Politics of Smart Growth
a New Kind of Metropolitics
The Constituencies of this New Political Majority
It is worth itemizing the many constituencies
affected by sprawl and
explaining why they have a keen self-interest
in joining a smart growth coalition.
is an often-overlooked constituency with a serious stake in smart growth.
Many companies are starting to recognize how sprawl can hurt the long-term
vitality of a region, artificially raise taxes to pay for excessive infrastructure
and intensify traffic congestion, which affects employees and company productivity.
Urban Minorities are suffering from higher
property taxes, reduced public services and declining neighborhoods as
sprawl drains urban areas of residents and businesses. The increasing isolation
of city residents-- racially, economically and politically-- has put them
in a downward spiral that is not likely to be halted without new allies
from outside the city.
The Working Class In Inner-Ring Suburbs
are seeing their
neighborhoods buffeted by the same forces ravaging
the inner city,
especially as newcomers fleeing the city bring
problems with them. These suburbs have swelling
needs, but not the tax
base, government infrastructure or social services
to deal with them.
Advocates For Social Services (housing,
jobs, food, children) cannot
make significant progress as long as the economic
foundation of the city is
imploding. Regionalism would go a long way toward
helping these groups
achieve greater results over the long-term.
Communities are acutely aware of how sprawl affects the poor and
divides people along racial and income lines,
and how many
once-flourishing houses of worship in the city
are now empty shells. In
many metro regions, ecumenical coalitions are
showing great moral
leadership in organizing metro-wide forums around
issues of sprawl and
long identified with the preservation of
buildings alone, are increasingly focussed on
revitalizing communities and,
with them, the great architecture of our past.
The rehabilitation that historic
preservationists advocate is a more cost-efficient,
environmentally benign alternative to sprawl.
School Reform Advocates are not likely
to make significant progress in
equalizing funding between the cities and suburbs
until they address regional sprawl--the engine for the racial and economic
disparities they decry. Neither busing nor lawsuits have proven successful
in assuring equal
educational opportunity. Regional development
Environmentalists are only too aware of
the air and water pollution,
abandoned brownfields and habitat destruction
that results from sprawl,
and of the limited efficacy of traditional regulation.
Working with other
political groups to address a core problem--
patterns of land use-- offers
immense new opportunities to make environmental
Good-Government and Civic Groups have traditionally
worked hard to
ensure open, informed policymaking and to boost
the quality of public
amenities. But these goals are often undermined
by regional forces that no
single city or town can control. Metro-wide planning
and governance could
help advance the agenda of good-government groups.
Fiscal Conservatives, particularly in outlying
suburbs, are coming to see
how sprawl is imposing huge new tax burdens on
their communities, while
introducing many quality of life problems. These
advocates realize that an
unfettered market does not yield fiscally prudent
results over the long term, nor in the aggregate.
Farmers are losing their lands to sprawled
development at a breakneck
pace. Their efforts to preserve their lands for
agricultural uses could be
greatly strengthened by support from urban and
Conservationists And Outdoors Groups share
the same motivation as
farmers in preserving open spaces on the urban
fringe. But their niche
interests, in hunting, hiking and other outdoor
recreation, are politically
limited if pursued in isolation-- but greatly
strengthened through a smart
Scenic and Community Beautification Advocates.
and groups can be mobilized to oppose the sheer
ugliness of cheap, mindless commercial and residential sprawl, and to protect
"sacred places" and special landmarks of a community. Aesthetics and beauty
The Elderly And "Soccer Moms" are two sizeable
constituencies whose daily lives are affected by long drives to stores
and schools, dependency on cars, traffic congestion and social isolation.
Smart growth initiatives speak powerfully to their needs, especially as
they relate to transportation.