On Smart Growth: Attitudes that Need to Die for it to Really Work

Wonder what I really think about smart growth?,Enjoy this post, from August of this year, that talks about how I see smart growth evolving to work.

Lately I’ve been hearing a lot of chatter on how smart growth has made some neighborhoods flat out unaffordable. I agree, especially in that many smart growth and sustainable community measures are based on maintaining in some cases very outdated ideas. What I’m about to propose in this blog is fairly radical. I probably won’t live to see some of these attitudes die. I might lose my house as a result. However, we need to start chipping away at the following attitudes that are silently destroying communities and their ability to be sustainable.

1. Houses and the land they sit on need to be money generating machines and insanely expensive.
My mom got a great deal on our house. Such a great deal she immediately had thousands in home equity she could borrow against. However, my mom’s never been one to take out a loan she didn’t need, buy more house than we could afford and run out to buy a new car at the first crank. However, some folks weren’t so studious with their finances. Granted, some rental situations are bad (landlords not fixing things, kicking people out for no reason), but just because you have neighbors that cook curry occasionally doesn’t necessary mean you should risk your whole life savings on something that you essentially rent for 30 years or more anyway. Richard Florida’s idea of reforming renting and owning has merit. Also, I’m appalled at how inflation has driven up home prices. If we could ever accept a new paradigm of land ownership that didn’t place such a high premium on it, so many other housing issues wold be affordable.

2. Public Schools are beyond repair in some neighborhoods, therefore won’t move there or we’ll put our kids in private/charter school.
I toured  my mom’s pristine newly built public middle school yesterday afternoon (August 10th). I attended the original middle school up the road and suffered through mold allergies and sometimes broken equipment and chairs as a student. However, I was an honor graduate of the adjacent high school and magna cum laude graduate of North Carolina State University. As I passed this old building in my car on the way to the new one, I saw the new baseball field and also the new band transfer truck trailer. Both that were paid for by parent boosters. Yet, I am willing to bet that the brand new academic building will be trashed by the students within a couple years. Why, because it happened with the new addition to the older school building. It’s not always the curriculum, the teachers and the lack of technology(which the new building has plenty of). Sometimes it’s what we will value enough to pay for or take care of even though the school system won’t. Maybe we should value our schools, whether we liked going to them and/or we had children in them or not. We could say that all schools deserve some love, even if it means we have to give some of the resources ourselves. Maybe we wouldn’t have need for some of these shady new consultants that are taking the government’s money for school reform with no results. We could take that money and do what we as community members know works. I know some people will want more religion in your child’s schooling. There are ways for that to happen too while maintaining our school buildings which come standard in our neighborhoods thanks to our tax dollars. (Maybe taking the kids to church, synagogue, mosque for the extra training…) ?

3.Transit is bad. Always.
Yes, transit has it’s holes. I’ll be addressing them in a post in the near future. with the prevalence of electronic gadgets and less time to do more, being able to sit on the bus or train and read, write or listen to something is  awesome. Also, with the prevalence of social media, groups of citizens can gather to raise awareness of how much they love transit and also what needs to be improved. Greater Greater Washington does a bang-up job of doing so.

4.Too much color in a neighborhood means the neighborhood isn’t good enough.
Yes, I just pulled the card. I won’t go into too much depth here, but I will say that we need to stop being afraid of our neighbors based solely off of stereotypes of their nationalities, religions and orientations. Especially if those neighbors are willing to get your mail when you are gone,  mow your yard when you are sick, beat down the kid who tried to break into your house and give you great advice on your new tomatoes. Even if they are quiet neighbors, you never know when they’ll step up to the plate and be your best friends. Plus, what goes on behind closed doors and tall fences isn’t our business anyway, right? We’ve had too much government and developer forced segregation.

As you can guess, this is more of a rant than a full blown solutions post. However, we can’t keep ignoring some of these elephants in the room if we want true sustainable communities. What are some other attitudes we need to get over to help our communities become better?

Copyright 2007-2010 Kristen E. Jeffers