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Question of the Week: How has your community used smart growth for environment-friendly development?

2009 February 23

Each week we ask a question related to the environment. Please let us know your thoughts as comments. Feel free to respond to earlier comments or post new ideas. Previous questions.

Communities grow to meet demand for homes, schools, shopping, offices, roads, and everything else. But community growth can affect the environment due to increases in traffic, energy and utilities, waste, and more.

How has your community used smart growth for environment-friendly development?

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81 Responses leave one →
  1. Damian Pipkins permalink
    February 27, 2009

    I live in Los Angeles and there is very little that is smart with our community’s growth. I think we need more taxis or more frequent buses or anything other than static transit. It seems that because of our weather patterns Los Angeles was not forced to invest in rail and relied on cars. Allowing people to drive 70 miles one way to work seems barbaric and we don’t seem to be doing much to help people live without cars. I travel a six mile radius for 99% of my travels but without a car it would be almost impossible to get around due to the lack of transporation options in a city of 4 million people.

    Something smart about growth would be more flexible transit options that are not tied to certain routes or time schedules. Creating niche markets for transit needs could solve some growth problems because people could meet their needs without having to replicate everything for every community by making destinations more accessible i.e. sports arenas, civic centers, theme parks, etc.

  2. Cathy Antonakos permalink
    February 27, 2009

    In my community, there are buses and some bike lanes. The city is encouraging high-density housing downtown. And there are parcels of open space being purchased by the city. We also have a recycling program that has been in place for many years, including recycling yard waste/compost.
    But there are some areas where the city has blundered. They had an opportunity to demonstrate a commitment to preservation and they failed. I am thinking of the new high school, built in a what was formerly a beautiful woods — not within walking distance from more than a handful of homes. And the attempts by a local group to have a floodplain near downtown designated as a preservation zone/greenway are not being positively accepted by the city.
    At least now, people have caught on to the fact that the environment matters. And with a slowing economy, I think there is an opportunity to re-think what growth we want to have – use the pause wisely.

  3. Kathy permalink
    February 28, 2009

    My small town of St. Joseph, Minnesota has made some good moves in the last few years. We have a farmers’ market (weekly in the summer, monthly in the winter), which helps both local producers and customers. We have only a small grocery store in town, so this provides a great source for fresh produce in the summer with less driving involved. It’s also a great social event, with musicians and other entertainers.

    We are currently on the end of a bicycle trail (the Wobegon Trail – we’re in Lake Wobegon country), which is heavily used by bicyclists, skaters, and walkers. There is a plan in the works to extend the trail to the larger city about ten miles away, which will provide an alternative form of transportation for part of the year.

    We just built a new K through 8th grade school, which is full of energy-saving and truly green features (I believe it’s LEED certified) – lights that adjust to the level of daylight coming through the windows, solar panels and a wind turbine, etc. Best of all, the school is incorporating environmental studies into their curriculum. Students can find out how much energy the school is producing and consuming each day. I think it will make a huge difference for the kids to grow up being familiar with the latest in green technologies. There’s also a paved walking/bicycle trail from the town to the school, separated from the roadway.

    So there’s some good stuff happening here!

  4. palvinder singh bhinder permalink
    February 28, 2009

    in my country india haryana state I am working as junior engineer in public haelth engineering depatment to supply safe &potable water to everyone . No body here has knowledge of saving air & Water from pollution just by lack of this everyone spoiling environment which will harmfull for life in future

  5. Concerned permalink
    February 28, 2009

    I wonder what the EPA will do to protect 90% of this nation’s fresh water (23% of the world’s supply) when mining for gold begins on the Great Lakes? What will the EPA demand in an Environmental Statement or will they even get involved? Will the process of using cyanide in gold mining be allowed to leach into our fresh water or will the EPA put in place protections? Questions that just don’t seem to get answered. I sure hope the EPA becomes “proactive” instead of having to “react”….. water is too important to play games for $$$.

  6. Karen Ferrell-Ingram permalink
    February 28, 2009

    Our communities have utilized smart growth by preserving critical private lands with conservation easements. This keeps the land on the tax rolls and under private ownership but restricts subdivision and development. Farms and ranches, critical wildlife habitat and our incredible scenic vistas in the Eastern Sierra of CA have been permanently preserved!

  7. Adam Siegel permalink
    February 28, 2009

    I have not seen truly environmentally-sustainable urban development. For truly sustainable development, I envision mini-composting & recycling plants to service city-block size areas. Residents within each city block will dispose of their compostable trash into the compost plant instead of disposing via traditional municipal waste collection. The compost plants will then convert the waste to useful fertilizer and methane. The fertilizer can be used by the local residents for their potted plants our community gardens, while the methane can be burned by a miniature power generation unit to produce electricity for the community. It may be additionally possible to treat wastewater using the same facility if designed correctly.

