
While this all seems like a no-brainer on paper, this exercise becomes a hard sell when it’s time for tough decisions from our citizens and politicians alike, as Smart Growth is the antithesis to NIMBYism, and the three year election cycle seems to leave little room for controversy or bold vision.
If we are to truly embrace SmartGrowth as a community, there will need to be some major changes to the way we approach all forms of density, because it’s not just about pushing apartment blocks downtown.
All neighborhoods will need to get thicker, but that density can take many forms; apartments, row houses, town homes, duplex, small lot and co-op detached single family.
If we borrow from Vancouver’s proposed density changes, transit routes and the block behind will be allowed to either subdivide the lots into two, or build row housing within the lots original footprint, for example.
By adding density in this fashion we can accomplish many housing types, supporting citizens in different stages of life in any area.
Water, sewer, road, and transit infrastructure become optimized, and we can accommodate growth without having to clear forest to get it done.
Now, the most common refrain I’ve heard against this type of density from citizens and politicians alike is that it will ‘change the character’ of the neighborhood. They are right, and that’s the point!
To be economically sustainable, we cannot continue to push out the boundaries of our community and expect an ever climbing tax rate to support this sprawl.
To be socially sustainable, we should not accept economically segregated communities like we have today. To be environmentally sustainable, we need to focus density around local shops, services, and transit to offer real alternatives to the car.
So yes, let’s stick with Smart Growth. Let’s just do it right.
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