Clarifying Our Position on Smart Growth

A recent article in Northampton Media, referring to NSNA member Adam Cohen, suggests that NSNA is flatly opposed to Smart Growth:

Cohen, known for videotaping of public meetings, has used his blog posts and email blasts to oppose so-called “smart growth” as a land-use planning tool.

Our actual position is more nuanced.

By definition, most members of NSNA live in the North Street neighborhood, an urban district that is an exemplar of Smart Growth living. We’re interested in preserving what we like about our neighborhood. We’re not trying to promote a ‘suburban sprawl’ lifestyle, although we do want people to understand why many find suburban living and the use of a car attractive.

In our own neighborhood, we appreciate:

  • Moderate urban density
  • Walking access to retail stores, an elementary school, and other amenities
  • Access to greenspace
  • Respect for our existing architectural styles
  • Buildings that are oriented to the street so as to create a comfortable ‘urban room’ for pedestrians

We’re concerned about:

  • A level of density that will trigger traffic jams and parking shortages
  • Developments proposed for unsuitable areas, such as swampy ground close to wetlands
  • Developments that rely on dicey, high-maintenance schemes to manage stormwater
  • Developments that will result in a significant loss of mature trees
  • Developments that will harm abutters, such as those that are too close to lot lines or those that intrude awkwardly on semi-private spaces like backyards
  • Developments that clash with the architectural styles around them
  • Developments that violate principles of secure design

We want planners to proceed with caution, remembering that the future is hard to predict, and many planning fads of the past, such as urban renewal, are heavily criticized today. We are not opposed to all change. We do propose ways to manage change so it will more popular and successful.

“We will have to admit that it is beyond the scope of anyone’s imagination to create a community. We must learn to cherish the communities we have, they are hard to come by.” –Jane Jacobs, quoting Stanley Tankel, from Seeing Like a State