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Smart growth design criticized as divisive

Smart growth design criticized as divisive

By Jennifer Peltz
Staff Writer

June 23, 2001

JUPITER + For the past two decades, many planners have promoted "smart growth" -- building compact communities instead of letting development sprawl across the landscape -- as the answer to an array of problems.

They've extolled smart growth, also known as "new urbanism" and "traditional neighborhood design," as a way to protect the environment, preserve farmland, cut government spending on roads and other services, save residents driving time and money, and make neighborhoods more neighborly.

But lately, smart growth proponents have been surprised to find their solution accused of being part of a problem. Critics have suggested the strategy may further economic and racial segregation -- or, at least, do nothing to help -- by creating chic communities that few can afford.

Planners, affordable-housing advocates and poverty experts from across the country gathered Friday in apt surroundings -- the new urbanist development of Abacoa -- to navigate the fine lines between excellence and exclusivity.

"It's not enough to simply assert that these issues can be resolved," said Dana Beach, president of the national Growth Management Leadership Alliance. "We need to know how to do this."

That's the goal of projects such as "Development Without Displacement," which aims to help residents of older neighborhoods, including those near West Atlantic Avenue in Delray Beach, have more voice in redevelopment. The project, administered by Florida Atlantic and Florida International universities, hopes to help Delray Beach residents start writing plans this summer.

But smart growth advocates acknowledge they still have questions to answer about social responsibility, especially after voters defeated initiatives in Colorado and Arizona last year.

Smart growth has counted victories in places such as Seaside, the Panhandle town so known for its picket-fence atmosphere that it served as the set for the manufactured utopia of The Truman Show.

But those victories have come at a cost. Seaside, with its close-built houses and emphasis on walking, was considered a bold departure when it was built 20 years ago. But it proved popular -- so popular that even the small residences intended as affordable are now beyond the reach of many.

New urbanist communities can take more time and money to get approved because they may not conform to suburb-minded zoning codes, says Florida Home Builders Association spokesman Ian Smith. And "the sidewalks you have to put in, the bike paths -- all of those amenities that come with these trendy places to live are extra costs."

Jennifer Peltz can be reached at or 561-243-6636.

Copyright © 2001, South Florida Sun-Sentinel

Copyright © 2001, South Florida Sun-Sentinel

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