Monday, April 12

The paradox of smart growth

Kaid Benfield's blog for NRDC has probably been the most consistently insightful of all of my regular reads. I still recall the first post I read back in the summer of 2008, on the carbon emission benefits of density. Prior to getting hooked on his blog, I was mostly interested in the the urban form for its benefits to community - think Robert Putnam - or for purely aesthetic reasons. The environment was always a part of it, but Kaid's persuasive and passionate reasoning helped shift the focus of my priorities on this blog. I'm sure I've stolen an idea or two over the last two years.

Images of Rockville's Twinbrook Station from NRDC Switchboard blog
I bring all of this up now, because his two recent posts are an excellent introduction to his blog.  I'd encourage anyone who has not stopped by to head over there now. No reason to finish reading this post.

The first post presents the paradox of smart growth among environmentalists, something he undoubtedly encounters on a regular basis.
"Environmental impacts will occur with development; to limit them, we must concentrate them, and this can mean increasing them in some places.  This is what I call the environmental paradox of smart growth.  Only if we understand the paradox can we address it.  Only if we address it can we really create better places in which to live, work, and play – and surely that, not just lowering pollution numbers, must be our real goal."
 (why are you still reading here? It's all just quotes and paraphrases at this point)

What is needed is density, diversity, and design. Approaching smart growth from an overly analytical perspective misses those intangible qualities and details that make a place truly livable. Kaid is always mindful of the fact that people have to want to live in the places that are built. The whole game is off if nobody actually lives in the whatever fully sustainable development we've imagined.

The second post seeks to address this design question. Rather than spelling out the "top 10 principles of good urban design" or something, Kaid simply provides some examples of recent compact developments that have also been beautiful. It's a refreshingly optimistic take on smart growth.

1 comment:

Kaid@NRDC said...

Daniel, thanks so much, and keep up the great work of your own!