Respond To Urban Sprawl: Smart Growth

Smart growth is about making communities better as they grow so that they are not only more environmentally responsible, but also more vibrant, beautiful and fulfilling for the people who live in them (Ewing, 2005). Being smart about growth means revitalizing existing cities and suburbs and making efficient use of land, rather than building on outlying farms, ranches, and forests (Ewing, 2005). It means making cities and suburbs affordable places to live so that everyone can participate in and benefit from this revitalization (Ewing, 2005). It means giving the “green infrastructure” of wildlife habitats and open space the same level of attention and concern as the “gray infrastructure” of roads, sewers, and utilities (Ewing, 2005). And it means giving citizens a meaningful say in how our communities change, using tools such as participatory scenario-based planning (Ewing, 2005).

There are 10 principles of Smart Growth from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA)

  • Apply Mixed Land Uses
  • Take Advantage of Compact Building Design
  • Create a Range of Housing Opportunities and Choices
  • Create Walkable Neighborhoods
  • Foster Distinctive, Attractive Communities with a Strong Sense of Place
  • Preserve Open Space, Farmland, Natural Beauty, and Critical Environmental Areas
  • Strengthen and Direct Development Toward Existing Communities
  • Provide a Variety of Transportation Choices
  • Make Development Decisions Predictable, Fair, and Cost-Effective
  • Encourage Community and Stakeholder Collaboration in Development Decisions

The core of smart growth is compact development, which is the antithesis of sprawl. As the definition in the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP), compact development aims for more efficient use of land through higher-density planning, usually supplemented with mixed-use development to incorporate a variety of functions. Compared with dispersed (‘land sharing’) development leading to sprawl, compact (‘land sparing’) developments concentrate higher density dwellings leading to a higher local impact on biodiversity but in a much smaller area, while more lands can be set aside for conservation (Lin, 2013 & Villaseñor, 2017). Dispersed developments contain dwellings at a lower density that have less local impact (Villaseñor, 2014), but impacts are spread over large areas to meet housing demands (Theobald 1997). Thus, compact development will have a lower impact on biodiversity at a landscape scale than dispersed development which mainly contributes to urban sprawl (Gagne, 2010). So, in addition to promoting and designing more dense future development, it is important that future development is located very carefully to ensure avoidance and minimization of impacts on native biodiversity and other conservation priorities that support our green infrastructure.

In the United States, the average population density is about 90 people per square mile (0.14/Acre) based on the 2010 Census. Density inside U.S. cities (about 1600 people/ sq. mi or 2.5 people/Acre) is obviously greater than that of unincorporated areas (about 35 people/sq. mi or 0.055people /Acre) (Cohen, 2015). If applying the 2.5 residents/Dwelling Units, the U.S average city housing density is 1DU /Acre, which can be considered as very low. Therefore, there is great significance to apply smart growth principles to future development plans. The principles and aims of smart growth are to mitigate the negative impacts of urban sprawl from the perspective of nature conservation and wildlife protection. It shows a strong trend on strengthening the boundary between urban and wilderness, meaning a more significant matrix transformation and management on the wildland-urban interface. It is likely to support high overall animal abundances underpinned by a few species adapted to urbanization (McKinney, 2006 & McDonnell, 2015) and thus makes the strategies of wildlife habitat conservation and restoration different from wilderness to urban. But together, avoiding impacts to the remaining large natural and rural areas most important with biodiversity and green infrastructure protection along with development strategies that minimize sprawl and better design and manage interfaces between development and wild (or rural) land will significantly reduce future ecological impacts. 

16 December 2021
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