A Requiem for Smart Growth?

Gerrit Knaap (2006)

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Presented at “Planning Reform in the New Century,” Washington University Law School, St. Louis, Mo, December, 2004

In the days following the 2004 presidential election there was much consternation in Democratic circles. George Bush won again; the Republicans picked up seats in the House and Senate; and the Republican majority seemed to have grown in depth and strength. Pundits and progressives were already wondering--could the Democrats ever recapture the hearts of an American public now apparently obsessed with security, morality, and personal charm.

Among academic and professional planners there was similar concern. Although John Kerry had never been a champion of smart growth, it was clear that the prospects for smarter growth were far greater in an administration headed by Kerry than one headed by Bush. Smart growth had not fully disappeared in the federal agenda in the first Bush administration, but the momentum had clearly waned. Further, the discussion in the planning chat-rooms and list serves focused on the blue and red maps, which made clear that Republicans dominated not only the central and southern states but also the rural and suburban areas of most every state in the union. The subject line of one long conversation on the PLANET list serve was “sprawling Republicans” which conveyed the alarm: the new American majority was deeply rooted in urban sprawl.

In the wake of these political events, it is reasonable to ask: can smart growth survive another term of President Bush? If so, what must be done to regain the momentum and capture the favor of an ever-growing conservative majority? In this period of national reflection, therefore, I consider the state of smart growth and its prospects for the near- term future. I start with a brief history of its evolution, continue with an examination of recent trends, and follow with an assessment of whether smart growth will change those trends. I conclude with recommendations for how smart growth might adapt to the new political realities.