Dumb Growth

In yesterday’s post (and on my radio show linked in the post), I shared some thoughts about smart growth. Here are a few examples of dumb growth. Note, the point is not to chastise or shame. Rather, calling out dumb growth can help us avoid the same mistakes in future. It also can serve as a guide for introducing smart green retrofits into our existing built environments.

Examples of dumb growth:

– Building a retirement community in such a manner that the only viable mode of transport is the personal automobile.

– Building any housing development in such a manner that the only viable mode of transport is the personal automobile.

– Grading and draining wetlands, which provide natural stormwater mitigation, then spending millions to build and maintain retention ponds, which are inferior not only in terms of function and cost-effectiveness (it’s hard to beat Mother Nature’s free ecosystem services) but also in terms of beauty and biodiversity.

– Widening a road that goes through a residential area, past a school, etc. Even with crossing guards, kids should not have to attend school next to a four-lane “stroad.”

– Widening roads inside cities in general. Only widen a road if you want to speed traffic through a place. Save arterials for the edge of the city, to send through-traffic on its way. If you care about local business, quality of life, public safety, and social cohesion, avoid widening roads that run through town. (Some cities that have at one time widened a road that runs through town, are now turning those roads back into narrower, slower-speed streets.)

– Letting old usable buildings crumble and decay to the point where they have to be torn down, and then a whole new building has to be constructed, with all the expense and eco footprint, and loss of local history and character, that entails.

– Unduly restricting home-based businesses, which enable residents to earn a livelihood while serving their neighborhoods.

– Continuing to build sprawl developments while making it costly and time-consuming to get building permits within the historic city limits.

– Demolishing large swathes of woods and meadows, and removing the topsoil, to construct a residential development, then planting high-maintenance turf grass and non-native plants.

– Disregarding signals that the menu of housing options is inadequate for all segments of the population. For example, a bunch of students are renting a house in a gated golf-course community. The other residents are disturbed by their six or seven cars, coming and going at all hours, and their parties. Meanwhile it’s hard to imagine students, or any young single people, being happy in such a place. This situation (which is a real-life example) should be taken as a sign from the marketplace to add more student-friendly housing options.

– Removing housing that is considered “low-class” in the name of progress. Mobile-home parks, RV parks, Single Room Occupancy buildings all serve different demographics of residents, including many blue-collar workers, students, artists, single parents, and others who help make up a vibrant community. When we remove these dwelling options, we raise the barrier to accessible housing. The resulting drain of brains, elder wisdom, oldtimer perspective, creativity, and labor only serves to downgrade a community.

– Tearing down a building (or evicting everyone and then letting the building crumble) because of drugs or other illegal activity happening there. This is not progress; this is actually negative growth. And the drugs or whatever we were trying to solve, just move down the street.

– Removing benches, shade, and other amenities from parks to “solve” the problem of homeless people in the parks. Ditto cutting down shrubs and trees because homeless people camp there. This is not growth; this is backward movement because it downgrades public amenities for all of us.

– Only focusing on growing a limited slice of the economy such as tourism or office jobs. Not supporting local agriculture, for example. Failing to plan for a community’s local resiliency in general. Food supply, water supply, skills, social capital, entrepreneurial ecosystem.

– In the name of “progress,” imposing uniform standards for development (typically Anglo, middle-class, “bougie” standards) that end up squashing, tamping down, diluting, abolishing the distinct character and deep-rooted homegrown economic vitality of the various historic, ethnic, and cultural neighborhoods in a city. And reifying social norms that favor this tamping-down. Reifying meaning we act as if these social norms are REAL — inherent good sense or laws of physics, instead of simply social norms made up by a subset of humans. (This last bullet item merits more comment; will come back and add to this later, or maybe create a separate post for it.)

Can you think of any more examples of “dumb growth” to add to this list?