Smart Growth Gets a New Look

The growth paradigm for the last fifty years in the US (and many other parts of the world), which accelerated in the 1990s has been away from cities and more in the suburban and exurban areas outside of major metropolitan areas. While large US cities have rebounded from their nadir in the 1970s and 1980s era of white flight, homelessness, drugs and crime, much of the infrastructure investment has been made toward developing auto-centric development instead of walkable mixed use zoned areas along mass transit corridors. I've long thought that good urban planning and mixed use zoning is a large part of the answer to dealing with our dependence on automobiles/oil as well as having many social, public safety and environmental benefits.

Now that $4 gas is here and looks like it might be a short stop before $5-$10 gas, Smart Growth is getting more attention as the best method to maintain a high standard of living and promote economic growth.

So let's take a look at some videos from around the country on what's happing on the Smart Growth or Transit Oriented Development front to reduce out dependence on automobiles.

Starting in my backyard, here's Public Service Announcement from Vision Long Island, trying to stimulate debate on reorienting local priorities away from auto-based development and toward walkable mixed use towns around mass transit corridors like the LIRR and the emerging Long Island bus system.

Here's a short 2 minute spot explaining why the American Planning Association (APA) gave Kansas City Mayor Kay Barnes their 2007 Award to her for revitalizing Smart Growth in downtown Kansas City.

And finally, here's a look at Sacramento's strategy of using infill development to manage it's growth.

The Wall Street Journal picked-up this story today.

Gasoline was less than $2 a gallon when Mike McKeever brought his gospel of bikes, light rail and tightly packed neighborhoods to this state synonymous with cars, freeways and suburban sprawl. "The development industry was very concerned," says Mr. McKeever, head of Sacramento's regional planning agency. "The environmental community was openly negative," concerned that it was "just more talk, talk." Seven years later, with gasoline hurtling past $4 a gallon, Sacramento has become one of the nation's most-watched experiments in whether urban planning can help solve everything from high fuel prices to the housing bust to global warming. "They're really the model," says Steve Winkelman, a transportation expert at the Center for Clean Air Policy.
Please leave comments below about what's going on in your area of the world.

I find it really sad that sensible people who advocate the use of LESS ENERGY have to dress up the article in GROWTH CLOTHING..

We should have the courage to talk about contracting the economy - on purpose, in the interests of the biosphere and ultimately ourselves!!

Almost 30 years ago, Harvey Molotch published his piece on the "City as a Growth Machine". This is a foundational article that explains how and why cities function to increase the value of land:

To take away "growth" from cities would be to turn over 100 years of urban history on its head. The growth machine explanation is consistent with Smart Growth insofar as smart growth allocates growing land values to space within the city rather than on the perimeter and beyond. To the extent that the elites in any city have a personal stake in land near the center, they will support proposals to intensify land uses (and values) within the city rather than the periphery.

Also, thanks to Glenn for posting on this topic!

Pssst, Sololeum, you aren't saying that the emperor of growth should be walking around bare assed and exposed, now are you?

Are you unaware that the plebes have not the sophistication to appreciate the finer nuances of imaginary fabrics?

Sololeum - I agree completely with your observation. There is nothing beautiful or profitable in our "blessed way of life," to quote Cheney. On the contrary. We need to learn how to live in harmony with all the other species on the earth and with each other. Our frantic going and coming, purchasing and selling, digging and filling needs to be recorded and stored in a cosmic cautionary tale of how not to generate happiness. Global hyperactivity syndrome, anyone?

Why does it have to be "wrapped" in talk of growth?

Because, while it may qualify as courageous, talking about a development system that fails to deliver increased economic value as also fruitless.

Unless a replacement system for the material-expansive property development system is able to grow economic value, it will not be reproduced across the country and therefore will not offer any benefit to anybody.

I also agree with Sololeum. The only way to have continual sustainable growth would be have continual efficiency gains at the same rate. Unfortunately, this type of scenario cannot be sustained for long as you cannot become more than 100% efficient.

In other words, infinite growth will be blocked by the wall at 100% efficiency.

Here in the Tampa Bay area it was sad to see the mayor of Tampa form a mass transit authority and travel to other cities to see their mass transit. Sorry but mass transit in the Tampa Bay area is at least ten years late. For those who say why not start now because in the future we will look back at 2008 and wish we had. Unfortunately the monies for the massive investment it would take is just not there and Floridians love their cars. Remember the bullet train that was going to connect Tampa and went no where when the voters were told the real cost of such a project.
Conversely I will be leaving the Tampa Bay area in August and returning to St. Louis Missouri
Bought a condo close to metro link
check more of it out here:

We need to create a sustainable infrastructure, one that will work in world of relatively expensive energy. Creating such an infrastructure has nothing to do with composite growth of the overall economy per se. The 'smart growth' label associates intelligent infrastructure development with the destructive and outdated goal of everlasting increases in economic wealth. It is a shame to see this kind association being perpetuated on this web site.

Well said.

Smart Growth = Oxymoron

When I was a kid I was fascinated by The Guinness Book of World Records. One of the stories I still remember was of the world's tallest person. He had a genetic-based disease. What struck me about his story was how badly his health was, and how early he died, because of his extreme rate and extent of growth.

