Working for Smart Growth:
More Livable Places and Open Spaces


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Statewide Smart Growth Policies Make a Difference

July 1st, 2009 by

  • In a recently released publication, titled Smart Growth Policies: An Evaluation of Programs and Outcomes, the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy compared four states that had formal statewide smart growth policies in place in the 1990s (New Jersey, Maryland, Oregon and Florida) with four states that did not (Colorado, Indiana, Texas and Virginia).
  • The first group of states generally performed better in the five categories considered by the study: promoting compact development, protecting natural resources and environmental quality, promoting transportation options, supplying affordable housing and creating net positive fiscal impacts.
  • No state did well on all performance measures. And at least one state in the second group, Colorado, was credited with outperforming some of the “smart growth” states in certain areas by supporting local government actions that resulted in effective land-use planning.
  • New Jersey was singled out for making notable progress in the area of affordable housing, an accomplishment that may be more attributable to the state Supreme Court’s Mount Laurel rulings, and the subsequent creation of the Council on Affordable Housing, than to the State Develoment and Redevelopment Plan and its associated planning process.

New Jersey Performs in Affordable Housing, Fails at Stopping Sprawl
The Lincoln Institute of Land Policy study, conducted by 21 researchers from around the country, focused on two key questions: First, does the presence of state-level smart growth policies result in objectively measurable improvement in performance? Second, to the extent that smart growth policies are successful, what underlies this success? Conversely, if they fail, what are the causes of their shortcomings?

For the most part, in answer to the first question, the study found that the presence of state-level smart growth policies does make a measurable difference. For example, traffic congestion grew more slowly in the first group of states (with the notable exception of Florida) than in the second. The first group was also more successful at limiting population growth in still-rural areas. And among the eight states studied, Oregon led the way in directing the highest share (49 percent) of its total 1990-2000 population growth into already-urbanized areas, with New Jersey coming in a close second at 45 percent.

But when the study turned to the density rather than the location of new development, New Jersey’s lofty status plummeted. The population density in 2000 of New Jersey’s newly urbanized territory (the land developed between 1990 and 2000) lagged all the other states except Indiana. This stands in marked contrast to the density of the state’s already urbanized territory, which in 1990 was the highest of all eight states in the study. The inescapable conclusion: While the Garden State starts with certain historical advantages in terms of compact development, new suburban development here has looked a lot like — and maybe even less dense than — new suburban development elsewhere.

In answer to the second question, the report concluded that states in both groups tended to perform particularly well in policy areas on which they placed a high priority. Oregon’s establishment of urban growth boundaries, for example, succeeded in reducing development on farmland in the Willamette Valley. Oregon also performed well in reducing traffic congestion growth by encouraging commuters to use transit and by systematically planning for bicyclists and pedestrians. Maryland was cited for progress in the area of natural resource and environmental protection. And Colorado, relying primarily on local regulations that were reasonably consistent from town to town, was able to produce smart growth outcomes similar to, or even better than, those states with strong state-level regulation.

But Oregon and Maryland did poorly in the area of affordable housing, the study noted, because their smart growth policies did not place emphasis on this particular area. Conversely, New Jersey did — and thus outperformed the other states in the provision of affordable housing, showing the smallest increase in cost-burdened households (owners and renters paying 30 percent or more of their income on housing) among the smart growth states and ranking first among all eight states in the creation of both new rental housing and new multifamily housing.

The study concluded: “The message is clear: achieving smart growth is possible, but states must remain focused on their key policy goals. No single approach is right for all states. The most successful states use a variety of regulatory controls, market incentives and institutional policies to achieve their objectives.”

The State Development and Redevelopment Plan offers a vision and a clear set of policy goals for achieving smart growth in New Jersey. Its effectiveness, however, plainly depends on state agencies, counties and municipalities embracing the plan’s vision, and remaining focused on its key policy goals.

If you have any questions about this issue of Future Facts, please contact Research Director Tim Evans  (timevansatnjfuturedotorg)   or Senior Communications Consultant Rick Sinding  (rsindingatnjfuturedotorg)  .


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