A Sustainable Approach
The radical planning philosophy that blends old ways with new
Smart Growth is a sustainable approach to planning that emphasises compact and accessible urban communities and which opposes urban sprawl and car dependency.
It seeks traditional ways of planning towns based around local services, ease of walking and cycling and good public transport, especially rail-based.
It looks for ways to rebuild our lost sense of community.
What Is Smart Growth?
Smart Growth is a holistic approach to spatial, transport and community planning issues.
Here in the UK we are rightly proud of our historic towns and cities, our beautiful countryside and a planning system which protects our environment. But, for a whole string of reasons, our small and overcrowded country has spent 100 years creating urban sprawl and a transport system fatally dependent on the car and the motor lorry.
Despite its large areas of moor and mountain, the UK is a very densely populated country and England is now Europe’s most densely populated country. Some parts are short of water, our shrinking farmland cannot meet all our food needs and our biodiversity is damaged, so there is strong opposition to the urban sprawl which some claim is necessary to house our population.
Climate change means we need to eliminate fossil fuel use, yet we have a transport system which accounts for more than a quarter of our emissions. Our public transport is expensive and often inadequate and freight movement is hopelessly dependent on HGVs and giant motorway distribution depots.
We have great regional inequalities, many areas are languishing, town centres are under relentless attack and heritage is ill-protected. Yet in England, the Government is eroding and undermining the planning system, allowing house builders to profit from car-dependent sprawl. The intense need for housing for some is being ignored in a race to build the wrong houses in the wrong places.
Smart Growth is a holistic concept which treats a range of spatial, transport and community planning and regeneration challenges in the round. Its origins lie in a country where the damage done by sprawl, car dependency and urban deprivation far exceeded our own – America. Yet extreme challenges often prompt the best solutions and, over the past 30 years, the Smart Growth movement has increasingly tackled these problems.
Today, many US inner cities are regenerating economically and socially and being equipped with the rail-based public transport many of our cities desperately need. Cities are being remodelled to help people to walk or cycle, high quality public transport is being provided and America’s fatal car dependency is being addressed. Meanwhile its sprawling suburbs are feeling the chill wind of higher fuel prices, falling house prices and social decline.
Recent years have pointed the need for UK planning, transport and community policies to take a new path. Smart Growth UK, an informal coalition of organisations and individuals interested in promoting the Smart Growth concept in this country, formulated an initial set of principles in 2007 and in 2013 a range of organisations gave their support to a policy statement Meeting the Growth Challenge which sets out the challenges we face and proposes principles for a sustainable response.