The tallest man in medical history for whom there is irrefutable evidence is Robert Pershing Wadlow. He was born at Alton, Illinois, USA, on February 22, 1918, and when he was last measured on June 27, 1940, was found to be 2.72 m (8 ft 11.1 in) tall.

Wadlow died at 1:30 a.m. on July 15, 1940, in a hotel in Manistee, Michigan, as a result of a septic blister on his right ankle caused by a brace, which had been poorly fitted only a week earlier. He was buried in Oakwood Cemetery, Alton, in a coffin measuring 3.28 m (10 ft 9 in) long, 81 cm (32 in) wide and 76 cm (30 in) deep.

Wadlow's greatest recorded weight was 222.71 kg (35 st 1 lb) on his 21st birthday and he weighed 199 kg (31 st 5 lb) at the time of his death. His shoe size was 37AA (47 cm, 18½ in long) and his hands measured 32.4 cm (12¾ in) from the wrist to the tip of the middle finger. He wore a size 25 ring. His arm span was 2.88 m (9 ft 5¾ in) and his peak daily food consumption was 8000 calories.

At the age of nine, he was able to carry his father Harold F. Wadlow, later Mayor of Alton, who stood 1.8 m (5 ft 11 in) and weighed 77 kg (170 lb), up the stairs of the family home.

I like the analogy of human gigantism because it makes clear the absurdity of the desire for unending growth. Of course the true believers in everlasting growth will take refuge in dematerialization; We are going to produced exponentially more economic output with the same consumption of energy and materials forever, world without end, amen.

Our capitalist system is founded on the principle of artificial growth. It creates demand and then profits by selling to meet the demand. It also depends on market expansion (or population growth) to create greater profits. But this model of economics is a false one because it borrows from the future and is unsustainable. When we grow our economies in order to make certain countries, or sections of society wealthy, we are allowing them to steal from the future, because eventually all debts have to be repaid. The coming world recession will be a shock to many, but the shrinking of our economies and slowing of artificial growth can only be a good thing. Everything we have is created from the earth's resources and we have exhausted our earth. She needs a long overdue rest from our frenetic economic activity! In my area of interest, it means that perhaps we will stop flying our food halfway across the world and start buying locally again.

Here in Leeds in the UK we had a great opportunity - but this was cancelled due to costs back in 2005 -
imagine what it would cost right now:

Leeds Supertram was cancelled by Alistair Darling in 2005. Despite the go-ahead being given to the £20bn crossrail project in London ontop of London's existing developed transport network, the £500m supertram was cancelled for being "too expensive". Leeds remains Europe's largest city without a Metro, Light Rail, Tram or Underground system, and also one of the UK's most congested cities (far more so than that of the other main cities of Birmingham, Glasgow and Sheffield).

... but then have a look at what's just happened (2008) to our innercity housing developments !

Ian Simpson's twin-tower Lumiere scheme in Leeds, which was destined to become the tallest residential development in Europe, has been indefinitely put on ice.

I welcome expensive energy here in Sacramento, if nothing else, to force a return to mixed use, correct urban planning. Our mid-town has tremendous opportunites for infill projects, tremendous. At a minimum, I expect expensive transportation energy to grind our exurban growth patterns to a halt.

There was one comment by a planner in El Dorado County about a localized infill opportunity. That is almost absurd in relation to the way the entire county developed over the past twenty years. There is virtually no job base and absolutely no way to concentrate localized living. Everyone living there commutes into the valley, and this pattern is repeated in all cardinal directions.

The only trouble with Smart Growth concepts and policies is it is too late. So many of our latest housing developments are incompatible with Smart Growth. Literally miles and miles of single family homes at four dwellings per acre.

Retrofitting a light rail system is massively expensive. Just acquiring the right-of-way is cost prohibitive. Then we have to reorganize our society so people can live and work around the train stations. Otherwise, Smart Growth and Transit Orient Development is a great idea. I wish we had it 40 years ago.

Personally, Kunstler’s book The Long Emergency is aptly named. It all well and good to dream about having four kings in your hand, especially when everything is on the line. But we have a seven high, busted inside straight folks and reality has called our bluff.

During the week I take car of my granddaughter and live at my son's house in Burnsville, MN, an older outer ring suburb of the Minneapolis-St. Paul Metro area. Back around 1950, half the jobs and half the services were downtown. That is no longer the case. Jobs and services are isotropic. Suburbs are self-sufficient and travel goes in all directions. Job security is low, these days, and many people do not know where they will be working in the coming years. My son and daughter-in-law bought a house in Burnsville because it is wooded, has many parks, excellent services, a good school system, is centrally located in the south Metro area and has good travel logistics. There is no reason for them, or me, to ever go downtown.

I think we have to get away about thinking in terms of core cities vs. suburbs and getting everybody moving into core cities. I went downtown yesterday, and I hated it. The only times I ever go into the Minneapolis core is to go to the Minneapolis Institute of Arts. Otherwise, I avoid it. I never go to downtown St. Paul. I go to the St. Anthony Park area of St. Paul because that is where my younger son lives. He lives there because it is wooded, is tucked away from the rest of the city, and has excellent logistics for getting to the University of Minnesota campus, where he is a graduate student. He lives farther from a supermarket than my son in the suburbs does.

