Smart Growth FAQ

What is “smart growth?”

Smart growth is community development that reflects the values important to that community and results in land-use decisions that steer new growth to the places where it does our economy, and our environment, the most good: specifically, in and near existing communities where where investments in roads, sewers, schools and services already exist. This maximizes those investments making smart economic sense as well as protects working lands and open spaces. Smart growth means rebuilding today’s older towns, suburbs and cities – rather than building onto our last open lands. 

What is sprawl?

Sprawl is the opposite of smart growth. A sprawling development consumes a large quantity of open land and dedicates it to the benefit of relatively few people. It’s disconnecting, placing jobs and stores distant from homes, and vice versa; it occurs without regard for how it links to existing development that could complement it. It’s auto-dependent, multiplying traffic by offering few if any other options for travel. Unique local characteristics are often lost, making one place look like another. 

Why would we want smart growth in Idaho?

Smart growth encompasses so many different elements, the reason for supporting smart growth varies for different people. For some, they support smart growth for it’s environmental stewardship. Others appreciate it’s walkability and connection to resources like shops and jobs. For some historic preservation and preserving the unique character and charm of a place is important. Maximizing existing investments is a strong argument for the economically minded as well as those interesting in protecting Idaho’s working lands and open spaces.

How can smart growth help Idaho’s traffic and taxes?

Traffic problems are directly linked to the way we use the land. A great deal of today’s traffic results from our inability to accomplish even the simplest tasks without driving.

The sprawling land use patterns we have pursued in recent decades drive up property taxes in both newer suburbs and in the cities and inner suburbs left behind. While the first wave of development may seem to pay for itself, and even lower taxes in some cases, as people make their homes in the new sprawling developments the demand for services rise-and the new schools, libraries, roads and parks and their maintenance all must be funded from local property taxes. These new places drain people and jobs from the older towns and cities, where costs to maintain old infrastructure remains high and the service needs of the people who cannot afford the new suburbs rises. Smart growth can break this cycle by making better use of our existing infrastructure thereby reducing the amount of new roads, sewers and schools we need to build.

Does “smart growth” really mean “no growth?”

No. Smart growth does NOT mean no growth, in fact it supports more growth because the growth is better planned and more efficient. It means vibrant, disciplined growth. Rebuilding today’s suburbs, towns and cities is the smartest way to accommodate this growth, because it takes advantage of existing resources and investments in homes, sewers and roads. Rebuilding today’s communities is also the smartest way to preserve open lands. Growth is good, when it’s smart.

Aren’t smart growth policies expensive?

On the contrary, by using existing infrastructure for new growth, costs can be greatly reduced.

How would smart growth benefit rural, suburban, and urban settings?

In rural settings, farmland preservation would be strengthened by regulations as well as outright purchase, protecting farming for the long run at lower cost to taxpayers. Investment and growth in existing communities would be encouraged. Rural communities would be allowed to retain their rural character if desired, and not pushed into chasing additional development to satisfy the need for additional property taxes. 

In suburban settings, encouraging investment in existing suburban communities maintains or increases property values – especially for newer suburban homes, which today may lose value at closing to unabated new construction on surrounding open land. Such investment also increases housing options and transportation choices not possible in today’s sparsely settled sprawling developments.

In cities and older suburbs, revitalization instead of abandonment is another hallmark of smart growth. Using existing infrastructure, and cultural and commercial attractions to lure businesses, middle-class families and empty nesters back into the cities and older suburbs would provide more choices for living and working.

What are some environmental benefits of smart growth strategies?

Development guided by smart growth principles can minimize air and water pollution, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, encourage cleanup and reuse of contaminated properties, and preserve natural lands. Where and how we develop directly affects natural areas and wildlife habitat and replaces natural cover with impervious surfaces such as concrete or asphalt. Development patterns and practices also indirectly affect environmental quality since they influence how easily people can get around. (Source)