Comments are welcome (positive or negative), but any self-advertisements or irrelevant posts will be deleted.

No new posts are being added to this blog. For planning news and updates, check out The BIG Picture Huntsville (also on Facebook). For transportation info, check out the Huntsville Metropolitan Planning Organization.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

The Myths and Truths of SmartCode/Smart Growth

 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.


Dyingyak said...

<<SmartCode increases traffic congestion.>>

Also, because of increased connectivity between streets, you have multiple routes available to disperse traffic better instead of everyone being forced to use the same arterial.

<<It's not any more expensive than conventional sprawl>>

If implemented within the whole city it can reduce infrastructure cost because there will be more redevelopment of existing property than continued greenfield development.

Ramblin said...

Does SmartCode address exposed power lines or power substations? Huntsville would be much prettier without them.

James said...

@Ramblin: Yes. SmartCode puts "noxious elements" such as utility equipment, dumpsters, etc. "out of sight" where possible, say, in a rear alley or parking lot.

However, I think the city planners should worry first about more "useful" Smart Growth improvements, like Complete Streets and mixed-use zoning. Aesthetic improvements can/will come later.

Anonymous said...

Smart growth is basically the way a city like Washington, DC or San Francisco is built. Houses have driveways that open to a rear alley, where services like mail delivery and trash removal are performed. This creates less sidewalk cut-throughs and makes the area more pedestrian friendly. Smart growth also prescribes mixed use development, where one can walk to stores or mass transit hubs.

Required reading for those interested in the subject is "Suburban Nation"


Now, you have a city like Huntsville that is basically built like a giant suburb. The challenge is how do you implement smart growth strategies in a "city" that is just a big sprawl.

The first thing should be to redevelop downtown and move out from there to adjacent neighborhoods. For far out suburbs like SE or Madison, developments like Reston town center in suburban Washington, DC are a good model, as long as they're connected to the rest of the grid through mass transit. This is where developments like Providence fail.

Anonymous said...

I live in Washington, DC, and below is a link to a building that is nearing completion near where I live. It is the epitome of smart growth, and serves as a model for the rest of the country.

It is a mixed used development that contains apartments, shopping, offices, and it is attached to a subway station. In the shopping component, there is a grocery store, restaurants, coffee shop, and more. There are 4 levels of underground parking for those that need it.

The development also sits next door to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms, a major employer. The office space in the development is already 99% leased, and it's not even finished yet.

To top it all off, the development was just certified LEED gold.

For those that live in the apartments, they have everything they need at their fingertips. And should they need to go anywhere, the subway is right there, connecting them to the rest of the city and suburbs.


Anonymous said...

People here hate change-Pls stop saying and giving us all the facts about the disadvantages-You are rather telling yourself let things stay the way it is.Let relax and go spend money weekends in this other big cities-like Nashville,Birmingham etc and leave Huntsville and Madison the way it is,you are rather moving backward.You are suppose to give fact on how you can transform your own opinions helping the city grow,revenue,quality and trendy/current.

Anonymous said...



Anonymous said...

Don't let yourselves be fooled by a hidden code. This is a part of the UN's plan for centralizing population. Called Agenda 21. Don't let your community be taken over by politicians and power brokers.