My younger son had a friend who spent a year in a job driving all over the metro area measuring cell phone signal strength. He said the observation that really struck him was how dispersed jobs were in the Twin Cities. There was no location that did not have industrial activity. The jobs were not concentrated downtown; they were everywhere.

If we develop public transport systems that feed traffic from outer suburbs into the downtown, we will miss most of the travel people have to do. Travel, today, is highly isotropic, not linear.

Human beings are a generalist, opportunistic species. We are scattered all over the globe exactly because we are not specialized. We are good at a lot of things but not great at one thing. In our evolutionary history we have opted for extensive utilization of resources over intensive. That has been our survival formula, and it has worked for us. It means we want to spread out. If we wanted to congregate in vertical cities, we would have done so. The fact that the U.S. has only one vertical city is a sign that that is not how we want to live.

The automobile did not create the desire to spread out. That already was a part of our psyche, our operating system. The auto simply gave us the ability to do so. Changing our society so that humans live in high density urban agglomerations that are liveable and not third world slums, is a very expensive process. Many green advocates see that as utopic. I see it as dystopic, based on human evolutionary history.

Considering the rapidly approaching end of portable fossil fuels, increase of green house gas emissions, and need to provide transportation for the billions of people on earth, development of systems of linear, electrical, rail-based transport will be essential; however, keep in mind that such systems will have to be much more isotropically oriented than most people are accustomed to thinking.

JHK covers this territory to a certain extent-he labels it the Jimminey Cricket syndrome-what I want I must get because I want it. Of course people like sprawl but transit doesn't work too well without density.

The inexorable downward decline of the urban density gradient has been fueled by cheap gas and massive highway spending, coupled with gains in farming efficiency that freed up Burnsville, Eagan, Farmington, etc. from their farmland roles. There had never in the history of humanity been a period like the 1990s in the Twin Cities where gas was so cheap, highways so plentiful, and food so cheap.

Start turning these trends around and perhaps the denisty gradient does begin to steepen: food and farmland with higher values, gasoline more expensive, highway projects questioned due to costs and questionable long-term need. Homeowners at the periphery of the Twin Cities and many American cities are now finding out that the homesite they bought into was a bad deal due to commuting cost. People are not stepping tin to take their place, but it can't easily be reconverted to farmland either.

The people in the Twin Cities are fortunate to have one decent light rail line in place and will soon have another connecting the two downtowns. These are good things.

I don't understand why you hate downtowns. To be on Nicollet Mall at noon when the farmers' market is taking place and all those office workers are buying fresh veggies is a sight to behold, and it reminds us why the standard urban model performed so well in the first place.

I'm a retired North Dakota farmer. There is nothing downtown I want. I'm not interested in the bars, the concerts, the trendy shops, the traffic, the noise, the sensory overload. The Walker Art Center is an ugly, ugly building with the face of an angry robot. The inside is just as ugly as the outside and screams anomie.

At my son's house in Burnsville I'm a block from Red Oak Park and two blocks from Highland Park, places I take my granddaughter twice a day. There's a commons area within my son's immediate community that has large grassy areas and paved walkways that are not next to car traffic. I can watch Coopers Hawks nesting and yesterday a doe and fawn ran across the street in front of me. I'm a 15 minute walk from Mexican and Thai restaurants, two Russian grocery stores, and a drug store, as well as several other services. I'm a 15 minute bike ride from two Cubs and one Aldi's supermarkets and a Target and hundreds of other stores, restaurants and services. For a city, it's pretty quiet, except for airplanes going up and down the Cedar Ave. glide path. When I look out my son's sunroom windows, all I see is trees, a slough and no buildings. The neighbors are friendly and know each other.

Why would I want to go downtown, where everything, except Loring Park, is concrete? When my wife was going to graduate school at the University of Minnesota, we lived on the West Bank in the Riverside apartment tower complex. It was all concrete. You can bring vegetables to the Nicollet Mall, but it's still all concrete.

These blogs tend to focus on metro areas. What about the rest of us? On weekends I'm in Mankato, where my wife is a professor. This is a community of 45,000 and has city bus service. But what about the rural area surrounding Mankato and its small towns? There's an aging population. It's going to need the American equivalent of the Turkish "dolmus" bus system in the future, but something like that never gets discussed. Our permanent home is in northern Minnesota near the Canadian border. Bears outnumber humans. I'm 14 miles from the nearest village; 45 miles from the nearest city; 110 miles from the nearest SMSA; 250 miles from the metro area. If you don't have a car, your mobility is seriously curtailed. There is no public transport. Winter lasts six months; continuous snow cover goes from Halloween until after Easter. The temps Portland has in winter, we can get in July.

If one thinks that changing our transportation system will be expensive, changing housing practices for Americans will be an order of magnitude more expensive and difficult. That's the point I was trying to make. There are no fill-in areas in the Twin Cities metro area inside the outer ring suburbs, unless one is talking of pouring a lot of concrete to build high rise condos. And then these people will be commuting from the core city out to their jobs in the suburbs, unless you want to move the jobs and schools and services into the core cities too. That's a lot of real estate to change.

Let's think about how to move people efficiently using linear transport to meet an isotropic flow. That's a difficult and expensive enough problem without also trying to move real estate.

