“If there is any one lesson that I have learned in my life as a city planner, it is that public spaces have power. It's not just the number of people using them, it's the even greater number of people who feel better about their city just knowing that they are there.” - Amanda Burden, New York's famed city planner
The Smart Growth Principles are the community planning principles that have been formulated, cooperatively, with participation and input from the country's foremost planning agencies and experts (Urban Land Institute, American Institute of Architects, American Society of Land Planners, American Planning Association, EPA, and the list goes on). Every major planning body in the U.S. has adopted these principles as "the standard" for future community planning, development and growth. To fail to adopt and follow Smart Growth would be, well, the opposite of smart....
The Smart Growth Principles (read more about each principle below)
"Mix land uses" refers to "mixed use" development. In general terms, a mixed use development is one that synergistically combines many different uses into a single planned development. For example, residential, shopping/retail, entertainment, office, green space. Why mixed use development makes so much sense is that the uses complement and benefit each other. The people who live there contribute to the health of the restaurants and retail businesses. The office space is more attractive because there are things to do nearby for lunch, conveniences (dry cleaning, fitness center, coffee shop, etc). The residences are more successful (whether apartment, condo, townhomes) because people will pay a premium to live in a place where they have an active, convenient and green living environment. It all works better together, reduces reliance on automobiles, and promotes walkability - all good things.
"Compact building design" really refers to density of the development. Contrary to what we've promoted and experienced with spread out suburban development, planners came to realize that well-planned density in development is a good thing. Many of the Smart Growth Principles actually intend to address and overcome many of the problems created by decades of vanilla suburban development. By building more compactly, including creating vertical parking structures, we can set aside more land to devote to green space. The density also promotes walkability because, without the density and compactness, everything's farther away and more difficult and discouraging to reach on foot. Density, in this sense, is a good and necessary thing.
"Creating a range of housing options" is about fostering density, diversity in the neighborhood, and creating a stronger community bond. By buidling different types of residential (apartments, condos, townhomes, single family) and including them in the same development/neighborhood, we're catering to many different ranges of people and lifestyles from singles, to seniors, to empty nesters to young couples and families. The range of housing (including in terms of size/square footage) makes for a more diverse and interesting social fabric.
"Walkable neighborhoods" are meant to reduce our reliance on the automobile, promote health and to strengthen social ties. By the way, walkability in this sense doesn't mean having a big large sidewalk oval around the lake in your neighborhood that you can walk mindlessly over and over again to nowhere. It means having actual destinations, conveniences, interesting places to see and interesting things to do along the way. It means linking places that are reasonable walking or biking distance from each other with improved pathways that encourage or even invite the walking or biking. Walkability, according to most planning experts, is the single most important feature for successful communities of the future. It is highly valued; it increases community home values; it promotes small business growth; and it makes for healthier, socially stronger communities.
"Foster distinctive communities with a strong sense of place" is an expression of 2 important community planning concepts. Distinctive communities really describes what community planners also refer to as "community differentiation." A common theme among the best communities in the country is that they have something most other communities lack - their own unique identity. Through architecture, uses (gardens, parks, local specialized retailers, social spaces) these communities have differentiated themselves from the blandness and sameness that pervades much of suburban America. They've made themselves distinctive. In developing their own distinctive qualities or identity, these communities also help to create a strong sense place for the community - the sense that this place is unique, identifiable as the gathering place for the community and associated with the community and its residents to create a sense of community pride. It's the social place in the community where you can often run into neighbors and friends just by chance rather than by design - functioning just as small town main streets did in our communities decades ago. It's a place that, in the end, leaves you saying with pride, "yes, this is Wellington."
"Preserve open space and critical environmental areas" is something that's already been done reasonably well in Wellington. We have large recreational parks for families and children. We have the Equestrian Preserve which is both a huge green space and powerful economic engine for Wellington, and we have the environmental wetlands area (Wellington Environmental Preserve) on the western outskirts of Wellington which serves multiple functions in preserving open space and wetlands, treating our water run off, and providing some recreation for hiking and horseback riding. But, going beyond mere preservation, we can also work to create, not just preserve, special green open spaces that beautify the community, provide places for our people to gather and socialize, and set the tone for the identity that is already Wellington.
"Strengthen and direct development towards existing communities" plays into the idea of creating greater density and walkability in the community while working to improve the community's existing infrastructure. In Wellington's case, and in the specific example of K Park, how do we want to direct development toward the existing communities (Oakmont Estates, Versailles, Castellina, Farmington, Olympia, Villagewalk)? What can we do at K Park and with these surrounding communities to better further the whole range of Smart Growth objectives for Wellington?
"Provide a range of transportation choices" could just as well be described as "create ways for people to get around without always having to jump in the car." The range of choices is walking, biking, golf carts or "NEV's" and public transportation which can take the form of trolleys or buses. The range of transportation choices won't work for walking, biking or even golf carts/NEV's (neighborhood electric vehicles) unless we place meaningful destinations and uses in close proximity to where the people live. This means giving people not just the reasons to go to a place, but the easy, convenient, and almost encouraging means to get there. Without large attractive pathways that take people to places and destinations they actually want to go, there won't be much enthusiasm for walking, biking or even golf carts. Most people aren't strongly encouraged by a potential walk to nowhere. We have an opportunity to plan a central core for Wellington around the mall and the residential communities named above. Is this something that the community wants and would respond to? [A note on NEV's (neighborhood electric vehicles): there is a likely future for short distance, smaller golf cart like vehicles that can reach speeds up to 40 miles per hour. This would be both fun and ideal, economical transportation for many of the communities surrounding K Park and the mall area. Sort of like the idea of scooters for local transportation but with a greater safety level. Can Wellington be one of the first suburban communities to plan for this future? If we create the easy pathways for the NEV's will the NEV's soon follow? We need to imagine the future.
"Make development decisions predictable, fair and cost effective" is a responsibility that falls on our local government, in Wellington's case, the Village Council and zoning and planning. We can achieve this best when there is a good comprehensive plan for the community and government works with the people to develop a community-centered approach to future develoment in Wellington. It's part of what we can hope to accomplish going forward. Progress will be made if we focus on an agreed sense of principles to implement.
And finally, the reason why you're here...."Encourage community collaboration in development decisions." We've gotten to these discussions because you have shown that development in your community - Wellington - matters to you and that you want a voice in what happens in your community. It's one of the most important Smart Growth principles for 2 reasons: 1) we can have faith in the collective decision-making and wisdom of our citizens and 2) the community, by nature, will embrace and further the success of the things that they have considered and support. This is where YOU come in and your community needs YOU.
Chuck Mineo is a principal in Gardens Group Development. Chuck has been passionate about community planning and development since his college days. It makes community oriented development a labor of love.