In the 1998 elections, voters in states and municipalities across the country approved more than 100 propositions intended to apply “smart growth” measures to curb urban sprawl. A sometimes vague rubric used to describe policies aimed at reducing infrastructure costs, preserving open space and mitigating traffic congestion, smart growth has become the major catch word in the urban planning field.

The smart growth movement combines some traditional planning and environmental approaches with a more contemporary blend of land use, mass transit and community development perspectives. It shifts the planning focus from reliance on restrictive regulation to an active promotion of growth that is compatible with broad land use objectives. It also attempts to integrate transportation and environmental considerations into a more comprehensive regional development strategy.

Some smart growth policies, such as promoting dense residential development around mass transit nodes, were characteristic of New York’s historical development. Others, such as a focus on inner-city neighborhood revitalization, are already high municipal priorities for reasons quite apart from regional growth policy. Still, the smart growth movement provides a useful framework for coordinating regional, state and city policies and offers a basis for forging new political coalitions among formerly antagonistic interests. With New York trailing far behind other states in its official adoption of smart growth principles, planners, scholars and legislators are beginning to ask how the approach could benefit the Empire State.

Click here (pdf) to read CHPC’s evaluation of how smart growth policies can help mitigate suburban sprawl in New York.