What is Smart Growth?

CNU 22When people hear “Smart Growth” apparently they still hear “no growth”.

Smart Growth is about thinking about growth;  planning.  For example, village, city and regionally instead of parcel-by-parcel.  Often difficult decisions will have to be made, but that’s why the more forethought and planning and public participation, the better.

And no, 16% is not enough public participation.

So, when I get a chance I’ll promote some events and thinkers.  Here is one that just happened last week Congress for a New Urbanism 22.  It’s in the weeds planning stuff, but it’s the stuff that will help to not only rejuvenate our region, but begin, for the first time in many, many years, thinking about how the 7th generation from now will be living.

And Sohum property rights advocates, please.  Before you even start.  This is not about urban vs rural, this is about urban AND rural.  Growing and enhancing the character of each.

Source … Strongtowns.org podcast and Chuck Marohn.


34 thoughts on “What is Smart Growth?

  1. Anonymous says:

    A bunch of this stuff is already in current general plan. Why hasn’t it rejuvenated our region yet? Where do you visualize one of these smart-growth projects being built? How do you address the affordability problem with smart growth?

  2. Mary Ella Anderson says:

    The General Plan under which the county is currently operated is the plan passed in 1984. It is more than 30 years out of date and the results of the provisions in that plan are visible in our creeks, watershed and neighborhoods.

    Hum CPR and the Gang of Four are doing their best to maintain that 1984 vision. They are looking backward, not forward.

  3. Monte says:

    Kerrigan ran on smart growth and lost. The people in Humboldt County do not wish to be socially engineered. The people living in town do not wish for higher density, and the people that live outside the city limits wish to be left alone.
    This crosses political boundaries.

    1. Right. SVB received a mandate fdr no smart growth from 8% of her registered constituents. Got it. I’ll accept your narrative that Chris wanted to socially engineer, and cease and desist from attempting to finagle control of a tiny minority who is also social engineering society based on the wants and needs of the county’s larges land owners.

      OK, back to reality. Nope.

  4. anonymous says:

    Does smart growth involve having individuals mow their front yard **Cough Cough** [edit: content deleted] **Cough Cough**

  5. Anonymous says:


    While social engineering can be carried out by any organization. whether large or small, public or private, the most comprehensive (and often the most effective) campaigns of social engineering are those initiated by powerful central governments.

    Extremely intensive social engineering campaigns occurred in countries with authoritarian governments. In the 1920s, the government of the Soviet Union embarked on a campaign to fundamentally alter the behavior and ideals of Soviet citizens, to replace the old social frameworks of Tsarist Russia with a new Soviet culture, to create the New Soviet man. The Soviets used newspapers, books, film, mass relocations, and even architectural design tactics to serve as “social condenser” and change personal values and private relationships. Similar examples are the Chinese “Great Leap Forward” and “Cultural Revolution” program and the Khmer Rouge’s plan of deurbanization of Cambodia. In Singapore, the government’s housing policies attempt to promote a mix of all races within each subsidized housing district in order to foster social cohesion and national loyalty while providing citizens with affordable housing.[citation needed] In Tanzania in the 1970s, the government pursued a policy of enforced villagisation under Operation Vijiji in order to promote collective farming.[4]

    1. MOLA42 says:

      And your examples of extreme Social Engineering in Soviet model governments has… just what has it to do with trying to maintain the livability of the county?

      Are you saying that ANYONE has argued for any form of authoritarian government in Humboldt County? Who are they?

      In the context of this discussion; you are laying it on just a touch too heavy, aren’t you?

      1. Anonymous says:

        Look, Monte said “social engineering”, Mary Ella asked for a definition. I googled “social engineering as it relates to housing” and that’s what showed up. The idea that you want to change society’s behavior (lessen the reliance on automobiles for transportation) via government policies (increased density in town, limited development in rural areas) I think, fits the bill pretty well. You are Engineering Society. The reason it works best in authoritarian governments is because you take away the biggest obstacle: the individual right to choose. What is the main conflict in this general plan? The individual’s right to choose where and how they live. So no, I’m not laying it on too heavy.

        1. Isn’t one standard based on the least cost and most profit also social engineering? It’s just one based on strict adherence to the free market. Right now, what I am calling for is choice in housing. Sure, let’s have some suburbs and exurbs, we are going to go cold turkey at once. Also, let’s allow planners and our representatives to do their job in planning for the future. It’s what we’ve done in the past when we were constrained by a world before the internal combustion engine. What we need to do is combine the knowledge our forefathers and mothers had with current technology with a vision of what we need to do for a sustainable future.

          In your vision of a society that isn’t socially engineered. Where and how do we as a society think about the 7th generation? Not just about ours and our children’s.

          And this isn’t just about environmental concerns. You’d have to be trying hard to ignore the increasing cost or transportation and stagnant incomes. What if it would be economically invigorating to plan?

          Let the market place decide. But in the case of housing, a market of choice base only on the lowest cost of development and the highest profit for a tiny segment of society is not going to create an actual choice in housing.

          This laissez-faire development has been the standard and there are real problems with this. A little bit of planning has the potential of reaping big rewards. Of course this will be very difficult because as soon as 150 ft setbacks are discussed, out comes the authoritarian talk.

          Ugh. This will be a long, difficult, conversation.

          1. Anonymous says:

            Yes it will, because you act as if there hasn’t been any planning in the past and no plan currently in place, which is false.

        2. MOLA42 says:

          Okay Anonymous 19:25, I was just checking to see if you were serious or not. Evidently you are.

          Every action by two or more people requires planning, looking ahead and determining the effect on the future (not that all planning is done intelligently).

