Wednesday, January 27, 2010

"Smart Growth" is too Condescending

"Vision? What do you know about my vision? My vision would turn your world upside down, tear asunder your illusions, and send the sanctuary of your own ignorance crashing down around you. Now ask yourself, Are you ready to see that vision?"
-- Huey Freeman, The Boondocks

I love smart growth, but I hate the term. "Smart growth" refers to things like creating walkable neighborhoods, with a variety of housing and transportation options and a sense of place through compact building design, mixed land uses, and a collaborative planning process. The result is more preserved open space and development within existing communities (Guide to California Planning, p. 296).

The problem is calling it "smart". Because when you call your ideas "smart", you're calling the people who disagree with you dumb. Not only is that inaccurate (there are many intelligent proponents of classic sprawl), it pisses people off. Nobody likes to be called dumb. These disagreements are more about values than intelligence.

If you don't agree, you're stupid :) Stop saying "smart growth", and start talking about what it is.


  1. Problem with that, though. 1- the current way we plan our communities IS dumb. We're killing ourselves through zoning. 2- "Smart growth" has a lot of support out there. I did a project analyzing survey data from UCR's Survey Research Center, and I found that "smart growth" has something like an 82% favourability rating, across ideological, generational and demographic lines. It's working.

  2. I'm not sure that it's working with the people it needs to work with though. Once you break smart growth down to specifics, like "I want to put a three story apartment building in your neighborhood" I think the approval rating goes down.

    My concern is about when you have a specific project that you label "smart" and some people disagree. So you're labeling your ideas as smart and their ideas as dumb.

    No matter how right you are (or you think you are), suggesting that people have dumb ideas isn't the best way to win them over.