Smart Growth is an initiative started to increase the quality, distribution and supply of affordable housing for low-income earners.
It is recognized that the growth of cities has been mainly influenced by the public, private and non-profit sector, with the traditional methods of town development not providing adequate housing for low-income earners.
The impact of this has led to an "affordable housing crisis," with over 5.4 million United States households living in accommodation that is either severely inadequate or with payments over half their income.
Smart growth is aimed not just to serve affordable housing needs, but also to serve the needs of the economy, the environment and the community.
As the report says "smart growth in new developments is more town-centered, transit and pedestrian oriented, and has a greater mix of housing, commercial and retail uses...Smart growth ensures greater environmental protection, by preserving open space and other environmental amenities, and leads to stronger communities by recognizing the importance of integrating development and quality of life."
Smart Growth is also an initiative that has public support with a survey conducted in 2000 showing that "78% of Americans support policies to curb sprawl, the haphazard and wasteful development that is damaging the environment and draining resources from established communities."
SECTION I: THE DEVELOPMENT CONTEXT
The Economic, Social and Environmental Costs of Current Development Patterns.
Current development patterns were driven mainly by public policy. The development patterns are characterized by a separation of uses, dependency on automobiles and the consumption of space in suburban and ex-urban areas. This pattern is supported by strict zoning regulations, transportation systems and a lack of coordination in planning. This is important, because these factors are also obstacles to making changes.
The booming economy of the 1990's has seen housing and rental costs increase at more than twice the rate of inflation. This has meant that many low-income owners are now unable to find affordable housing. Low-income earners are forced into substandard housing, forced to live in areas where affordable housing is available but at the expense of good security or good schooling, or forced to be homeless.
Also noted is the fact that job growth largely takes place on the suburban fringe rather than the central business district (CBD), which distances people from jobs and increases commuting costs. These commuting costs are the second largest cost other than costs for housing and create further problems for low-income earners. Also noted is the fact that these problems are increasingly effecting middle-income earners as well as low-income earners.
There is also a social cost, with traditional development patterns causing isolation of low-income earners and also health concerns. The development patterns have meant that affordable housing exists in specific areas, causing low-income earners to concentrate in specific areas. This gives low-income earners less access to educations and jobs. This environment also leads to greater health problems, especially asthma, as low-income earners often live in traffic-congested areas. Low-income areas are also further from schools, meaning that children are not able to walk or ride to school, decreasing the level of exercise they get.
Traditional development patterns also have environmental costs. Development has meant the consumption of open space and farmland. This loss of natural habitats has threatened many species with extinction. Lakes, rivers and estuaries are also increasingly suffering from the effects of pollution and urban runoff. Increased transportation has also meant greater air pollution, particularly in urban areas. The Environmental Protection Agency recognizes the benefits of smart growth and supports smart growth saying "smart growth development approaches have clear environmental benefits, including improved air and water quality, increased wetlands preservation, more brownfield sites cleaned and reused, and increased preservation of open spaces."
Smart Growth: Alternatives to Current Development Patterns
Smart growth recognizes that communities will grow and attempts to find ways to allow them to grow without the negative effects.
Smart growth is characterized by ten smart growth principles:
Mix land uses.
Take advantage of compact building design.
Create housing opportunities and choices for a range of household types, family sizes and incomes.
Create walkable neighbourhoods.
Foster distinctive, attractive communities with a strong sense of place.
Preserve open space, farmland, natural beauty, historic buildings, and critical environmental areas.
Reinvest in and strengthen existing communities and achieve more balanced regional development.
Provide a variety of transportation choices.
Make development decisions predictable, fair, and cost-effective.
Encourage citizen and stakeholder participation in development decisions.
Smart growth recognizes that housing is a key feature of communities, determining transport systems, being a good for consumption as well as being a provider of shelter. It is also recognized that the quality and the location has a direct social impact, impacting who interacts with who and what resources such as schools people have access to.
It is also recognized that the government supports home ownership, however the incentives the government offer mainly do not assist low-income earners.
SECTION II: OPPORTUNITIES IN SMART GROWTH
What Smart Growth Means for Affordable Housing Quality and Supply
The benefits of smart growth include:
Expanding the range of choice available to households in terms of housing type and location.
Expanding the range of transportation options by encouraging housing in transit and pedestrian friendly neigborhoods.
Investing in existing neighborhoods, which provides better services and improved access for residents.
Promoting mixed-income communities, which connects affordable housing to jobs, services, transportation and recreation.
Promotes the opportunity to recycle existing structures and buildings.
Creates opportunities to re-establish more traditional communities where neighbour interaction is encouraged.
SECTION III: POLICIES AND APPROACHES
Land Use and Planning Strategies
Making smart growth work depends on turning the principles of smart growth into effective strategies, strategies that are integrated into a regional strategy for development.
Several policies and approaches that can be used to encourage smart growth are:
Make land use regulations more flexible, which allows developers to develop different housing options.
Make parking requirements more flexible, allowing for high-density housing to be a more suitable option in all areas.
Remove regulations that prevent the building of multifamily housing.
Allow accessory units to be created (e.g. For aged household members to live in).
Reduce the land required for construction by allowing smaller buildings, by reducing setback requirements and by allowing smaller garages.
It is also recognized that in all cases, these items should be considered based on the needs of the particular location. Low-cost housing should never be created that puts residents at risk or that detracts from the community.
Accessory Dwelling Units (ADU's) in Cary, North Carolina
The city of Cary in North Carolina has experienced fast growth which has meant that accommodation is in short supply.
As part of an affordable housing plan, Cary is considering changing regulations to allow the building of accessory dwelling units (ADU's).
ADU's are accessory dwelling units, independent units that are built either as part of a home or on the same block as a home. ADU's can be built above the garage of a house, added onto a house or built as a separate unit.
Currently, ADU's are allowed only if they are part of the house and if they are occupied by a family member of the home. Cary is considering expanding the regulation to allow for the construction of all types of ADU's.
ADU's increase the density of housing in a neighbourhood without affecting its character and without the requirement for additional infrastructure.
They can also make owning a home more affordable as the homeowner can rent out the ADU to earn extra income. ADU's also increase the supply of rental properties available.
Cary is considering changing regulations to allow for more ADU's in response to a growing demand for rental properties and for low-income housing.
This is an example of how the changing of regulations encourages smart growth. It is also an…