    The benefits of this closed, local system are numerous. First, instead of relying solely on centralized power production, local areas can generate a portion of their energy in a distributed manner; thereby minimizing outage risks, transmission inefficiencies, and complicated distribution grid maintenance. Second, landfill waste is minimized by 20-40% by diverting the organic waste to the local compost plant.

    In addition to the direct environmental benefits, there are social benefits that can be achieved through community self-sufficiency, community involvement in utility concerns, and community ownership of their utilities. A neighborhood culture can grow stronger when it is the collective community that is in charge of their organic waste disposal, energy production, and local food growing. The community members will act as a system of checks on each other and on the maintenance of the composting system, as each has a stake in its functioning properly.

    I would like to be involved in a community pilot of this sustainable development method and have been looking for a community ready for this systemic development approach.

  8. Joe Morton permalink
    February 28, 2009

    Unfortunately our community (Gem Co Idaho) is controlled by politician / recipients of the farm welfare subsidy programs. On Monday March 9th the Gem County Commissioners are amending the County’s only CAFO (Confined Animal Feeding Operation) ordinance.
    Amendments to the Gem County Code in section: Title 11-6-5
    Deletes ALL requirements of Animal Feedlots / CAFO’s to comply with:
    1 – Placement / location of CAFO’s next to any residence.
    2 – Nuisance factors such as odor.
    3 – Health authority requirements of water quality control.

    The EPA – Environmental Protection Agency – Office of Water:
    “Confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs) can contaminate aquifers and thus impose health risks and welfare losses on those who rely on groundwater for drinking water or other uses. Of particular concern are nitrogen and other animal waste-related contaminants (which come from manure and liquid wastes) that leach through soils and ultimately reach groundwater. Nitrogen loadings convert to elevated nitrate concentrations at household and public water system wells, and elevated nitrate levels in turn pose a risk to human health.”

    1 – Voice your concerns on MONDAY, March 9, 2009, 7:00 P.M. AT THE GEM CO. COURTHOUSE.
    2 – Call and email your Gem Co. Commissioners and request that your water and public health safety be protected: (208) 477-2018 COMMISSIONERS@CO.GEM.US
    3 – Contact the Organization to Protect Gem County Water for additional information: (208) 573-8405

  9. Daniel Wright permalink
    February 28, 2009

    In Los Angeles, Smart Growth is an empty excuse to hand billions of dollars of profits to real estate developers. They are the entrenched interest that is killing the quality of life in Los Angeles. The administration of Antonio Villaraigosa and City President Eric Garcetti have overseen the approval of massive condo projects located more than 15 minutes away from the one subway line in Hollywood. This is laughably characterized as accessible to transit and therefore, the City administration PRESUMES a large percentage of the new luxury condo owners will immediately abandon their cars and walk 15 minutes one way to get on a subway line that probably will not take them where they need to go.

    On this total fiction, Los Angeles is waiving parking requirements guaranteeing that the streets will be filled with autos of the tenants because, as we all knew, no one will abandon their car in Los Angeles until there is alot more transit available.

    In Los Angeles, Smart Growth = Multi-Million Dollar Forgiveness of Park Requirements. It’s a farce.

    See the Los Angeles City Council article at for more information.


    Daniel Wright, an environmental attorney in Los Angeles

  10. Keith D. permalink
    February 28, 2009

    We already have the infrastructure across the US to dramatically increase electricity from renewable sources. We should install small vertical wind turbines to the all the high tension wire support structures. These turbines are relatively small, and are efficient (they look like egg-beaters). They could easily be added to the existing towers and feed into the power grid.

  11. Margaret Schulte permalink
    March 1, 2009

    The only city I know of that has managed their growth is Portland, Oregon. For some proven solutions, look at what they started in 1975 with “1000 Friends of Oregon” (there’s a website) — they made the tough choices back then, and now they are reaping the rewards with one of the most liveable cities in the USA.

  12. DS Lamb permalink
    March 1, 2009

    In Miami-Dade County, Florida sustainable growth(here usually referred to as “Smart Growth”) is an oxymoron. It’s not sustainable and only NO growth would be “smart.” We have no more room, resources, or infrastructure to support more residents. The political machine has pretty much destroyed our “paradise” by cow towing to their hefty campaign contributors – developers. They have landscape ordinances, but make “exceptions” for development. They allow less parking spaces because they think people will walk to the busways.

    Currently, there is a huge residential complex planned by Lennar Corporation to be built so far west that it is outside the development boundary lines we have to keep development out of the Everglades. There will be 7200 more homes with only about 3500 jobs provided in the new development. That one development will put 18,000 more cars on the road every work day. All coming east at the same time. Our roads have grades of C,D or F already. We are on permanent water restrictions because there are already water shortage problems with the population that we have now. Lennar has emphasized their “green” building in this development – which consists of only using grey water and water treatment on site. I won’t be surprised if they get their mitts on some of that stimulus money to build this development under the guise of being green.

