Is “smart growth” planning for real – or a fraud in PW County?

Peggy Noonan included a satirical headline in her Wall Street Journal column today: “95% of Americans Support Public Transit for Other People.”

In PW County, smart growth is for other people.  Few of us who live in PW County now are going to sell our current houses and move to a new transit-oriented, mixed-use, walkable, tree-shaded, “smart-growthy” community nearby. 

But there’s still one great reason to offer incentives to developers to create such communities:Newbies. 

Demographers predict that our dramatic population growth will continue for several more decades.  Developers will build new housing for new residents to live somewhere in PW County.  Taxpayers will fund new infrastructure (schools, fire/police stations, transportation facilities) to accomodate the new residents. 

Let’s create transit-oriented, mixed-use, walkable, tree-shaded, “smart-growthy” communities for the new residents.  Let’s encourage developers to shift away from more-of-the-same subdivisions, located in places where widening the roads will drain the taxpayers’ wallets.

The Planning Commission and Board of County Supervisors are empowered to shape where development occurs by smart planning.  There’s plenty of local capability, despite the limits under the Dillon Rule.  

The zoning and planning authorities of local government allow us to steer growth.  County officials have incentives and regulations (“carrots” and “sticks”) to stimulate new development at the places where we can provide infrastructure at reasonable cost. 

The dumb growth alternative: allow new development to occur willy-nilly, wherever a speculator has been able to acquire a parcel and wants to build something.   

“Build anywhere you want” comes in many disguises.  Sometimes it is cloaked with the language of smart growth, with lots of references to town centers and mixed use communities based on transit – but if you look past the sweet words, you’ll find the same old-same old approach.    

How can we verify if the updated Land Use and Transportation chapters in the new Comprehensive Plan continue more-of-the-same development?  How do we know if we really are shifting policy to implement fundamental smart growth principles?

Look at the linkage between the location of new housing/retail/office developments and planned new transit infrastructure.  Do the circles on the map create high-density population/job centers *and* match up with commitments to provide new bus and rail services?

If not, then development based on the new Comp Plan will continue to locate new housing far from jobs.  That will trigger demand by commuters for very expensive road expansions and very expensive transit services to scattered locations. 

You can call a plan that fails to link transportation and land use planning whatever you want – but uncoordinated planning is still dumb.


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