You correctly describe the current living and working patterns of most Americans. But if we are to make the conversion to more efficient energy use in the realm of personal transportation, I believe that the current patterns will need to change. Perhaps the solution for the United States is not the central core and radial commuter rail lines of London, Paris, or Tokyo - but parenthetically, imagine how much more fortunate people in those countries are already to have an efficient public transport system. But people will need to adjust their commuting behavior to center their lives around the nearest public transport station, and use bicycles or other low impact solutions on the final part of their daily journeys. Surely high density developments around those stations is an essential part of the solution, whatever pattern of linkages prevail between the stations - radial, isotropic, or other.

High density development is like moving the mountain to Moses. It requires huge real estate investment while at the same time not obviating the need for change of transportation infrastructure. There may be many good reasons for high density urban residential and commercial construction, but not as a primary way of solving our transportation problem.

I think the last two decades have been the bottom of the barrel in residential housing design: the ugliest, most oversized houses in American history; the housing corollary of the SUV. However, it is easier to move Moses to the mountain; that is, we're going to have to work with what we've got, because the job will be expensive enough without getting into real estate as a solution.

I think a more cost-effective approach would be to focus on legislation to provide for health insurance and pension plan portability. That would allow people to change their jobs to shorten commuting distance without losing those two essential parts of modern life. When my grandmother visited us from Austria 40 years ago, she said America was an uncivilized country because it didn't have national health insurance. Well, we still have our expensive mish-mash of private insurance and people are trapped in long commutes because they can't afford to give up their benefits.

There may come a time when they no longer have a choice but to give up their long commutes and their jobs with it. The immediate economics of losing money to keep going to a job that most people only begrudgingly do anyway, will see many people just give up and drop out. What will they do all day long in their cold suburban reposessed McMansions? Beats me but deer hunting might be on the menu around your sons place.

Do you really think the USA will become the first country to ever figure out how to combine low density development and inexpensive, first class public transit? Why should the taxpayer subsidize your need to live in the wilderness?

Taxpayers didn't subsidize my decision to live in the wilderness. We're quite self-sufficient and we help each other out first before running to the government. I can pump my water by hand, grow my own food and fuel, use an outhouse, and am not dependent on city services. My son's house is not a McMansion. It was built in 1971 and is quite modest by today's standards. He has less lawn to mow than I have around my Mankato house, which was built in 1860 and sits on a city lot.

If it weren't for people like us in the "wilderness" growing food and fiber, producing energy, mining raw materials, cities couldn't exist. The economy starts with us, producing "new wealth" every year. This wealth comes primarily from harvesting the sun's energy. Everything else is recycled wealth. All biological systems are totally dependent on a continuing flow of energy inputs, whether it's autotrophs synthesizing organic molecules or heterotrophs harvesting that synthesized biomass. Sometimes we forget what's important.

The main point I am trying to make is that changing real estate as a way to solve a transportation problem is much more expensive than, yes, building a first class public transport system in a country with a dispersed population. It's fine with me if people want to go with the new urbanism and build new or recycle existing buildings in core cities; however, that is not a primary solution to our major energy problem.

I am working on a white paper called "Energy Systematics for Sustainability," and I have been thinking a lot about how we can convert to sustainable energy production and use. You can look at my other postings on this site to see some of the ideas. Whatever we do will have to be done systematically if it is to succeed. Changes will be major and will be driven by events rather than by our wishes. Unfortunately, our national politicians are seriously behind the learning curve on energy and are trailing, rather than leading, indicators.

I live in Portland. Bikes are big. I bought a close-in (to downtown) house, with a higher mortgage than I would have had further out. But now that's a fixed cost, while the price of the commute I don't have will continue to climb.

Portland is biking town, but don't get the wrong idea. Vast swathes of suburbia... far East Portland/Gresham, Hillsboro, Beaverton (think Intel corporation and related industries) are fairly unbikable except for heroic types. But here in near-in Eastside Portland (Northeast, North and Southeast areas) and downtown, the bike lanes abound and you can get where you want. People load their kids in trailers to get them to school in the morning. People shop on bikes. Not everyone and not even most people do this. But lots and lots of people do it.

We've got a city sponsored Peak Oil task force.

We've got some kind of fancy Gold rating for bikability from the people who hand out such things. We've got "bike culture."

Portland is all about building density and infill housing... building 3 houses where 2 stood, building 10 units where 1 house was. Some people complain (mostly right wing radical groups)... but it's not stoppable. For one thing the Urban Growth Boundary helps contain the outward spread, forcing infill and density. But now the price of oil should do a much better job of protecting farmland and undeveloped areas.... and the right wingers may not like a planned UGB but the price of oil will be a market mechanism that no one can argue with.

Of course Portland has MAX light rail and was one of the first cities to rebuild light rail, including a new line downtown described here, and illustrating what seems to be (but what do I know?) a ridiculous scheme to weave 65 ton trains and busses back and fourth every 2 or 4 blocks. The whole light rail issue is puzzling. I understand that precisely because tracks are so expensive and can't be changed they encourage developers to develop near them.... OK, I guess. But my mind still rebels against the cost of light rail versus say electric busses with overhead wires which also have a fixed infrastructure that should encourage development but are so much cheaper. Anyway, we've got rail, we've got streetcars... and our schools have the fewest instruction days in the nation... maybe as a result. On the other hand if you believe in "unschooling" (that's 1 step to the left of "home schooling"... no shortage of us PDX neo-hippies who think that way...) well then that's not a problem... it's a solution... one of the lovely side effects of incredibly expensive light rail systems. :-)

Lately ridership is up, they say.