    One city within Dade County is presently writing legislation that will require anyone who wants to sell their home to subject themselves to an interior home inspection $$ where zoning employees will note any improvements that need to be made to the property to make it “greener” before the homeowner is allowed to list the house. It should raise plenty of money for the city in new fees.

    Under the guise of smart growth our County Commissioners are promoting high density housing along our major north south corridor, increasing building height allowances and zoning well beyond what is currently permitted. Landscaping and green space requirements can now be met by adding hardscapes – concrete pavers, colonades etc. Again, parking spaces are reduced. One Commissioner has said they want Miami to look like New York.

    So, my hope is that there is very close over sight of any funds that make it to Miami-Dade County, because most certainly there will be attempts to side track the funds to special interests.

    Smart Growth = corruption

  13. Diana permalink
    March 1, 2009

    One suburb of upstate NY stated they were going to start using small windmills. both in the residential and business section. Many people wanted more information and requested that other areas also be allowed to do this. All they got was silence. Nothing more was mentioned. Many people want to try this and other things but our local government is not responding with any good ideas or interest.

  14. ElizabethS permalink
    March 1, 2009

    Santa Monica city promotes a local farmer’s market (which has become kind of a gourmet’s mecca), and has pledged all city electricty come from renewables. The Office of Sustainability and the Environment tracks a commitment to “open and green” spaces, but densification is in our future.

    They also have the best bus system in the greater LA area. PS: why people from LA don’t look at the sucesses of the LA River projects I don’t get. We all know we will be adding more buildings to sustain a larger population….

  15. Andrew Heine permalink
    March 1, 2009

    A year ago, I was a piano teacher living in my car because I had to spend $150 per week on gas to get to my job that earned me slightly under $1000 per month gross. I have a BS in Mechanical Engineering, am a Combat Veteran courtesy of the Marine Corps (and, it should be said, Dick Cheney’s personal interest in encouraging war). Just as the economy was crashing in late September, I was offered a job as the creative mind behind an electronics recycling company in Silicon Valley. I saw what Obama was doing, was working hard to help him win the election, and took this “Green Job”. As many businesses fail, we are expanding. I have a good paying job that is helping to clean our nation of its waste, and we are putting money into dozens of other businesses we work with – electricians, contractors, equipment suppliers, and environmental engineers. I can see first-hand that this is our way out of this mess. Obama is wise for pursuing this path out of recession, because it not only is a new market, prime for growth, but it is reliant on education – America’s greatest “export” – and is helping to create a better world for us to live in.

  16. Sue permalink
    March 1, 2009

    Nothing is being done here in the suburbs of Memphis. They have been tearing down trees at an alarming rate to build more Walgreen stores, banks, and starter castles. They build houses that are way to big and expensive. There is no Smart Growth here.

  17. Debbie permalink
    March 2, 2009

    We have spent a lot of money that we dont have, but what the heck its only our grandkids money. Let them eat soup so we can install LED lighting and solar panels.

  18. Danny the Deer permalink
    March 2, 2009

    Charlotte has been developing under a “Smart Growth” model, but developers are determined to create Atlanta II. As hard as the planning department tries to douse the flames of sprawl, they cannot control private property outside of their sphere of influence. Since the NC/SC border is also Charlotte’s city limit, border towns are booming with sprawlers. Charlotte is also trying to ‘go green’, but really it’s a lot of greenwashing to disguise impossible ‘cost-benefit’ standards. These small-town-city politicians are in the pocket of the development community, and when NAHB or REBIC squeak, they get grease by the truckload. Hoping (but not holding my breath) for some real leadership on development issues in my community.

  19. OldGrowth permalink
    March 2, 2009

    While not “my community” exactly, the state of Montana through Montana State University, holds a contest every year for green businesses statewide called EcoStar. You apply for the award by list and quantify how your business attributes to green practices, sustainability and pollution prevention. Our organic, chemical-free bed and breakfast has won two years in row. Winners are feted at the capital by our green governor, Brian Schweitzer, and given free statewide publicity. In order to win each year, you must set a green goal and achieve it. Networking with other green businesses is the best part of the program.

  20. Deb Baton Rouge permalink
    March 2, 2009

    I am a Canadian LEGALLY in the United States, married to an american. I am dumbfounded at the lack of care for the environment here in Louisiana. There is virually NO program enforcing recycling, bottles and beer cans have no return value so they end up tossed in the rivers or land fills. My husband is a memebr of a hunting club and up until 3 years ago, no one threw there garbage in the trash, they simply threw it in the woods. After much beleaguring, the hunting club FINALLY adopted a no littering law and the following year, added a fine to any sort of littering in the 2300 acre wooods but that has not stopped these yahoos from throwing ALL KINDS OF GARBAGE INTO THE RIVER. People picnic and fish on the river bankis and when u return later, the area is filled with empty bottles and cans, dirty diapers and wasted food. I asked some of the parish ‘elders’ to put up no littering signs on the approaches to the river and they declined. I saw loggers takeout COMPLTE cypress bottoms with trees that were ten times the size of a man and maybe a thousand years old. Maybe the stimulus package will allow entreprenuers to do something about this horrible situation.

