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5th Annual New Partners for Smart Growth Conference, Denver, Colorado

From: Councilman Robert S. Weiner and Councilman John J. Cartier

County Council authorized us to attend the Smart Growth Conference in order to both learn about best practices and also to bring back information to New Castle County Council. The conference had a multitude of workshops, seminars and lectures dealing with the multifaceted smart growth concept. Included were field trips to look at different projects in the Denver area that were related to smart growth.

The “five legs” of smart growth, the inter-relationship between: land use and transportation: social equity/affordable housing, and the inter-relationship between economic development and environmental protection. Speakers in a number of inter-related fields’ participated n this conference.

The smart growth movement is a reaction to all of the problems of suburban sprawl type development which features extreme separation of use; commercial, residential. Etc…with automobile driven highway development which has created this problem of long commutes, air pollution problems and problems of lack of communities having a focus and smart growth is recommended as a solution to all of these problems. Smart growth also provides a strategy to address under performing and abandoned shopping centers, old suburban area that have been discarded for newer areas even further from the urban hub.

We will describe some innovative solutions and collaborative partnerships that are essential for accelerating environmental progress and building healthy, sustainable communities.

One of the other interesting aspects of the conference was the participation by folks in the organized labor movement in Denver who were discussing the anti-sprawl resolution that was passed by the AFL-CIO at their 2001 convention. Quoting the members, “…Where as urban sprawl strains our working families by creating overly long commuting times , fueling air pollution responsible for skyrocketing children’s asthma rates, creating a lack of affordable housing near jobs, eroding public services, and denying workers the choice about how to get to work; Now therefore, be it resolved that the AFL-CIO authorize and direct its leadership to actively engage in the emerging public and political debates surrounding urban sprawl and smart growth, asserting labor’s rightful role in the national debate about the future of America’s cities to the benefit of all working families.”

As one of the speakers at the conference eloquently stated, “…For five thousand five hundred years, civilization figured out how to build cities around human beings. For the last fifty years, we have built solely around the automobile. Form based zoning is about recapturing the sole of civilization by establishing places again.” As he said, “…We are running out of gas supplies. Suburbia is not sustainable in the long term. It creates no center village for people.”

Christopher Leinberger, who is both a visiting fellow at the Brooking Institute and a developer stated, “…High density subsidizes sprawl. Subsidy is not sustainable over a long period of time. The rest of us subsidize auto-oriented growth heavily. We don’t subsidize pedestrian, oriented development. 30-40% of our national wealth is in real estate. 40-50% of obesity is directly related to land use patterns. The average household toady has 14 daily trips (by auto). We subsidize sprawl when we allow investment in sprawl and neglect to charge for it.” People who demand their “right” to live in the vast suburban sprawl areas want to live with people “…who are just like us”. This segregation by income is destructive of society. The result is a growing concentration of poverty that directly causes our societies ills. In this conventional suburban sprawl we have a “…what! me worry!” kind of attitude. “…I’ll move to an auto dominated suburban sprawl area segregated from societies ills and I won’t vote for better schools because I’ll pay for private schools. To hell with the rest of society.”
But this ignores that fact that the rest of the non-sprawl community heavily subsidizes this sprawl community.

This sprawl community is very energy dependant. Only traditional, oriented design communities are energy efficient. In order to compete globally, our number #1 foreign policy should be energy independence. The only way to accomplish this is to stop building suburban sprawl and start building efficient communities so that we can compete in a global economy. We are subsidizing terrorism by sending our wealth to malevolent foreign countries in order to continue to subsidize our exclusive auto dependant society. It cannot continue. In Saudi Arabia, the reserves will eventually be depleted. Smart growth should be our domestic policy and a major element of our foreign policy.

The infrastructure exists in well planned communities. The trend to redevelop in these areas, (New York City, Los Angeles, Washington, D.C.,) shows a growing trend of people who want to live in a pedestrian, friendly community. You can’t expect an isolated, compact high rise to survive if it is isolated away from transit and office/commercial support systems. All of this must be integrated.

The 3 biggest enemies to smart growth are: 1. NIMBY’ism (Not In My Back Yard) including economic elitist; 2.Institutional impediment of land use codes that were written to support suburban sprawl; 3. Lack of Political will including lack of knowledge and lack of courage and vision.
Partnerships are needed between the smart growth advocates, heath professionals, universities, environmental groups and elected officials in order to overcome these sprawl code biases.

In Massachusetts, Governor Mitt Romney, has taken a lead by providing investment from the state to the counties and municipalities. Increased housing production provides cash benefits from the state as long as that housing production includes inclusionary zoning for people of all social-economic classes. In Massachusetts, municipalities and counties are rewarded to establish downtown, smart growth districts near transit or industrial lands. The state is investing in a “T.O.D.” (Transit Oriented Design) program.

