SmartCode was inspired by the planning of towns like Rosemary Beach, Florida. (above)
Now that Huntsville is seriously considering adopting SmartCode, let's get some of the facts straight about it:
Myth: SmartCode increases traffic congestion.
Truth: SmartCode uses narrower (but straighter) streets and on-street parking to slow traffic. While you might think this would increase congestion, just about everything you need on a daily basis would be in/near your neighborhood, so why drive to, say, the grocery store when you can walk or bike safely to it? Having neighborhood schools and reliable public transit to employment centers could eliminate the need to drive on a daily basis altogether; however, Huntsville lacks both.
Myth: SmartCode makes housing unaffordable.
Truth: While Providence is priced well out of the range of the average homebuyer, it's because its a unique neighborhood. People pay for the "privilege" to live there. If more subdivision developers got "smart" and implemented SmartCode in their projects, the price of housing in a Providence-like neighborhood would decrease. Also, an ideal Smart Growth neighborhood has a variety of housing options, including single-family detached, townhouses, loft condos, and apartments.
Myth: SmartCode is costly to local governments.
Fact: It's not any more expensive than conventional sprawl, which forces governments to constantly widen roads and build new schools on the city fringes, while infrastructure in the center city remains underused. Rewriting the zoning code will cost upwards of $500,000, based on other cities' attempts.
Myth: SmartCode will force denser development.
Fact: Ok, maybe that is a fact; it will influence denser development than current codes do. But SmartCode also implements transition or buffer zones between residential and commercial districts. So instead of having a mid-rise apartment building or shopping center next to a cluster of single-family homes, townhouses or neighborhood retail could be put in between. Another way SmartCode creates density is by utilizing massive, ill-planned parking lots-- this is called "grayfield" development. I will be talking about downtown grayfield opportunities in a future post.
Myth: "Smart Growth" means more government regulation.
Fact: Believe it or not, current zoning codes are more restrictive and regulatory than SmartCode. Minimum lot widths/setbacks, single-use zoning, and auto-dependent transportation networks have created the suburban sprawl environment we live in today. Smart Growth eliminates these restrictions on development, and enables developers to think outside the box when designing future projects.
I've said this before, but it would be interesting to see if a subdivision developer would use SmartCode on a large-scale project in unincorporated (no zoning) Madison County. But every time I drive up 53 or Winchester, my optimism for such an ambitious endeavor fades.
Take a look at the SmartCode presentation to the city planning department. (.pdf file)
All of my "facts" come from the Smart Growth Manual by Andres Duany, et al. McGraw Hill, 2010.