Are Smart Growth Ideas Still Ahead of Their Time?

By Dom Nozzi

I sometimes get a bit depressed about the fact that many of the walkable, compact, mixed-use planning strategies were being discussed at least 30 years ago.

It would be easy for people to learn that many of the “new” Smart Growth tactics are actually quite old, and just sadly conclude that it is naïve to think such ideas can ever become reality.

However, I believe it is important to keep in mind that, as scientists and engineers know (or should know), the underlying conditions (political, environmental, technological, economic, etc.) are much more critical and influential than “good ideas.” “Good ideas” don’t just magically become adopted because they are good ideas. In other words, lack of good ideas is not our problem (usually). We have plenty of good ideas to save ourselves. But we need to be patient with our ideas and wait for conditions to be ripe.

A couple of examples: Galileo invented the good idea of helicopters, but the idea was not implemented until the underlying conditions were ripe. Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony came up with great ideas about equal rights for women at the turn of the century, but the conditions did not become “ripe” until the 1960s.

We have plenty of good ideas about reining in sprawl or creating compact cities or reforming transportation and land use, but many will not be implemented until the conditions for them are ripe. As a result, one of the most important tasks of those seeking to improve our communities — in both the public and private sector – is to modify underlying conditions so that we accelerate the ripening process. That is largely why I’ve always championed things like user fees, congestion fees, and model traditional developments.

By deciding, democratically, to do these incremental things, we can change underlying conditions that allow people to more easily see the need for positive change. Another way of putting it is that an important role for us in the public sector is to, as economists would put it, “internalize externalities”

For example, instead of having a company increase its profits by emitting polluting emissions from their drain pipe into a river – a form of externality – we charge the company a fee which is high enough to compensate for pollution so that the community will have more money to clean up the pollution. By charging this water pollution fee, we internalize the cost so that the emitting company pays for the pollution to be cleaned up, rather than the overall community (similarly, gas taxes partly internalize the externalities of driving a car so that the motorist pays more for their negative impacts to the community while driving).

After all, the better we internalize such costs, the better capitalism works the way Adam Smith thought it would work. That is because according to Smith, we need all the relevant information before we are able to make rational decisions in the marketplace.

I’ve always lived by the rule that I am a pessimist of the intellect, but an optimist of the will. Our situation as a society seems hopeless in many ways, but giving up is not an option. Persistence pays off. Overall, I’m hopeful because I think we are on the verge of turning things around in various ways (particularly with transportation and land use reform) to the point where positive changes are self-driven, rather than being forced on us by regulations.

_________________________________________________

Visit my urban design website read more about what I have to say on those topics. You can also schedule me to give a speech in your community about transportation and congestion, land use development and sprawl, and improving quality of life.

Visit: www.walkablestreets.wordpress.com

Or email me at: dom[AT]walkablestreets.com

50 Years Memoir CoverMy memoir can be purchased here: Paperback = http://goo.gl/9S2Uab Hardcover =  http://goo.gl/S5ldyF

My book, The Car is the Enemy of the City (WalkableStreets, 2010), can be purchased here: http://www.lulu.com/product/paperback/the-car-is-the-enemy-of-the-city/10905607Car is the Enemy book cover

My book, Road to Ruin, can be purchased here:

http://www.amazon.com/Road-Ruin-Introduction-Sprawl-Cure/dp/0275981290

My Adventures blog

http://domnozziadventures.wordpress.com/

Run for Your Life! Dom’s Dangerous Opinions blog

http://domdangerous.wordpress.com/

My Town & Transportation Planning website

http://walkablestreets.wordpress.com/

My Plan B blog

https://domz60.wordpress.com/

My Facebook profile

http://www.facebook.com/dom.nozzi

My YouTube video library

http://www.youtube.com/user/dnozzi

My Picasa Photo library

https://picasaweb.google.com/105049746337657914534

My Author spotlight

http://www.lulu.com/spotlight/domatwalkablestreetsdotcom

Advertisements

1 Comment

Filed under Economics, Politics, Sprawl, Suburbia, Urban Design

One response to “Are Smart Growth Ideas Still Ahead of Their Time?

  1. This specific article Are Smart Growth Ideas Still Ahead of Their Time?
    | Doms Plan B Blog, offers truly wonderful tips and
    I actually figured out just what I was basically researching for.
    Thanks.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s