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Wise Growth is Smart Growth

Observations from the Edge
Robert T. Nanninga
Coast News
March 6, 2008


It's nice to know people in southern California are once again willing to discuss the limits of life in Southern California. It usually takes grim economic news or an election to prompt a serious look at the value of regional sustainability considerations and long range planning as they pertain to preserving the quality of life residents have come to expect.

A very worthwhile line of inquiry, in theory Smart Growth is about restoring community vitality to urban areas and older suburbs, while new growth is town-centered, transit and pedestrian oriented, with a greater mix of housing, commercial and retail uses. In concept Smart Growth also preserves open space and pioneers the next generation of environmental amenities.

Hardly revolutionary, the ideals championed by Smart Growth advocates hearken back to the days before automobiles turned the planet into a parking lot and suburban sprawl spread from sea to shining sea. Redesigning human environments to more sustainable dimensions can only be seen as a good thing, still Smart Growth has yet to catch on with a majority of California's communities.

Doing more with less while reducing our carbon footprint and biological impact should be a no-brainer, it's not. Instead, the majority of municipalities cling to the belief that more is always better and restraint a sign of weakness. Trying to keep up with the Jones', the creditors and the Jones' creditors; California cities are digging themselves into a deep hole of hurt, with only landfills and dying strip malls to show for it.

Freeways continuing to expand along with population and the national debt is proof that things will get far worse before they get better. No amount of corporate spin will change the fact that only those prepared to deal with the coming economic and environmental hardships will be able to adapt to the adverse conditions brought about the want and waste associated with the 20th century.

The big problem with Smart Growth is that it always discussed in a vacuum of band-aid thinking without any review of causation or contributing factors: namely overpopulation and failed planning paradigms. Population increases in regions without enough water resources to meet the needs of existing residents is not smart and is hardly wise.

To be honest I distrust most talk of Smart Growth because those doing the talking are interested only in maintaining the status quo and keeping the development industry on track. For all its green grooviness and environmental sensitivity, Smart Growth is still growth. And in a region that has reached the limits of it's carrying capacity not all growth is needed nor wise.

So instead of Smart Growth I think it is time for the people of Southern California to put down the SANDAG Kool-aid, and begin the rigorous inquiry of what constitutes wise growth in the region, where it should go, and what it looks like. We also need to decide if the ideology of a cancer cell is really the development model we wish to embrace for the 21st century.

Restraint anyone?

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