neighborhood design

What is Smart Growth?

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Smart buildings. Smart cities. Smart growth. What’s the meaning of all this “smart” talk? In the most basic sense, all three are associated with sustainability and social responsibility, with smart buildings and smart cities individually and collectively supporting smart growth.

So what is smart growth, and why is it important? With respect to sustainability and social responsibility, smart growth is of critical importance. In 2010, 82 percent of Americans lived in urban communities (towns and cities) and by 2050 it will be 90 percent. For the first time in history, more than half of the people on Earth live in cities, and urban populations are projected to double by mid-century. Towns and cities are responsible for approximately 65 percent of all energy used, 60 percent of all water consumed and 70 percent of all greenhouse gases produced worldwide. As compared to less densely populated rural areas, urban communities offer increased potential for resolution of environmental and social problems, generate jobs and income, relieve pressure on natural habitats and areas of biodiversity, and with proper governance they can deliver education, health care and other services more efficiently. In essence, smart growth is about urbanization.

Enter smart growth.

The challenges presented by sustainable urban development are immense. Smart growth, an urban planning and transportation theory, values long-range, regional considerations of sustainability over a short-term focus. Its goals are to achieve a unique sense of community and place; expand the range of transportation, employment, and housing choices; equitably distribute the costs and benefits of development; preserve and enhance natural and cultural resources; and promote public health. Utilizing growth management tools to encourage sustainable communities, combat sprawl, and strengthen urban centers through existing infrastructure, smart growth is supported by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), and many other environmental organizations, such as Smart Growth America. USGBC promotes smart growth through their LEED for Neighborhood Development Rating System and the EPA’s support is focused around their EPA Smart Growth Program.

The EPA has compiled a set of best-practice examples of adopted codes and guidelines from around the U.S. that support smart growth, grouped into six categories:  Continue Reading →

How about that Atlanta BeltLine?

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As cities continue to implement creative redevelopment plans that would revitalize the business community while simultaneously encouraging migration back to urban lifestyles, one of the more aggressive and interesting programs is the Atlanta BeltLine – hailed as a national model. In November 2005, the Atlanta City Council approved a plan that would lead to a 22-mile loop of parks, paths and transit linking 45 neighborhoods in intown Atlanta. Opponents of the plan argued the proposal leaves out low-income families and focuses too much on development. However, the 25-year, $2.1 billion program could spur economic development by linking affluent sectors with struggling, isolated neighborhoods south of the city.

The Atlanta BeltLine concept is to implement a combined system of trails and transit that will connect Atlanta BeltLine neighborhoods and economic development centers with existing and planned Atlanta BeltLine parks, existing transit networks like MARTA and major regional activity centers and attractions, such as Piedmont Hospital and Zoo Atlanta. The transit and trail systems will complement investments in parks, streetscapes, and other infrastructure projects to create a smarter framework for new denser development in the city. In most cases, the transit and trail system will follow the Atlanta BeltLine Corridor.

Trails: The Atlanta BeltLine will create more than 33 miles of multi-use trails within and around the railroad corridor. The trails will be multi-use – for walkers, joggers, bikers, roller-bladers, and people with disabilities. This trail system will include the core 22-miles that follow the railroad segments plus spur segments to link together more neighborhoods and the existing parks and trails surrounding the Atlanta BeltLine. Atlanta BeltLine, Inc.’s partner in trail construction is the PATH Foundation, an organization with over 20 years of experience building multi-use trails throughout Georgia. Continue Reading →

Form-Based Codes – Designing the 21st Century City

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It seems fitting that we kick-off our new neighborhood design blog with a discussion on form-based codes. Form-based codes have been used for centuries (e.g., the planning of cities in ancient China and Roman town planning), but were summarily dismissed in the U.S. during the turn of the century by the adoption of zoning ordinances. Considering the continual depopulation and decay of our urban neighborhoods and increased urban sprawl, is it then important that we, collectively, discuss solutions? Most recently the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) entered the fray by releasing the LEED for Neighborhood Development Rating System  (LEED ND) that integrates the principles of smart growth, urbanism and green building into the first national system for neighborhood design.

Perhaps it may be best to analyze the information on form-based codes presented here by, first, offering arguments contesting New Urbanism. Lolita Buckner Inniss, Associate Professor of Law, Cleveland-Marshall School of Law, Cleveland State University, Cleveland, Ohio gave a presentation on October 18, 2008 at the Twelfth Annual National Conference on Private Property Rights titled The Façade of New Urbanism& the Form-Based Code. A few of her more salient talking points critiquing both New Urbanism and form-based codes: Continue Reading →

Mixed Use: Too Many Eggs in One Basket?

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Normally, this article would be rotated in and out of the Current News & Events section. However, given the growing focus on urbanism, urban redevelopment and form-based codes, events such as the tragic occurrence in Brattleboro, Vermont need to remain with us as reminders whenever we perform our duties as responsible professionals.

Can “pedestrian friendly” mixed-use communities, where people want to live where they can work and play with streetscapes that invite them to walk instead of drive, present logistical problems for fire and EMS response teams? Should fire engineering consultancy be considered on certain projects where large, open spaces often impose a serious threat in case of fire, due to the rapid spread of smoke and fire?

From BuildingGreen Sounds Off:

Making the right choices about where and how to build is a big responsibility, and every choice, it seems, involves tradeoffs. Sustainable design, by definition, plans for the long term. Most of the time, it works great–but some outcomes are out of our hands.

Brattleboro, Vermont is still in shock over the sudden and complete loss of one of its Main Street buildings early yesterday morning, apparently because of an electrical fire. Brooks House, a former hotel with a distinctive mansard roof, was built in 1871 on the ashes of an even older building also destroyed by fire. It was listed on the National Historic Register, but its historic status means nothing compared with its significance to our town. This is like a cigarette burn on the bodice of a silk gown.  Continue Reading →