Smart growth is about creating communities, restoring town-centered activity with pedestrian and bicycle access and providing a sense of place.
It is a response to changing circumstances, demographics and economics.
Smart Growth is creating cities and neighborhoods with vitality, livability and strength in a healthy community.
If we look 20 years or more into the future, four forces emerge that will drive Smart Growth and change our communities, our cities and how we live: energy, climate change, water and food.
These forces are already at play on a global and local scale, and they are interrelated.
By any measurement, depending on fossil fuels to power our economy is not a sustainable model.
Demand for oil is increasing more rapidly than supply, and long term supply has — or soon will — peak. The cost of producing a barrel of oil from an oil field on the downward side of its production peak is more expensive, and more expensive to refine.
As oil prices increase, demand for other forms of energy will increase as well. These energy price increases will transform our economy and our communities resulting in more public transportation options and more compact housing and commercial development within existing neighborhoods and cities.
Making this new development livable, healthy and well designed is a key to successful Smart Growth.
The continued loading of greenhouse gases (GHG) — primarily carbon dioxide and methane — is changing the atmosphere, oceans and the character of life on earth.
Once in the atmosphere, GHGs remain for many years.
Responding to these changes is essential to our survival and will require strategies for mitigation and adaptation.
Mitigation strategies focus on the reduction of GHG into the atmosphere, such as reducing vehicle miles traveled, using electrical vehicles or building more energy efficient buildings.
Adaptation strategies focus on responding to changes in the earth's atmosphere and oceans already being driven by a changing climate such as sea level rise, droughts, fires, storm events, decreased water storage, and impacts on plant and animal species and agriculture.
Both strategies are necessary and overdue. Both will change the way we build cities and communities in the future.
Nowhere is climate change more evident than in water resources.
In Washington State, changes in precipitation patterns and reduced snowpack and water storage is reducing overall water capacity for all basins.
Water basins are generally over-allocated, meaning water demand and water rights exceed 100% of the water supply.
While demand for water is increasing, water supply is decreasing as a result of a changing climate. Water demand includes potable water, irrigation, fisheries and natural resources and individual water rights.
The University of Washington Climate Impacts Group and the Washington State Department of Ecology have been studying climate and water relationships and conclude that water resource management will present a significant challenge in the future for people, agriculture and natural resources to maintain sufficient in-stream flows for fish.
This changing water supply dynamic will put new pressures on urbanization, how we manage water resources in cities and what additional water resources will be available for future growth v. natural resources and agriculture.
Food, or “agriculture production,” brings us full circle in the four forces shaping smart growth and urbanization.
Agriculture is dependent on water and fossil fuels, to say nothing of a changing climate. Ag production — particularly in the United States — is more dependent on fossil fuels than almost any other sector of the economy.
Petroleum products serve as fuel for farm machinery, transportation to markets, agriculture processing, packaging and chemical based fertilizers and pesticides.
Dependence on water for agriculture production is obvious. Agriculture consumes more water than any other economic sector.
As both fossil fuels and water become more scarce and more expensive, the need to conserve these resources will increase. Any serious conservation strategy will include more efficient use of water and more efficient local market delivery systems.
More local farm to market activities are already “sprouting” up across the nation.
Cities are where these factors come together.
Efficient cities — Smart Growth cities — are where people will be able to live, work and play. They will consume less energy per capita, produce less GHG, respond to climate adaptation, use less water and deliver food to market more efficiently.
Making cities of the future more livable, attractive and desirable places is essential. Urban space must be perceived as desirable space. In this regard, urban design, will become a more important element for our future.
Sources and references
For more information, please consult these websites:
and these books:
The End of Oil, by Paul Roberts (no relation)
The End of Food, by Paul Roberts (no relation)