If they would just collect the mandatory (but largely unmonitored) fares occasionally, maybe they could afford the security guards that we need but don't have. We're not talking big bad city levels of crime, but there have been incidents. Anyone would think twice before riding the MAX late in the evening. On balance I think it is a good thing, but it is not nirvana.

I bought a close-in (to downtown) house, with a higher mortgage than I would have had further out. But now that's a fixed cost, while the price of the commute I don't have will continue to climb.

that's good, but the calculation for everyone is different. in some areas it might not make sense to move closer and pay higher prices. some people might be better off with a longer commute and a smaller mortgage. they could just purchase a car with better MPG and/or try alternate methods of transportation. home prices are a much large % of your income thank commuting costs are. even in the worst areas commuting costs are 15% of incomes. homes are usually at least 30%.

The point that the poster made, though, is that with a fixed-rate mortgage, your monthly payment is always the same. This year, next year, and twenty years out. This is why owning your own home is a good inflationary hedge. If the poster's wages go up over time, the percent spent on housing declines. And, he is gaining equity in land in a favorable location.

The person on the periphery is subject to fuel inflation, so the percentage spent on gas is not likely to go down. If the cost of gasoline does go up, their land values can actually go down (unfavorable site, potential buyers need to consider the trade-off between gas and house as well). If, as some are finding, the land value really drops, they can end up owing more than it's worth.

All true, and well said.

Well, yes and no. There are interactive effects. Commuting costs may rise as a percent of total budget. Rising commuting costs increase the value of close-in locations, increasing my retirement nest egg if I eventually sell the place.

You are assuming "normal" mild increases in oil. If things increase drastically the balance is sure to shift against long commutes and the houses that require them... even if interim measures like high MPG cars can soften the effect for a while.

And I've read that commuting costs in some metro areas are as high as 22% of household income... by the way, although I think 18 or 19 is closer to the average.

Low income families spend a lot more, and they are often the ones who must buy less expensive housing further out:

There is a government study that gives the average percent of income, but I can't find it at the moment.

Hello everyone and the reason why I am on here is to help not just USA but all of earth to listen and understand this that if we all dont get out of the oil mostly gasoline that the price of gasoline will sky rocket to maybe 100 dollars per gallon of gas you buy at the gas stations every where !! This is a serious problem that we all face on this planet this is obvious that this is true to all that sees it also !! I am also here to give all of mankind a solution to this problem but scientist poo poo the idea of using hydrogen as the new source of energy because they are stuck on the old ways of teachings and I have found out what to be true poo poo the teachings of school books that when I was in school myself have corrected the books and teachers that teached the materials to me !! The point I am trying to say in this all is that I 100 percent believe that has something by the processes they are showing with water and its elements which is hydrogen which is in water and so I believe they are recreating the SUN in its all entirety by doing there processes because the SUN is mostly 73 percent Hydrogen plasma so they are making a much smaller scale of the SUN here on the earth so the solution is here but please listen to what I have to say that blacklightpower may have some and hopes that the whole earth will open there minds to this so we can use the resources like water or H2O as the new energy so look at the new equipment like the HHO gases which puts water into the tank to produce a torch and this might be a plasma torch like the SUNs output is and this might be the root to the same blacklightpower processes they have so this is what I see so check out the web sites below to see what I might be saying to be true seriously !! Change might be great as long it doesnt affect our well being on earth but helps us all in this new energy that I really see to be true !! I have also found out that mostly that all organic has Hydrogen in it to rare exceptions like metals ! A conclusion that I came up with is that Hydrogen can be truely magnetised and can this be done to do this ? Me and my friend came up to say it is possible because to understand this you need to understand what is an electron and a proton and what they actually do with atoms !! Our bodies is made up of about 90 percent so our bodies have this amount that when got to close to a high power electric magnets what are the results of this ? Can Hydrogen with is in water be changed in our bodies by using high power electric magnets then ? I can see that tests can maybe be done so show what actual results will come out of this ? blacklightpower is using water which is 2 Hydrogens and one oxygen in the molecule right so no body is saying magnetizing Hydrogen is a single atom of it so hydrogen clings to other hydrogen that is in water why is this ? I believe its magnetized hydrogen so other hydrogen clings to each other so blacklightpower is using electricity so they do have a magnet becuase of the left thumb rule that is being teached in schools of today !! I dont believe that blacklightpower knows this that they are using a magnet by using electricity in there process because he dont say that they are not using magnets to do the process !!

PS -- If you want to email with other ideas to email at


Hooray. We are saved.
Unless we are not.
You got your hydrinos in my peanut butter!
You got peanut butter on my hydrinos!

Thanks Glenn - I enjoyed this post and I think we should continue to encourage the other TOD (transit oriented development) and the idea of "smart growth".

there is no such thing as smart growth
all growth is stupid and we need to stop worshiping the growth God

Peak Oil is a symptom of Growth

No - peak oil is a symptom of basing your transportation system on the consumption of a finite resource.

