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YIMBYs, Smart Growth — and unanswered questions

February 21, 2017

By Zelda Bronstein :48hills – excerpt


The real-estate industry loves smart growth; here’s why

On February 1 I flew to St. Louis for the  New Partners for Smart Growth conference, the largest gathering dedicated to dense, transit-oriented/walkable/bikeable development in the United States.

For many years the event has been run by the Local Government Commission, a non-profit, i.e., private, organization headquartered in Sacramento. In 2014 the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency awarded LGC a $208,000 grant to organize and plan the annual conference for five years (2014-2018). The 768 people listed on the 2017 roster of participants included public officials, consultants, developers, educators, health care professionals, and others. To my knowledge, I was the only member of the press in attendance.

What drew me to St. Louis, where the temperatures can (and did) drop below freezing in early February, was a desire to see how smart growth, the dominant paradigm in U.S. city and regional planning, would be presented on a national stage.

I had a particular interest in the session alliteratively entitled “Growing Grassroots ‘Good Growth’ Group.” Moderated by Greenbelt Alliance Executive Director Jeremy Madsen, the panel of three self-declared YIMBYs (Yes in My Backyard) included BARFer and East Bay Forward founding member Gregory Magofña, who was a legislative aide to former Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates.

I sat in on that session and four others dealing with smart growth basics, inclusionary housing, urban manufacturing, and public-private partnerships for “shared mobility.” That was a tiny sample of the nearly 90 sessions convened during the three-day event (I was there for two of those days), but it left some strong impressions.

I was hoping that the conference format would allow me to raise forbidden questions—planning issues that are suppressed in public policymaking in the Bay Area and beyond—and to see how smart growth advocates would respond. It did, as I describe in the following accounts of the Good Growth and “shared mobility” sessions… (more)


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