Smart growth development policies aim to prevent urban sprawl and pollution, and reduce the profligate use of non-renewable fuels, particularly an excessive dependency on private cars in industrialised countries. Such policies emphasize sustainability, denser development, mass transit, car-free (or pedestrianised) areas, children's rights, cycle trails, pathways and other elements of a less industrialised lifestyle. The term is closely associated with the New Urbanist school of design, eco-villages, co-operative housing, self-build housing, car-sharing, car-pooling and Natural Capitalism, and has been adopted by many urban planners, lobby groups and municipal governments.
Some find the phrase "smart growth" to be condescending and object to its implication that alternative strategies are inherently foolish or "un-smart". Engineers increasingly resort to life-cycle cost analysis to evaluate trade-offs whilst investors and company proprietors remain more interested in the "bottom line" of profitability. Neither group is particularly interested in discussing proposed changes in the status-quo if there is no identifed funding source for alternative development, or the benefits of smart growth seem remote. However recently the idea of smart growth has grown in popularity as an alternative to urban sprawl, traffic congestion, disconnected neighbourhoods and urban decay. The concept appears less backward-looking and de-stabilising than the agendas espoused by Green Party members although meaningful policy shifts towards smart growth would undoubtedly discomfort many vested interests. Many lifestyles and corporate practices do pre-suppose relatively cheap travel for example.
One popular approach in democratic countries is for law-makers to require prospective developers to outline the adverse environmental impacts of their plans in advance of a municipal, county or state decision and to indicate how those impacts will be ameliorated or offset - perhaps at the developer's expense. Campaigners have good reason to be skeptical about such impact statements, unless they are prepared by trusted independent bodies or commissioned by the decision makers rather than the promoters. Some companies are wily enough to realise that building a community's trust over the longer term through an open dialogue is not only in the interests of environmental protection, but also in their long term corporate interest and may help in recruiting and retaining staff, investors and perhaps customers with a genuine interest in social and environmental quality.
Timeline still a bit rough
In the early 1970s, transportation and community planners begin to promote the idea of compact cities and communities. Architect Peter Calthorpe then popularized and promoted the idea of urban villages that relied on public mass transportation, walking and cycling instead of automobile use. Another architect named Andres Duany then promoted the idea of changing design codes to promote a sense of community and to discourage driving. Colin Buchanan and Stephen Plowden helped to lead the debate in the UK. The rail construction lobby began to promote the idea of smart growth as a way to build light rail and other rail transit systems. The sheer cost and land-take of highway widening projects caused some politicians to have second thoughts about skewing all transport plans towards motor traffic. The United States Environmental Protection Agency uses the idea as a way to reduce air pollution. Politicians representing rural districts find the concept useful as a way of deterring in-migration and change to comparatively tranquil areas (that retain remnants of a pre-industrial age), even though their electorate may overwhelmingly depend on jobs located in towns and cities.
Some environmentalists who seek the protection of rural open space promote smart growth through the advocacy and vociferous defence of urban-growth boundaries, or Green belts as they have been termed in England since the 1930s.
Big-city mayors and downtown business groups wishing to reverse urban decay see smart growth or regeneration as a way to revitalize town centres or neglected neighborhoods without harmful impacts upon social conditions or valued environmental assets. To some extent it means "think before you damage", which is a difficult goal to disagree with.