  21. Buck permalink
    March 2, 2009

    A few years ago we had some little weather events down here in La., called Katrina and Rita. Prior to such, a few of us were beating on the doors saying we need to have Smart Growth planning. In the process of rebuilding, thankfully with some assistance of numerous foundations and some guidance from the EPA, there was developed an approach that brought in numerous entities that focused on Smart Growth/New Urbanist pratices. You can find the results in Louisiana Speaks. What has amazed me is that via the open and transparent process the citizens of La. spoke out about how they would like to see the community develop by incorporating enlightened land use pratices. I live in a very conservative rural area, you can’t get more conservative than rural Louisiana, which was selected to conduct a comprehensive planning study. A major finding of the study as it pretained to the economy was that of “Keep it Green”. This was before the Presidential election, before Green was in.. With the emphasis now on sustainable energy, the discussion now is how can we use our biomass resources to solve several issue. A close examination of the principles of Smart Growth wil note that it is also Smart Energy. Bottom-line, if this can happen in Louisiana, it can happen anywhere. The key is to provide the opportunity of all citizens to have constructive input. I suggest that as the money from the Recovery Act begins to flow we need to implement a similiar open process of how it will be utilized. Otherwise the decisions will be left to small groups behnd closed doors and run the risk of political manipulation. Ever heard of Gov. Jindal?

  22. jeziel gayle huevos permalink
    March 2, 2009

    in our school university of Mindanao an organization has been formed since 1993 its name is ” junior earth savers” recently we conducted mangrove planting and coastal cleaning.

  23. Jessica G. permalink
    March 11, 2009

    My community of Northbrook, IL has created programs to collect and recycle electronics and batteries from its residents. This is a simple way to help residents “go green,” and I believe it will be impactful for our small community. I would like to see more projects like this in the coming years focused on planting trees and other sustainable initiatives.

  24. Resident of Lake Linganore permalink
    April 6, 2009

    My family lives in this area, too– and it truly is an awful situation here. It’s unbelievable that this massive (ill-conceived, poorly executed) water/sewer project will actually ADD to poor water quality (the run off from this project goes into a source of drinking water!) as well as degrading the environment. Bottomline: environmentally and fiscally totally irresponsible, especially in this ‘informed’ day and age!

  25. Rupert V. Logoda permalink
    May 7, 2009

    After 8 frustrating years my family was fortunately able to move from this disastrous neighboorhood. We tried numerous times to discuss run-off concerns with various boards/staff and were met with disdain and conceit. It seemed that pools, tennis courts and selective enforcement of the covennants – ie, corruption – were the Board’s only concern. We pity the Bald Eagles, Merganzers, Buffle Head and wet land flora. It is time this neighboorhood receives fines for the damage it’s short-sightedness creates.

  26. websitebuilder permalink
    April 13, 2010

    In my hometown, a mall regularly sponsors a recycling fair where you could ‘drop’ your old newspapers, used appliances, car batteries, empty plastic bottles, and other recyclable items in booths set-up in the mall’s parking grounds. Junk shops here are also very accessible.

    Amy Cameron

  27. Idaho Real Estate permalink
    December 19, 2010

    We’ve introduced more curbside pick up for recycling and even no-sort recycling for the ultra lazy :) When the construction was booming we started seeing more row style housing. Allowing more residences in a smaller area. Also the state of Idaho and the power company have been offering more incentives for energy star appliances.

  28. piano bench permalink
    September 9, 2011

    Recession in the US affects not just their economy but the world market. Outsourcing is abolished and Obama now prioritize American jobs for American. I see that the crab mentality exists at its full potential today. From very cheap piano bench to an increase because of poor market, even the music lovers have a hard time. Chasing the issues today and resolving these issues is not a simple task. I see that Obama is doing his best to argue all the negative comments but I see that he is doing fine. The US is a big country and few years of sitting as the President can not guarantee that all the problems will be solved soon enough.

  29. Fishing Methods permalink
    September 17, 2011

    This is what I like to see, great posts with decent long winded comments to read over.

  30. Smart Profits permalink
    December 10, 2011

    Smart Growth has destroyed farmland and open space in Santa Barbara. Air quality and gang activity are also increasing thanks to smart growth.

  31. Paver Light permalink
    March 14, 2012

    For the environment friendly growth it is necessary to control the pollution whether if it is any type. Nice discussion going on well keep it up

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