Kaid Benfield Archive


Another vote for small-city smart growth

Kaid Benfield

Posted April 6, 2008 at 10:37PM

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Matthew Yglesias on theatlantic.com points out that it is not just large cities and metro areas that can adopt smart growth practices.  He correctly explains that there are plenty of places in America that will never have, for example, sophisticated public transportation systems.  Nevertheless, "better planning and land use policies would help the cities in question maximize their assets and increase the sustainability of the enterprise without radically altering the character of the place or the lifestyle of the people who live there."  Morgantown, West Virginia, is his example.

College Street, in Asheville; used with permission of the artistApplause, please.  This, of course, was the point I was trying to make about my original hometown of Asheville (pictured to the left in Jeff Pittman's painting; read my posts here and here), and again about Charleston, SC.  Big-city living isn't for everyone, and neither is taking the bus, sometimes, when the economics are such that it doesn't come by very often or go where you want to.  But, by reviving legacy Main Streets and older parts of communities, and building more sensibly and compactly when we create new places, we can enhance community livability while saving a lot of environmental resources.

I was taken aback by some of the challenges lodged in the comments on Yglesias's sensible, modest argument.  While he had plenty of supporters, there were also those who felt that walkable downtowns and neighborhoods would never happen in most of the country and, even if they did, they wouldn't change people's driving habits and consumption. 

Um, perhaps they are unfamiliar with what's going on is Asheville, or Charleston.  Or Boise.  Or Breckenridge, Colorado.  Or Greensboro.  Or Winooski, Vermont, for goodness sakes.  Smart growth is happening, quickly in some places, more slowly in others, but just about everywhere, because it works and because there is a market to support it.  And while, no, it won't get everyone out of her car (I'm not giving up mine, either), it will provide choices to a significant number of people, so that some of their trips - such as to the dry cleaners, the library, the elementary school, the 7-11, even the office - might be made on foot.  And, with thought to how we can grow inward, not just sprawl outward, even our trips by car can be made shorter, saving gas and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.  Meanwhile, by reducing the need to sprawl, we help save watersheds and the rural landscape.

Nice work, Mr. Yglesias.  You're riding the right horse.

Many thanks to my colleague Andrew Wetzler for pointing me to Matthew Yglesias's post.