'Smart growth' turns dumb (Part 1)


It is the demon with many names. It goes by "vertical sprawl," "smart growth," the "new urbanism," or "transit village." These descriptions refer to the new phenomenon that pits tree-hugging environmentalists against liberal champions of the inner-city poor. Karl Rove himself couldn't have devised a more effective wedge between two normally simpatico groups. Instead, lefties themselves are jaggedly split over how, whether, and when to promote neighborhood revitalization through increased urban density.

For decades, tree-hugging lovers of green and open space have campaigned against suburban sprawl, pushing so-called smart growth to preserve rural America. Smart growth promotes high-density development that, in one incarnation, revitalizes decaying innner-city neighborhoods by putting skyscrapers on large, empty, or low-density tracts. A new liberal movement, however, threatens to set back smart growth's popularity.

Some progressives are campaigning instead for the property rights of long-time denizens of those decaying inner-city areas. This group espouses a greater affinity for battling wealthy developers seeking to replace urban decay with expensive apartments. They stand up for the property rights of elderly and poor residents against dispossession through eminent domain.

A San Francisco-based website Culturechange.org describes a local battle thusly: "Living next to a subway station and a redevelopment project area (currently under construction: 10-story office tower, 240-room hotel, 20-plex theater, and a proposed "transit village") gives a particular group, Neighbors For Responsible Redevelopment (south of San Francisco, Calif.), a personal perspective on what can go wrong with 'smart growth.' We understand firsthand the necessity of protecting existing communities from economic opportunism."

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