Smart Growth: Fighting Sprawl with Walkable Communities

By Dave Winzelberg |  Jul 05, 2012

Governments are embracing "smart growth" planning principles to create jobs and more environmentally sustainable communities.

Suburban sprawl, endless miles of strip malls interrupted by tracts of single-family homes, was once thought of as novel planning. Of course, that was before gas hit 50 cents a gallon and fewer people cared about the effects of pollution.

But now, federal, state, and local governments have embraced "smart growth" planning principles that create walkable neighborhoods that do not require people to use their cars to get to local shops and mass transit. Instead of shunning density, governments are encouraging it so developers can revive their downtowns.

The result: A boost to the area's economy, a more environmentally sustainable community and a short walk to the dry cleaners. Smart growth reduces the combined cost of transportation and housing, which currently makes up more than 50 percent of the average household budget, according to Smart Growth America.

The smart growth advocacy group says that smart growth construction helps create jobs. For every 10 jobs created by transit projects, six additional jobs are generated elsewhere in a community, according to the group.

Because smart growth increases foot traffic in local downtowns, local shops thrive. In fact, retail stores on main streets with wide sidewalks in town centers or near transit stations make more money per square foot than stores located in other types of communities.

The federal Environmental Protection Agency says that the increasing demand for smart growth provides a significant opportunity for developers and builders. The agency adds that existing smart growth developments showed over the past 10 years that people are willing to pay a premium to live in a walkable community. This also shows prospective homebuyers the strength of their investment in a home in a smart growth neighborhood.

Though its gained a lot of steam in the last decade, the smart growth movement looks to have legs. The EPA predicts that smart growth developments will likely increase over the next 30 years as household demographics and housing preferences change and the U.S. population grows.

DAVE WINZELBERG - David Winzelberg is an award-winning reporter who spent 20 years writing for the New York Times. He currently writes for Long Island Business News.

This article originally appeared on The Atlantic Online as part of the Investing In A Better Tomorrow program.

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