Evaluating Smart Growth

I attended the CHAPA breakfast yesterday with Gregory Ingram presenting the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy's publication "Evaluating Smart Growth."  I arrived with the hope of being enlightened by successes of smart growth initiatives in other states, but left with a healthy realization of the extent and complexity of the challenge ahead.  I suppose it is obvious by now that I care about smart growth.  But why should you care?   Perhaps this excerpt from the Massachusetts Smart Growth Alliance website will help explain: 

The Commonwealth’s population has been growing very slowly, but we are consuming land seven times faster than our population growth rate. Low density, haphazard development of houses, office buildings, and stores is overwhelming our traditional Massachusetts landscape of historic cities, vibrant villages, and bucolic towns. Now, we face hours wasted in traffic, dwindling water supplies, staggering home prices, and loss of natural areas.

The Lincoln Institute's report evaluates the effectiveness of smart growth policies by comparing measurable outcomes in states with strong smart growth initiatives (Oregon, Maryland, Florida, and New Jersey) to four other states.    The evaluation is based on five measurable performance indicators (primarily during 1990-2000): 1.  compact development, 2. natural resource protection and environmental quality, 3. variety of transportation options, 4. affordability of housing, 5. fiscal impacts

(Note:  My recent article on Green CPA Projects argues that the Community Preservation Act can help in all these areas.)     

I was surprised to learn that none of the smart growth states did well in all performance measures.  That was the bad news.  The good news was that states generally succeeded in their priority policy area(s).  Where there is a will there is a way. 

So, what does this mean for Massachusetts?  Although our state was not included as a case study, the report conclusions are relevant.  The strongest programs used a combination of strong policies, regulations, and incentives.   Both top-down and bottom-up policies need to be coordinated at a regional level.   Clearly defined and measurable outcomes coupled with monitoring and accountability are crucial.   Priorities and initiatives need to be crafted and executed in such a way that we accomplish the priorities without making unwanted sacrifices.

Land use and zoning reform in Massachusetts is afoot to respond to our responsibility to use the land wisely - in a sustainable way that is fair to people as well as fair to the land.   Learn more about the Land Use Partnership Act - I recommend watching the LUPA Webinar from March 11. 

The panelists yesterday had interesting comments and discussion and included Anthony Flint, currently at the Lincoln Institute and former reporter at the Boston Globe, Anthony Leroux, MA Smart Growth Alliance, Clark Ziegler, Mass Housing Partnership, and moderator Terry Szold, MIT.