An Inquiry into the Promise and Prospects of Smart Growth

Gerrit Knaap (2002)

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Prepared for Presentation at the International Workshop on Urban Growth Management: New Approaches to Land Management for Sustainable Urban Regions University of Tokyo, Tokyo, Japan, 29-31 October 2001

Smart growth is a term rising rapidly in use and ambiguity. The origin of the term is uncertain, though some credit Harriet Tregoning, former Director of the Development, Community and Environmental Division of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) and now the smart growth Czar in the cabinet of Maryland’s Governor Glendening. Even if fiction, this story has a certain allure, since the USEPA and the State of Maryland have done much to make smart growth an agenda item of many states, local governments, and interest groups. Despite its popularity, however, the concept of smart growth remains ephemeral. Much has been written about smart growth in the popular press and newsletters of advocacy organizations, both pro and con, but little has been written about it in the academic literature (early contributions include Burchell et al. 2000, Downs 2001, and Nelson 2001). As the newly appointed Director of Research for the National Center for Smart Growth Research and Education at the University of Maryland, it will be my job to do just that -- not just with papers of my own, but with papers written by scholars with a variety of disciplinary backgrounds. This paper, therefore, represents a first step towards that end. But my goals for this paper are more ambitious; they include the articulation of an agenda for research on smart growth. This is a formidable task, since the ambiguity of the term leaves little in the realm of land use to eliminate as beyond the scope of the subject. To narrow my scope, therefore, I ignore all discussions about what constitutes urban sprawl and whether sprawl, however defined, is good or bad. Instead, I focus my analysis on smart growth policies adopted by the State of Maryland.