10 October 2007

Sound Familiar?


Bad news: Unless the experts are wrong, Howard County suburbs will continue to sprawl beyond the horizon.

The threat of global warming pales next to the allure of a backyard sliver of green. Two-hour commutes are tough, but it's even tougher to persuade an older suburb to allow dense new housing downtown.


Most of the above words are not mine. They are the words of San Francisco Chronicle columnist John King. He writes a column entitled “Place” that appears in the Tuesday Chronicle. If you replace the words “Howard County” with “California,” the quote becomes his. They are taken from his Tuesday, October 9, 2007 piece, “California suburbs will continue to sprawl.”

John King recalls a recent debate at the annual conference of the California chapter of the American Planning Association. At this conference, six planners debated the ability to implement smart growth in front of an audience of 150. I encourage all to read the column, but here are some tidbits:

The debate occurred last week in San Jose during the annual conference of the
California chapter of the American Planning Association. And it truly was a
debate; the two teams jabbed within a tight time frame over the topic:
"Resolved, that California is ready for complex urban development."

[F]or those of you who don't read planning journals for fun, "complex urban development" is a new synonym for "smart growth." The premise is that we need to steer new growth into older areas, mix in mass transit and not be afraid to stack a few floors of housing on top of shops and small offices.

[W]e have no other choice, and we are ready," argued Al Zelinka of RBF Consulting in Irvine. He talked of how Orange County has downtown housing and condo towers taking root. "Green" buildings now are touted by developers and demanded by governments. "We're at the tipping point. ... Suburbanization will continue, but the wave will be in urbanization."

[I]t's spectacular delusional hubris to think that good sense will prevail," proclaimed developer John Anderson of Chico. "People feel entitled to their fantasy."

[B]ut the real world is a local political stew where the loudest voices are the ones who want the status quo preserved at all cost. Statewide planning regulations, meanwhile, look great in press releases but often are disconnected from daily life.

Which puts me on the side of the cons: The small victories for more livable regions seem to be no match for the larger forces that want things the way they are. I sure hope we're wrong.


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