There are smart growth grants available for both he public and private sector to provide the technical assistance to expand smart growth codes. There are “tool boxes” that help to design these smart codes.

Vicky Bean from New York University discussed how New York City ahs reduced the cost of new housing. They have identified regulatory barriers; they have removed antiquated and cumbersome zoning laws and environment reviews and unnecessary building codes. This has provided a 10-20% savings which is passed onto the development community and also to the end user. Regulation should be streamlined, balanced and sometimes removed to foster affordable housing, not just for low-income but for work force housing. Failure to address work force housing demands imperils the economic vitality of the community. Many lessons to be learned from what New York City is doing.

Concerning the funding for smart growth, the EPA, we listened to Geoffrey Anderson, the EPA smart growth office (202-425-9052). His office is the governments’ central receptacle for policy, economics and innovation in smart growth issues. There are funds which can be leveraged with local matching funds to enhance development that is T.O.D. There are also transportation enhancement funds in the Department of transportation that go to state and local governments as well. EPA and DOT are looking for creative ways by local governments to address suburban sprawl.

There are other agencies that provide funding for smart growth innovative ideas that include; NOAA, CDC, NEA and US Corps of Engineers.

There are private foundations such as the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation but also provide millions of dollars to local governments who devise innovative plans as part of their smart growth code to approve the health and health care of their citizens. The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation is a science base organization that looks for partnerships. It is the largest foundation in the world with billions of assets focusing on heath and health care. Physical inactivity is directly associated with health care and medical costs. There are $77 billion dollars in increased cost due to suburban sprawl. The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation is encouraging the creation of linkage of built environment and active living communities.

Another private agency is the Kellogg Foundation. Its mission is to improve the quality of life of all Americans and health is part of that very broad definition. It also invests in county governments that are willing to design walkable communities.

Another compelling presentation at the smart growth conference was the presentation by Michael Freidman on “Retrofitting Strip Development”. This is an area where many council members have this type of commercial development in their communities. Also, we have e lot of “gray fields” or under performing or dead shopping centers in the county. The basic concept is to end the separation of use by extending a residential entitlement to al of these commercial areas and allowing for the laying down of a street grid creating a “mixed use” village with transit oriented development integrating all of the basic functions of a regular community to give new life to these types of areas. Residential, strip development is accomplished by conducting a market survey to understand the necessary amount of retail space needed in a given area strip center and then concentrate that type of development and on the remaining empty spaces on the strip, extend a residential entitlement to create new housing options as well as allowing for mass transit along the strip center. The roads can be re-engineered to make a more pedestrian friendly streetscape with wide sidewalks, mass transit stops, landscaping and traffic calming. This type of strip redevelopment will be a great source of living options for folks in the County especially when we consider we have numerous, older strip commercial developments that are close to the old urban core in New Castle County.

Daniel Burden, Senior Urban Designer, with Glatting, Jackson, Kercher, Anglin. Lopez and Rinehart, address our group concerning street design, walkability bike-a-bility and live-a-bility. He stated that communities must be integrated with pathways that are safe and carefully designed. The pathways must be accessible, shaded and secure. We can cut greenway emissions by 25% by encouraging walking communities. Dan Burden is also the executive director of Walkable Communities, Inc. He state that cities exist to exchange goods, ideas and cultures. However, for the last 50 years, we have been reducing that exchange. Walkability gives us security, convenience and efficiency. The tool for creating these walkable communities is form-based codes. See Implementation strategies are outlined here. Walking purposes include; 1. Rambling, 2. Utilitarianism, 3. Strolling and lingering, 4. promenading, 5. special events. Walkabililty increases value in communities. Motor vehicles can be present, but should dominate. There are different levels of the pedestrian environment. Not all communities are going to be absent auto domination. We need to provide alternatives that we currently do not provide. Successful, transit oriented design must incorporate careful pedestrian districts.

Form-based zoning provides the tools to provide all of this. It regulates intensity, form and character of the community. Our current used, based codes instead do not address form and character. In preparing a form based code, step one is to assess the exiting conditions by analysis and inventory. Then, we can design the place and encode to facilitate the place we desire. We can also use form-based zoning to reflect a community’s master plan for intensity, character and relationship of elements to each other.

