Americans are dissatisfied with the way their communities are developing. The problems associated with our expanding regions are numerous: traffic congestion, a loss of green space, and a declining sense of community. Exciting new development patterns, such as New Community Design, have been advocated as solutions to the problems of suburban sprawl, but even the best intended development projects can be thwarted by traditional, and oftentimes contentious, planning processes. How can we ensure that the very processes of development support the outcomes we’d like to see? Through use of a procedure known as “Smarter Land Use”.
Smarter Land Use provides a method through which to improve the quality of developments in settled areas by improving the processes through which new development is undertaken. If followed, Smarter Land Use can reduce arguments and lawsuits while producing developments that enhance the neighborhoods in which they are situated.
Smarter Land Use turns conventional development processes on their head. Traditional planning processes start with the assumption that each new development will have negative impacts on surrounding areas. This assumption generates suspicion on the part of environmental groups and neighbors of proposed developments, and so development processes often begin with these parties pitted against developers. Smarter Land Use starts with the assumption that new development is an opportunity to improve surrounding neighborhoods and provides a process by which developers, environmentalists, and neighbors can work together to make this happen.
Four principles underpin Smarter Land Use: collaboration, outward focus, enhancement, and sustainability. “Collaboration” occurs when developers, neighbors and environmentalists work together to produce creative development plans about which all participants feel enthusiastic. An “outward focus” on adjacent neighborhoods ensures that projects are integrated with and benefit settled areas. A focus on “enhancement” helps keep Smarter Land Use processes proactive, encouraging constant thought about the community-enhancing possibilities of each project. Finally, “sustainability” is essential to Smarter Land Use processes, necessitating that developers use renewable resources and not cause undue drain on non-renewable resources.
Franklin, New Jersey provides one example of a successful Smarter Land Use process. Here a lawsuit was threatened because a commercial facility, a home for the aged, planned to expand into a residential area. Despite their skepticism, developers and neighbors agreed to undertake a Smarter Land Use process. The result was a reduction in hostility as parties worked together to design an acceptable plan for expansion; this plan also included a connecting sidewalk, trails, and a park that residents and the elderly enjoy together.
The Smarter Land Use Guidebook is available at no charge on the Smarter Land Use Project’s website. The Project will also provide to communities mired in conflict a one time speaker at no charge.
Contact Group: The Smarter Land Use Project
Web site: www.landuse.org