What is Smart Growth?

Photo of people walking along sidewalk in Bethesda, MD.
Brick sidewalks, street trees, and store fronts with plenty of windows create an inviting pedestrian shopping experience in Bethesda, MD. Credit: faceless b / CC BY 3.0

Ten criteria for smart growth are divided into two categories. The Top Tier criteria are expected to be met by all plans and projects that deserve to be called smart growth. The bullets below each criterion address how the criterion applies to both individual projects and to master plans. Any particular plan or project is expected to meet the Second Tier criteria as applicable, but will not necessarily meet all of them.

Top Tier

These criteria focus on efficient use of land that is within walking distance of a mass transit station, and siting of balanced jobs, housing, and retail in centers that are connected to one another via mass transit.

  1. Transit-oriented development
    • Is the project located at a node or in a corridor with efficient, high-capacity transit service in place or under construction?
    • Will the project go further to encourage the use of transportation alternatives to cars? Does the development include significant traffic mitigation features? For example, does the developer provide shuttle buses to metro stations?
    • Is a master plan containing high-density mixed land use located along an efficient, high-capacity transit system that either currently exists or is programmed for construction?
    • Does the plan give priority to efficient, reliable, affordable transportation alternatives such as walkways, bikeways, and efficient buses, rather than road improvements?
    • Does the plan stage development so that it occurs only when alternate transportation is in place?
  2. Balanced development of jobs, housing, and retail opportunities
    • How does a particular project's land use balance the land uses in its surroundings (the community, the corridor, the block, the area near a metro station)?
    • Does a master plan adequately address mixed uses in sector, communities, corridors? Job/housing balance is especially important. All plans should achieve or significantly improve the balance within its planning area or corridor
  3. Efficient use of land
    • Does a project in a transit center build up, rather than out?
    • Is the project's density appropriate for its proposed location?
    • Does a master plan envision adequately dense urban mixed-use development near transit?

Second Tier

  1. Housing opportunities for people of all income ranges
    • Does the project provide for affordable housing?
    • Does the master plan promote affordable housing near transit?
  2. Enhanced neighborhood amenities
    • Will the plan/project add to a good mix of retail, libraries, performance spaces (live music, for instance), gathering places, telework centers?
    • Are amenities located within walking distance of major office and residential developments in master plans
  3. Excellent urban design
    • Does the project positively contribute to the attractiveness and livability of the neighborhood?
    • Will the project provide a landmark for the community, while working with the scale and architecture of its community?
    • Does the master plan promote good urban design over "big box" design?
  4. Integration of development with surface public transportation, sidewalks, trails, and bikeways
    • Does the project easily connect with bus transit, shuttle buses to metro, light rail, bike trails?
    • Does the street-level design welcome pedestrians and bicycling? (For example, provision of lighted bike racks with overhangs for rainy weather; open, welcoming spaces on ground floors.)
    • Does the plan include efficient bus service in directions not served by the main transit backbone?
    • Does the master plan promote pedestrian-friendly, bike-friendly facades and streetscapes?
  5. Protected and enhanced green space
    • Will the development require destruction of parkland, farmland, forest or any currently undeveloped space, or does it use a previously developed lot?
    • Does the development incorporate multi-functional and attractive landscaping in its design?
    • What will be the development's impact on stormwater run-off? Will the project require new paving of previously porous surfaces, or will it change currently paved area into permeable space?
    • Does a plan reuse currently paved land and increase the net pervious area within its borders?
  6. Energy-efficient building/alternative energy sources
    • Does the project meet LEED and LEED-ND standards?
    • Does the project help to meet the county's carbon reduction goals?
    • Does a plan provide a place where many more county residents and workers can function with energy needs of half or below the current county average?
  7. Retention and reuse of existing buildings and building materials
    • Does the project use or incorporate existing buildings and building materials, to save the "embodied energy?" Does it recycle materials from demolished buildings?
    • Does the master plan promote the reuse of existing buildings where appropriate?
    • Does the master plan or project promote historic preservation?

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