Step two is for a public visioning process known as a “shurette”. This can be used in conjunction with a comprehensive plan update process. Step three, is the development of regulating plans and zoning codes using organizing principles of “transect”, which focuses on the inter-relationship of uses. There is less need to be obsessive about specific retail uses in form based zoning codes in comparison to conventional codes. Step four is to develop urban standards. Step five is to develop architectural standards such as the frontage standards on how buildings should address the street. Step six is to allocate and illustrate those standards. Step seven is known as “the splice”. It relates form based zoning code with the conventional code. If a local government intends to only incorporate form-based zoning as a sub set of their conventional code. See

We also need to integrate environmental and community concerns in the transportation process. Dr. Mark Benedict, of the Conservation Fund, explained how “green planning” can be integrated into smart growth plans. The mission of the conservation fund is to forge partnerships to conserve land and water. Both green and gray infrastructure needs to be planned, financed and simultaneously managed. Strategic tools to identify parcels to be conserved need to be developed in order to identify where we can avoid sensitive, ecological areas. Green infrastructure requires strategic planning and a mandated network of open space farms and greenways. Lands that protect natural ecosystems are integrated with working lands, commons and greenways.

We also can use smart growth principles to retrofit suburbs. Ellen Dunham-Jones is a professor at Virginia Tech and a graduate of MIT. Michael Freedman is a principle in Freedman, Tung and Bottomley. The two of them addressed our group on retrofitting suburbs. Ellen Dunham-Jones described recent case studies of retrofits. The challenge is to connect urbanized nodes within the suburb with walking paths and bikeways and greenways. She described how we retrofit sprawl into smart communities. Booming edge cities and suburbs are retrofitted. Blighted suburbs are more likely to accept density then area dominated by NIMBY’s, example, Claymont, Delaware.
The old thinking that the suburbs are the outer ring around the urban areas is gone. Suburbanites and aging boomers want to live in a center of the urban core with urban character. Maryland has been a big leader in this drive. A big driving factor for the smart code movement is the proliferation of dead malls. Smart code principles are used to retrofit these into thriving pedestrian village like areas where there are streets, blocks, structures, parking and trees where seas of asphalt previously existed. In smart growth mall retrofits, we decide what first what to scrap and what to keep. We saw best practices such as Mashpee Commons and Mizner Park. Mashpee Commons was a first mall retrofit. It was a developer driven, mixed used compact retrofit in Cape Cod designed by the Duany Plater-Zyberk. It took them sixteen years to get the approvals because they were the first. Mizner Park in 1990 was a public/private partnership in Boca Raton, FL. It took a dead mall and made it into a mixed use, pedestrian friendly area that has spurred surrounding neighborhood investments. It used tax incremental financing.

In Belmar, Lakekewood County, Denver, there were 22 blocks of plight. On that site was a failed, Italian villa mall. Lakewood was previously defined by this mall but is now defined by “a downtown”.

New suburbs are anxious to market themselves as cultural, retail and entertainment centers. Therefore, there is a desire to take the abandoned malls and make this their new “downtowns”. There is a real market for suburban retrofit of abandoned and under performing shopping centers and malls. By the year 2050, the population growth will be ½ of what it was in 2000 according to a Brookings Institute study. The US population in 2050 is expected to half of what it was in 2000. there will be a $76, 000,000,000 trillion dollar investment in real estate at that time to accommodate the anticipated growth. NIMBY’s pretend that this is not going to happen. 2/3’rds of the existing environment will be removed and rebuilt including existing warehouses, office and malls. 25% of all housing by 2030 and ½ of all the building in the US will have to be rebuilt. There is a rise in single households especially in the suburbs. 71% of older households want to live within transit areas. Ethnic diversification of the suburbs is also driving the retrofit of suburbs because those that are ethically diversified “get it”.

In “Upper Rock”, which is in Rockville, MD, a Duany Plater-Zyberk project took an office park and converted it into a “green” 20 acre live/work neighborhood. The city wanted to cut down on commutes. This project was developer driven. The old suburban offices were converted to lofts. Then they were mixed with live/work units in an economically thriving community.

One of the tools is “liner buildings”. Putting small shops around huge supermarkets in order to buffer the impact of a large store in a pedestrian friendly community. Adding density to older sites is a successful strategy. Selling the roof rites above anchor stores for residential is now a standard strategy where smart growth has been adopted. Form based zoning best accomplishes this.

Michael Freedman stated that in new urbanism, we are creating “life style centers”. We are grafting life style centers onto existing malls and bolstering the success of those underperforming malls. He stated that a mature, healthy suburb can identify areas with village like qualities which can be retrofitted with bike/ped enhancements, interconnectivity to libraries, schools, parks neighborhoods and shopping centers.

There’s more information than we succinctly put in a brief report. We have brought back the syllabus which we have distributed as well as all of the recording from the various sessions which will be available for all members of County Council to listen and learn.

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