It has nothing to do with growth - you could have a steady state (or even steadily declining) economy and still hit peak oil eventually.

Growth is good - the trick is to make it sustainable and reasonably equitable.

Growth is good - the trick is to make it sustainable and reasonably equitable.

I agreed that equitably sharing the earth's resource is a good goal. Pursuing this goal means that many undeveloped parts of world need need growth in economic services. However, the idea the whole human race striving to get richer forever can be made 'sustainable' is crazy. What is it about the concepts of exponential growth and a finite resource base that you do not understand?

Why don't you try and explain why exponential (economic) growth - at least for, say, 5 more decades - is incompatible with a finite resource base ?

Here's a few pointers to address :

1. The amount of renewable energy available is more than 10,000 times our current energy consumption (ie. we have a huge amount of leeway)

2. Global population is expected to level out below 9.5 billion people around 2050 (ie. it won't keep growing exponentially). That population will age and become less resource hungry once its basic needs are met.

3. As the price of raw materials rises, recycling becomes more and more desirable. Eventually a "cradle to cradle" style manufacturing system becomes inevitable (ie. we don't need to keep expanding the extraction of raw materials).

4. Once a country has industrialised, most economic growth takes place in the area of services. You might say "how many movies can people watch in a day", but I'd counter with "as they get richer, how much thought do people put into having a $200 spa treatment or buying a $5000 watch").

Have a try and I'll add further comments as you go...

1. It is not the size of the solar energy resource which matters; It is the cost of delivering one unit of useful energy from this source that matters. Since China is still building coal fired power plants like crazy, I think it is safe to say that this cost is not yet comparable to that of energy delivered from fossil fuels. Of course, the costs of solar energy are falling and you may tell me that it is inevitable that they will eventually become equal to or less than the present costs of fossil fuels. I have two problems with such a statement. First, I do not trust your crystal ball. I believe that solar energy will play an important role in our future and that the technology should be developed at all reasonable speed, but that it will be as cheap or cheaper than fossil fuels in their prime is not a self-evident truth to me. When I talk about the cost of solar energy I am talking about the integrated system cost of delivering energy 24 hours per day, 365 days per year, over a wide variety of geographic locations. This cost cannot be determined simply by quoting the cost of a kwh coming out of a CSP plant in the desert in the middle of the summer. And by the way, I am not convinced that anyone knows what the real cost of that mid-summer kwh is going to be. Until someone starts delivering and operating these plants in large volumes (an event that is likely to occur in the context of oil costs in excess of $200/barrel) I do not think that anyone knows what the real cost will be.

Secondly, even if solar energy costs eventually descend to match current coal fired electricity costs, a problem of the time frame still exists. At today's fossil fuel prices many poor people are already threatened with being priced out of the food market. If it takes a decade or two for solar costs to reach these low levels then we have big problem in the short term. This problem can be solved if the rich world is willing to reduce its demand on resources, but it cannot be solved if everyone everywhere is striving to get continuously richer.

2. Energy is not the only production resource which matters. Did you ever hear of peak phosphorous? Have you every heard top soil loss? Yes, these problems can potentially be solved through nutrient recycling and through organic or permacultural food growing practices. But what if these solutions to sustainable food production are more labor intensive and therefore more costly?

You make reference to recycling as a way to deal with increasing materials cost. Recycling is a good idea and it is already being pursued where it makes economic sense. In spite of the abundance of iron in the earth's crust more than 60% of the steel produced in the U.S. each year comes from recycled materials. The market has always been obsessed with manufacturing cost reduction. Such cost reductions are the path to productivity improvements. If energy and materials costs become dominant, I have no doubt that great effort will be expended on clever ways to reduce these costs. However, rising energy and materials costs represent an extra constraint on production, and they will place an increased burden on the ability of our technological cleverness to keep our productivity rising.

3. I remain skeptical about the ability of dematerialization (i.e. the service economy) to turn growth into non-growth. If you write computer code whose purpose is to make sure that consumers need next year's operating system and a fancy new computer capable of running that operating system, then you are part of the material economy. Of course you can argue that if people only buy one new computer every three or four years, then the delivery improved computers is serving a saturated market so that you are not contributing to growth. The problem is that manufacturers in a growth oriented economy do not like saturated markets, so they keep trying to create new markets: (e.g. digital cameras, digital video recorder, ipods, digital books, mobile phones, hand held computers, etc.) If you have any evidence of saturation in the gadgetry market, please present it.

In addition to more variety of goods, there has also been a tendency (in the U.S. at least) towards larger and fancier versions of older goods:. e.g.. larger automobiles, larger houses, more jet airplane tourism, etc. This tendency is being reversed by the current high price of oil and natural gas, but I have little doubt that cheap solar energy would be exploited to produce more luxury. Where is your evidence that there is a limit to the human taste for luxury once this mania has seized social control? Think of the French aristocracy and Versailles. Also do not forget about those 9.5 billion people, everyone of whom will feel they have just a much right to enjoy the bounty of the earth's resources as you and I. How can you be certain that the earth's resource base will support them in such luxury?

