Everything affects everything. To ensure economic vitality and our quality of life, we must have sustainable planning practices in place that protect our health, environment and natural resources. Smart growth isn’t just about tomorrow; it’s also about how we want to live today. Smart growth is fiscally responsible and provides healthy, affordable homes and communities. Smart growth is based on the idea that by making a small investment today we can ensure economic, environmental and individual vitality for years to come. With global warming, changes in the insurance industry, an aging population, diminishing air and water quality, and decreasing drinking water supplies, smart growth is a better way of life. Growth is good. Sprawl is bad. Growth keeps our economy vibrant so that our children can afford to live in the communities they grow up in. Sprawl uses our land and natural resources and diverts our financial resources from urban centers and existing infrastructure to outlying areas. We know that not everyone wants to live in the city. But city living is a lot more attractive when it’s based on sound environmental principles and smart economics. We have to think smart and we have to grow smart. And this begins with smart planning.
Planning For The Future
“Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” — World Commission on Environment and Development Our urban center populations have decreased in recent years. With infrastructure already in place, it doesn’t make economic or environmental sense to continue moving farther into the suburbs. We must invest in our urban areas and incorporate mass transit and green design practices. In doing so, we create revitalized communities with more amenities and greater affordability.
Current planning rules in Florida actually discourage urban infill investment in existing employment centers and provide incentives for one to invest in greenfield areas. Unlike urban areas that can require clean up and remediation — increasing the developer’s costs — a greenfield is a blank slate, an open area where roads and schools and other services don’t already exist. New rules need to be considered to promote transit- oriented, mixed- use, urban investment in and near existing employment centers.
Urban, mixed-use, high-density communities that are transit oriented and sustainable, play a key role in building for the future. These healthy, walkable communities:
- Utilize existing infrastructure,
- Make better use of resources available near employment centers,
- Reduce environmental impacts caused by urban sprawl,
- Enable brownfield investment,
- Increase tax bases and revitalize communities.
Smart Development: Far Out
Smart, green development is simply smart planning for the future. And because our population is expanding so quickly, we must take a long-term look at development in Florida. We should establish a team of world-class scientists and planners that plan in 100-year increments. By using 100-year planning horizons we can work on holistic solutions to social, economic and environmental changes.
Florida has taken a positive step toward this type of long-term planning with the creation of the “Century Commission for a Sustainable Florida, which is charged with looking 100 years into the future and making recommendations for a sustainable Florida related to such issues as transportation, water quality, housing, health care, education and growth.
Part of this 100-year planning horizon includes planning for our children’s future. Our children spend approximately six to eight hours in school each day. But many of our students also spend an inordinate amount of time traveling in buses on our roadways. It’s estimated that the costs of providing this transportation (bus drivers’ salaries and pensions, fuel, insurance, maintenance) currently exceeds 30 percent of a school district’s budget. And as fuel costs continue to rise, so will that budget percentage. That’s why we must return to the “community” school.
By returning to the “community” school plan, we can provide smaller schools in walkable communities. We can provide community members with access to volunteer opportunities, community parks and recreational activities. We can reduce class sizes, too, providing teachers with the ability to develop individual, specific academic plans for their students.
The Future Is Green And Dense
Smart growth is sustainable growth. And sustainable growth begins with mixed-use, high-density communities. These communities provide live, work and play opportunities to their residents. They make mass transit viable and make living affordable. That’s because residents can save money on car expenses — payments, gas, insurance and maintenance — and put their savings toward living expenses.
Sustainable green practices can save residents additional money by reducing expenses associated with electricity, water and sewer bills. That’s because low-impact development (LID) uses environmentally friendly approaches, technologies and building materials. Some of these include green roofs, environmentally friendly flooring and paints, pervious concrete, solar energy and using native plants in landscaping. Some of these don’t require new projects — existing buildings can be retrofitted to be more environmentally friendly.
Sustainable green practices are cost effective. Environmentally friendly investments make dollars and sense. Technology has advanced, making sustainable component materials more readily available than in the past, with the durability and beauty of traditional materials.
Sustainable green practices may cost a little more initially, (LEED Silver = about 2%) but the long-term benefits are substantial. An initial investment of 2 percent in green design, on average, results in a life cycle savings of 20 percent of the construction costs — that is a 1000 percent return!
For instance, green roofs can last for 60 years or more. This becomes a cost savings for residents and occupants. Likewise, the lower energy and water costs of a green building benefit all of us by reducing demands on public resources. A cost savings on monthly bills and reduced pollution and demand make good policy and good sense.
Smart growth means using sustainable green planning practices and conservation technologies. It means planning appropriately for future growth. It means ensuring that future generations are able to experience the same — or a better — quality of life than we have. And it means revitalizing our urban communities where infrastructure already is in place rather than building over rural green space that could be used for wildlife conservation or agriculture.
The truth is, we all benefit from smart growth. Smart growth is good for business, good for the environment and good for the health of those who enjoy both.