For many years—or at least until the energy crisis of the 1970s—urban and suburban planners didn’t seem to care much about conserving natural resources. Suburban towns were laid out in such a manner that you had to drive everywhere—even a block away to buy a carton of milk or orange juice. And the fact that gas cost about 29 cents a gallon meant that people didn’t mind. Meanwhile, many areas in older towns and cities were left to decay, often leading to blight and eventual abandonment.
Land was relatively cheap too, and for a long time, few people cared about how houses in the new exurb developments sprawled out far away from each other while commercial development concentrated in ugly strip malls. And few people cared about the woodlands or grasslands that were cleared away to build such developments, or that hills and valleys were being evened out for their construction.
Today, however, with our increasing awareness of our dwindling natural resources and the danger of their exhaustion, more and more local and state governments, as well as environmental organizations, are pushing “smart growth.”
But what exactly is smart growth, and how in particular is it relevant to New Jersey? The website www.smartgrowthgateway.org defines it as “Growth that serves the environment, the economy and the community equally.” Smart growth tries to concentrate development into already-existing communities, and takes into account the environment, public health, social policy and economic viability (or “sustainability”) when planning new housing.
Smart growth supports saving natural resources, helping existing communities stay viable, and saving taxpayers money by using existing infrastructure whenever possible. No one says people shouldn’t use their cars, but you ideally shouldn’t have to use them for everything, even to buy that proverbial carton of milk or loaf of bread—smart growth dictates that some basic services should be located near people’s homes.