4. Why pick a time period of fifty years for continued growth? I understand that neither Bangladesh nor Botswana would be very happy about being asked to have their productivity limited to its current level, but why do the U.S. and Australia need to get richer for the next fifty years? If our current wealth was shared in a reasonably equitable manner we could have a perfectly decent quality of life for all of our citizens. You may say that sharing economic output equitably is socialism and is inefficient. This claim may or may not be true, but if equitable sharing of economic output is socialism today, it will also be socialism fifty years from today. Why will the people of the future be able to solve the social problems that we are unable or unwilling to solve ourselves? If, fifty years from today, the stock market and banking system are 'healthy' (i.e. still growing) no one will want to change them anymore than to do today. The only thing that is going to end growth is recognition of the physical necessity for such a cessation. If you believe in the idea of ecological overshoot then a strategy of growing until physical necessity forces you to do otherwise is not very intelligent. You may say that once the human population has stabilized then the concept of overshoot no longer applies. I disagree. Homo Sapiens is a species which is capable of using resources at levels far beyond what is required for physical health. When the consumption of resources is pursued as a means of gaining status there appears to be no natural limit to that consumption, so that a growth based economy will still be in danger of overshoot even in a situation of constant population.

The only reason for picking a time period of fifty years, that I can think of, is that it postpones the age of responsibility beyond our life time, so that somebody else will have the job of growing up and becoming mature members of the ecological community. In my weak moments I hope that you are right and that this postponement will take place and thus save me from personal inconvenience, but my best guess is that you and I are the ones who are going to have to face the music. We should focus our economic efforts on preserving our productivity in the areas which really matter: Food, clothing, shelter, sanitation, health care, education. Composite growth of the overall economy should not be a goal.

Perhaps someone would like to read my last years article about the Roethelheimpark site in Erlangen/Germany. It's an interesting example of walkable mixed use zoned areas.

the first politician to use the term "Smart Growth" was Maryland Governor Parris Glendening in 1996. He was looking for a public relations distraction to shut up critics of his superhighway project around Washington DC - the Inter County Connector (part of the old Outer Beltway plan). As designed by Gov. Glendening, "Smart Growth" allowed connector roads between designated growth areas, so building a 6 to 12 lane interstate highway in the outer suburbs qualified.


for details.

Smart Growth is the biggest oxymoron in the "environmental" movement.

Overshoot is the real issue.

Permatopia, your information about Gov. Glendening and the ICC is incorrect. Not sure if you're maintaining the road scholar site or not.

He never supported the ICC, actually fighting it for the duration of his two terms from 1995-2003. His statewide smart growth program was the first of its kind in the country, but unfortunately was weakened incredibly by Maryland's strong history of home rule and local control. They designated areas for future growth that had good existing infrastructure - roads, sidewalks, sewer, transportation, etc - and basically set up a system where state money could only be used for projects that fell inside these areas. The state had no power over local land use decisions in Maryland, so if they didn't use state money to approve a subdivision or whatever, then the state had no power to affect land use. But they did preserve 400,000 acres of open land during those 8 years.

But Gov. Glendening most definitely did NOT support the ICC. He did his best to oppose it for 8 years, and then it was immediately revived under the Republican Ehrlich in 2003 (and and the state program was largely mothballed.)

And there was never any provisions for 6-12 lane highways to connect "smart growth" centers.

Greenwashing Maryland's Highway History
by Mark Robinowitz
participant in the campaign to stop the Inter County Connector between 1993 and 1998

Glendening was County Executive in Prince George's County (next to Washington, DC) for twelve years and Maryland Governor for eight. The areas under his dominion for these terms received vast amounts of subsidies for extremely ugly sprawl, more highways, road widenings and other uglinesses that makes his recent claims of being "green" seem Orwellian to those with a good memory.

The most important transit project in the County was the Washington Metro "Green Line," which bypasses the University of Maryland about two miles east of the campus, making it difficult for students, professors and staff to use the system. Glendening, however, used the Green Line construction to boost real estate development in forested floodplains and built new roads to access the "office park" (where most of the new workers drove to work and did not take the poorly sited Metro rail).

Glendening's top transportation priority as Prince George's County Executive and Governor of Maryland was the Inter County Connector, part of the old Outer Beltway proposed around Washington, D.C. (Interstate 370). One of his big donors was Kingdon Gould, owner of a giant sand and gravel mine near the ICC / I-95 interchange that is planned to be converted into "Konterra," a large edge city of shopping mauls and townhouses. The project manager for the ICC admitted in 1997 to this writer that the highway was the "spine of Konterra" since this mega project could not be built without massive highway construction of the ICC and a new Konterra interchange on I-95.

Glendening's "Smart Growth" law restricted state subsidies for development to incorporated cities and areas inside the Washington and Baltimore Beltways. New highways could only be funded if they were inside a designated smart growth area or connected smart growth areas -- this was a loophole large enough for an Outer Beltway (which connects the cities of Gaithersburg and Laurel, among others).

In 1997, Glendening was forced to withdraw support for the ICC by the Federal Highway administration, which privately concluded the project was too illegal and therefore would be blocked in federal court. However, the Governor merely withdrew support for a particular option in the Environmental Impact Statement, and spent much more time and money trying to craft numerous new versions of the highway. Highway opponents learned that canceling an option in a study and permanent cancellation of the project were very different things. Glendening's administration claimed they had canceled the ICC in public but in private continued to buy land for the road, especially on the "new route" that they pretended was a viable alternative to part of the alignment that the federal resource agencies objected to.

