Movements Against Sprawl

Smart growth, new urbanism, and new regionalism are movements that confront the social, economic, and environmental impacts of urban sprawl. Each movement employs a different strategy to manage the costs and benefits of sprawl, and they all have limitations and implementation obstacles. Americans have been slow to adopt these policies because of their long-established traditions of self-determination, individual rights, and private-property ownership (Gillham 2002). Nonetheless, these movements share commonalities, and a comprehensive policy involving all three might be beneficial in the fight against sprawl.

Smart growth is a growth management method that accommodates economic and population growth while protecting the environment and maintaining a community’s quality of life (Gillham 2002). Smart growth supporters use land-use policies and legislation to control growth, and they often build regional partnerships to advance their agendas. Some common smart growth principles include conserving open space, limiting the outward expansion of metropolitan areas, and promoting compact communities (Downs 2005). Opponents of smart growth oppose the movement because they believe that restrictive land-use policies limit freedom of choice. Many smart growth principles concerning compact communities parallel key aspects of new urbanism (Gearin 2004).

New urbanism is founded on the idea that a supportive physical framework is the key to economic vitality, social stability, and environmental sustainability. New urbanists favor high density, mixed use, and pedestrian orientation, and they use local policies, codes, and design standards to shape communities (Calthorpe and Fulton 2001). Homeowners have been reluctant to embrace new urbanism because they believe high densities and affordable housing will decrease property values (Gillham 2002). Many real estate financiers believe that new urbanism projects are too costly and unmarketable, and as a result they are less likely to finance such projects (Gyourko and Rybcznski 2000).

The smart growth and new urbanism movements need regional advocacy in order to accomplish many of their goals. New regionalism places importance on regional thinking, planning, and governance. New regionalism seeks to integrate the different levels of government – national, state, regional, and local – in order to share resources, reduce disparities, and eliminate competition among communities (Wheeler 2002). Commonly, regional initiatives include smart growth and new urbanism principles that promote economic, social, and environmental sustainability. Communities are apprehensive about new regionalism because they perceive regional planning to be excessively socialistic in nature (Downs 2005). Tax-payers believe they should get back what they invest in their own communities, and local, regional, and state governments are reluctant to relinquish power (Wheeler 2002).

Americans are unhappy with sprawl development, and as a result they have devised smart growth, new urbanism, and new regionalism. Each of these movements has its limitations, but a comprehensive approach utilizing principles from each movement might help communities find a viable alternative to sprawl. Planners can help communities overcome implementation obstacles by educating the public on the need for anti-sprawl measures, the interdependency of regional communities, and the success of previous policies and projects. Furthermore, planners can support an intergovernmental strategy that features regional cooperation, a redistribution of powers and resources, and private-public partnerships.

Works Cited

Calthorpe, Peter and William Fulton. 2001. The Regional City: Planning for the End of Sprawl. Pp. 1-12. Washington DC: Island Press.

Downs, Anthony. 2005. “Smart Growth: why we discuss it more than we do it.” Journal of the American Planning Association 71:4 (367-380).

Gearin, Elizabeth. 2004. “Smart Growth or Smart Growth Machine? The Smart Growth Movement and its Implications” pp. 279-307 in Jennifer Wolch, Manuel Pastor, and Peter Dreier (eds) Up Against the Sprawl: Public Policy and the Making of Southern California. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Gillham, Oliver. 2002. The Limitless City: A Primer on the Urban Sprawl Debate. Washington, D.C. Island Press.

Gyourko, Joseph & W. Rybczynski. 2000. “Financing New Urbanism Projects: Obstacles and Solutions” HPD 11:733-750.

Wheeler, Stephen. 2002. “The New Regionalism” JAPA 68:267-278.


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