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Urban Smart Growth Principles for Community Enrichment

Posted by: Jim Normile, CRB, E.MBA, J.Y. Monk Real Estate Instructor
Updated: December 29, 2017 

Revitalizing our Hometowns Article Series: Part II—Smart Growth Principles; Community Enrichment

This is the second in a series of articles detailing a North Carolina real estate broker’s perspective on saving our towns, making a difference, and creating a profit. Let’s continue our series by examining Urban Smart Growth Principles for Community Enrichment.

Smart Growth

In our first article, we explored and defined Urban infill. Our next three articles will detail Smart Growth, a collection of ten land use and development principles that aim to enhance quality of life, preserve the natural environment, and save money over time. Smart growth principles ensure that growth is fiscally, environmentally, and socially responsible and recognizes the connections between development and quality of life. Smart growth enhances and completes communities by placing priority on urban infill and revitalization strategies. For this article, we will focus on Urban Smart Growth Principles that foster community enrichment.

Urban Smart Growth Principles for Community Enrichment1

Encourage Community and Stakeholder Collaboration in Development Decisions

Growth can create great places to live, work, and play, if it responds to a community's own sense of how and where it wants to grow. Communities have different needs and will emphasize some smart growth principles over others. Those with robust economic growth may need to improve housing choices; others that have suffered from disinvestment may emphasize infill development; newer communities with separated uses may be looking for the sense of place provided by mixed-use town centers; and still others with poor air quality may seek relief by offering transportation choices. The common thread, however, is that the needs of every community and the programs to address them are best defined by the people who live and work there.

Citizen participation can be time-consuming, frustrating, and expensive. On the other hand, encouraging community and stakeholder collaboration can lead to creative, speedy resolution of development issues and greater community understanding of the importance of good planning and investment. Urban Smart Growth plans and policies developed without strong citizen involvement will lack staying power. Involving the community early and often in the planning process vastly improves public support for smart growth and often leads to innovative strategies that fit the unique needs of a particular community.

Key actions in encouraging collaboration include developing an inclusionary process and a common understanding among diverse stakeholders, using effective and appropriate communication techniques, and working with local authorities.

Strengthen and Direct Development towards Existing Communities

Smart growth directs development towards existing communities already served by infrastructure, seeking to utilize the resources that existing neighborhoods offer, and conserve open space and irreplaceable natural resources on the urban fringe. Development in existing neighborhoods also represents an approach to growth that can be more cost-effective, and improves quality of life. By encouraging development in existing communities, communities benefit from a stronger tax base, closer proximity of a range of jobs and services, increased efficiency of already-developed land and infrastructure, reduced development pressure in edge areas (preserving more open space), and, in some cases, strengthening rural communities.

The ease of greenfield development remains an obstacle to encouraging more development in existing neighborhoods. Development on the fringe remains attractive to developers for its ease of access and construction, lower land costs, and potential for developers to assemble larger parcels. Zoning requirements in fringe areas are often less burdensome, as there are few existing building types that new construction must complement, and a relative absence of residents who may object to the inconvenience or disruption caused by new construction.

Nevertheless, developers and communities are recognizing the opportunities presented by infill development, as suggested not only by demographic shifts, but also a growing awareness of the fiscal, environmental, and social costs of urban fringe development. Journals that track real estate trends routinely cite the investment appeal of the "24-hour city" for empty nesters, young professionals, and others, and developers are beginning to respond.

Foster Distinctive, Attractive Communities with a Strong Sense of Place

Urban Smart Growth encourages communities to craft a vision and set standards for development that respect community values of architectural beauty and distinctiveness, as well as expand choices in housing and transportation. Smart growth seeks to create interesting, unique communities that reflect the values and cultures of the people who reside there, and foster physical environments that support a more cohesive community fabric. Smart growth promotes development that uses natural and man-made boundaries and landmarks to define neighborhoods, towns, and regions. It encourages the construction and preservation of buildings that are assets to a community over time, not only because of the services provided within, but because of the unique contribution they make to the look and feel of a city.

Guided by a vision of how and where to grow, communities are able to identify and utilize opportunities to make new development conform to their standards of distinctiveness and beauty. Smart growth ensures that the value of infill and greenfield development is determined as much by its accessibility (by car or other means) as its physical orientation to, and relationship with, other buildings and open space. By creating high-quality communities with architectural and natural elements that reflect the interests of all residents, there is a greater likelihood that buildings (and therefore entire neighborhoods) will retain their economic vitality and value over time. This means that the infrastructure and natural resources used to create these areas will provide residents with a distinctive and beautiful place that they can call "home" for generations to come.

Additional Smart Growth Articles

Urban Smart Growth Principles for Development and Design

Urban Smart Growth Principles for Environmental Opportunities

Jim Normile has worked as a broker, sales manager, real estate instructor, and co-owner of two franchise offices. He has listed and/or sold over 4,000 homes. Jim holds a Bachelor of Science, Real Estate, Summa Cum Laude, and Executive Master of Business Administration diplomas. He has been recognized as a Realtor of the Year, featured in Top Agent Magazine, nationally ranked in The Wall Street Journal Top Agents in America, inducted into the RE/MAX Hall of Fame, and is the author of Responsible Influence in New Home Sales.


1Adopted from Revitalizing our Hometowns, J.Y. Monk Real Estate School – Jim Normile / Kaplan continuing education course; ©2015 Kaplan, Inc.