In 1999, after it became clear that his highway proposals for the ICC could not be approved, Glendening had a pseudo collaboration with the faux environmentalists who recommended a slightly narrower highway plus transit (buses would use the highway). Building a four lane freeway in a 300 foot wrong-of-way could quickly become a six or more lanes freeway just by adding more concrete and asphalt if the overpasses are built to accommodate these "ultimate lanes."

When the Bush Team came in (and Glendening was out of office) they prepared a new EIS in 2004 and made a few tweaks to the route. This time, the Federal agencies were too intimidated to do their jobs, and chose not to fight the ICC (keeping their personal retirements intact was a bigger priority for federal "resource" agency staff). The corporate funded pseudo environmentalists who wanted the publicity of fighting the ICC more than worrying about the technical details of the project kept the grassroots out of their meetings, filed a flawed lawsuit in 2006, chose not to appeal when they lost (despite having a very strong case on some points), and construction started in November 2007. Now, in June 2008, miles of forests are now clearcut to make way for the Inter County Connector. In the 2008 Maryland State legislature, there was an effort to defund the ICC, but strangely, some alleged "climate activists" in Maryland waged a campaign to persuade environmentalists not to fight highway construction. Hopefully, the funding for these climate activists can be sourced to polluters and it is not merely "turf" battles that encouraged these greenwashers to oppose efforts to stop the ICC.

Lots of background information on the "limits to growth" is linked at

Exponential growth cannot continue forever on a finite planet.

Growth for the sake of growth is the ideology of the cancer cell (ICC).

"no matter how cynical you get, it's hard to keep up"
-- Lily Tomlin




[note: The Board of Public Works consists of the Governor, the Treasurer and the Comptroller.]



The ICC connects "priority funding areas" (the cities of Gaithersburg and Laurel).

11 5-7A-01(1), (2), AND (3) OF THIS TITLE; AND

in other words, if the highway is built in the outer suburbs and it doesn't have traffic lights or driveways it is acceptable.


[this exempts the Route 29 "upgrade" from Howard/Montgomery border to MD Route 32, the Outer Outer Beltway, and to the planned "upgrades" of Route 301 -- part of Eastern Bypass -- Route 5, Route 210, Route 50 on the Eastern Shore and several others]


my definitions:

Smart Growth:
1. An effort to cloak further sprawl development in a green mantle.
2. A Maryland campaign to target public dollars toward Democratic Party constituencies.
3. The mantra of Glendening's re-election campaign (in 1998)
4. Brain tumors induced listening to re-election campaign speeches disguised as public policy pronouncements.
5. Legislation enacted by the Maryland General Assembly in 1997 that contains a loophole big enough for an Outer Beltway -- it permits State funding of connector highways between designated growth areas and conversion of major roads into limited-access interstate highways.
6. Having a good seat on the Titanic.

Designated growth areas include all incorporated cities -- such as Rockville, Gaithersburg, Laurel, Greenbelt and Bowie -- and all areas inside the Baltimore and Capital Beltways, which means that the Inter County Connector, the 301 Limited Access Upgrade, the Waldorf Bypass, the Raven Haven football stadium and Jack Kent Crooke football stadium are all "Smart Growth."

Former Gov. Glendenning most assuredly did support the ICC. Remember the big Washington Post headline saying the ICC is cancelled? That was when Glendenning modified his position of support for the entire ICC to only supporting the east and west ends of the highway, dropping his support of the middle part that was being blocked by federal environmental officials. Hopefully he knows better now, but he was a powerful supporter of the ICC as governor.

Likewise, it isn't fair to say that the highway is just an Ehrlich project. Former Governor Ehrlich isn't in office anymore. The biggest supporter of the ICC today is Governor Martin O'Malley. He could stop the highway with one phone call. It is under construction today because he considers it a higher priority than the Purple Line or the Corridor Cities Transitway. I'm sure he would dispute this assertion, but watch his actions, not his words. The ICC is a $3 billion dollar highway. It makes no sense in light of peak oil or global warming. Take a minute to let Gov. O'Malley know you oppose this road and would rather the money go to higher priority transit projects at

How is this comment stream, composed of almost nothing but negativism, going to help sell the basic ideas necessary to actually do something about the problem?

Here's a surprise. People want to live, and they want their children to live, decent lives. A bunch of self indulgent rich computer users telling them they're doomed unless them move back to the caves and start wearing animal skins is not very likely to inspire them to change their lives in effective ways.

The automobile is a part of reality, as is the fact that a huge number of people now live highly dispersed. If you want mass transit which will actually be used, as I do, it has to be designed with those facts in mind. A world of small all electric cars recharged from a nuclear, solar and wind powered grid, and used to drive to local mass transit hubs is possible, but not if mass transit designers persist in the fantasy that people are going to move en masse into dense centers where they don't want to live.

We have a local highway (US 422) that has plenty of space between the lanes for parking but the last proposal I saw for transit along that corridor stubbornly refused to recognize that fact by providing for parking. Naturally it was put into the hopper of never to be done projects. Meanwhile, existing rail lines are unused because the trains are dirty and inconveniently scheduled, and there is insufficient parking at the stations.