Editor’s note: This is a guest op-ed authored by Urban Habitat, the Council of Community Housing Organizations, and Livable City tying sustainable transportation to two housing policy measures that will be put to voters on Tuesday. It does not necessarily reflect the views of Streetsblog.
Smart Growth at a Crossroads: It’s time to stand up for our true values, vote YES on Propositions G & K
We have known for a long time that urban development is at a crossroads. By all ecological and social measures, the car-oriented model of suburban expansion is no longer tenable. We know that we must re-orient regional development toward compact, diverse, human-scaled urban neighborhoods built around robust public transit: we must return to the City and its neighborhoods as the model of future sustainable development.
Cities like San Francisco are at the heart of this model, as we build out abandoned train yards and shipyards, as we “infill” old gas stations and parking lots, build up along one-story commercial corridors, and rebuild our public realm of transit, streets, sidewalks, parks and recreation spaces. We call this “Smart Growth.”
The beauty of this model is that it does not pave over our greenbelts and farmlands, but rather protects them, by reinvesting in urban centers that our economic development models ignored for over half a century, and reinvigorating them as vibrant neighborhoods that can, as the charter of the Congress for New Urbanism states, “bring people of diverse ages, races, and incomes into daily interaction, strengthening the personal and civic bonds essential to an authentic community.”
But we also know that this path is fraught with dangers: the gentrification of hip urban neighborhoods, the displacement of long-term renters, seniors, neighborhood-serving businesses, and blue collar jobs, and the struggles over who can claim and occupy “the public realm.” The vision of a diverse and vibrant City, the ideal of “City air makes you free,” as they used to say in the European Renaissance, is threatened by the very same market forces that are once again reinvesting in the City.
As our movement has matured over the last two decades and we’ve been able to reflect on the results, studies have shown the link between public investment in transportation and the influx of luxury developments and high-income newcomers that push out the working-class and immigrant communities who have called these neighborhoods home for generations. This is a troubling unintended consequence of the Smart Growth vision we all aspire to.