          “Social Engineering” thus happens all the time, there would be chaos if not. All cities, states, countries and Boy Scout Troops engage in one form of Social Engineering or another. It’s called Civilization. Social Engineering goes on all the time… you yourself are participating in it by discussing it.

          The argument is a matter of degree, not concept. Discussing how we should go forward in our housing planning is hardly the same thing as Stalin wiping out millions of Ukrainians because they got in his way.

            1. MOLA42 says:

              I’m afraid you’re off your Wheaties today Anonymous. Neither of your replies (so far today) make any sense so it is not really possible to tell if you really are serious or just trolling.

              According to what you have previously written you do not agree with me. The Venn diagram for our positions as stated is two circles with plenty of open space between them. You took an extreme position and I took one that has more to do with the real world.

              Your reply with LJ makes even less sense.

              I think perhaps you are just in over your head.

              1. Anonymous says:

                I can assure you, I am not the one in over my head. I did not equate the general plan with Stalinist programs. What do they call that? A straw man? I can’t remember. Anyway, I pointed out the fact that social engineering relies on an authoritarian government to be very successful because that reduces the ability of a person to make their own choices. The idea of keeping substantially all of the development in the current urban areas denies the choice the the current residents to keep their densities, traffic levels, and air pollution at the same level, and denies the choice of future residents on where they would like to live.

                I think Liberal Jon will agree he does not want somebody deciding to live right next to a wetland or a creek. He also does not want somebody to decide that they are tired of farming and build an apartment complex on their farm, right? In the simplest of terms, he wants to deny their choices.

                Maybe you can diagram this:

                We agree that planning as it relates to housing and automobile usage is social engineering.
                We agree that to be successful, individual choice must be reduced or eliminated.

                We do not agree on the degree the individual choice must be eliminated. I have read the plan, ag land is protected, open space is protected, tpz is protected, streams are protected, there are trails, it’s going to be a freakin’ utopia. You may not see it this way, but those are the degrees we are talking about.

                My response to LJ was merely the fact that this will be a long conversation because he denies basic facts like there is a plan, there has been planning, etc. He goes of on these wacky theoretical tangents about the guiding principles or whatever that are most likely totally irrelevant at this point while ignoring the actual policies that get adopted. So, in that context, my comment “makes sense”.

                I read these posts and realize you are one of the few on here with half a brain, but that does not mean when confronted with the task of thinking a little bit you should go all pejorative on me. We really do agree, check your new diagram.

                1. MOLA42 says:

                  Very well, think on this:

                  While a society is merrily social engineering away it does such Individual Rights restraining as not letting you kill your fellow man or woman, build roads and expect you to behave on them, keep folks from pouring poisons in the streams and rivers that make up your drinking water supply and on and on.

                  Civilization…. eh? You already have given up a whole boat load of rights for the common good.

                  People (you and I) get together to determine what kind of world we wish to live in. If the humor of the people swings for “Total Freedom” then we can do away with laws against murder, initiate Mad Max traffic conditions and poison the drinking water and on and on. That would still be social engineering… In this case we have agreed to go nuts.

                  That is what I mean by degree, not concept. We disagree on land management issues. That is actually good… IF we listen to each other’s viewpoints. We are trying to determine what is for the greater good, one style of land practice planing or another. One approach to a social engineering issue or another.

                  You’ve already bought into the social engineering concept… you’re adequately educated to write on a blog and you’re discussing the issue as opposed to striking out on your own.

                  I’ll consider your comparing the opposing viewpoint to Soviet planning practices to being a fluke. I choose very carefully when to be pejorative. Not everyone deserves a polite response. Sometimes that includes myself.

                  1. Anonymous says:

                    Listen: I copied that from Wikipedia. That is the definition they give for social engineering. Those are the examples. Monte up there brought it up.

                    You and I agree the general plan is a form a social engineering. I also agree the means and methods are different between those examples and the county government, but it is merely what level (or degree if you like that word) of personal choice we are limiting.

                    You are making things too complicated, forget the soviet stuff. You are trying to pigeon-hole me into a tea party wacko. Sorry to rain on your parade but I agree that to live in society peacefully we have to give up rights for the common good. To what degree that is, we don’t agree. Man, bring up Russia, and you progressives go goofy.

                    I would like to get to the part where we talk about policies, so please, enough with the posturing.

                    1. MOLA42 says:

                      Just making sure we are somewhere close on the same page. I won’t bother to argue details with people who characterize opposing viewpoints as fascist or Stalinist; there isn’t any point.

                      Also, Wikipedia is not perfect; you never know when you are following in the wake of a Tea Party Revisionist. In this case going with the political science version of “social engineering” Wikipedia gives a less dark explanation of the term.

                      Okay. My point is we need to protect what is left of our economic base; agriculture, tourism and forestry. MJ is already fading fast as the prices fall and once legalization happens this county will not have two nickles to rub against each other.

                      If we turn ourselves into a market for second homes for the well-to-do we will not be doing ourselves any favors. Residences, no matter where they are situated are services-intensive and the return to the county on property taxes is quite low.

                      The Development Community, in my opinion, is working towards creating leverage to get a whole lot more than what they are asking for now. It is time to, as Deputy Barney Fife would wisely say, “Nip it in the bud.”

                      I also point out that any community of any size eventually has dense housing areas. That is what happens with population growth. I don’t see the wisdom of promoting suburbia (which is also services-intensive and a poor return on property tax revenue). Personally, with everything else going to hell I don’t see much in the way of population growth happening any time soon but it is wise to coordinate the people as best we can with the services they shall need.

                      In short, my interpretation of the common good is to wisely manage our forest and agriculture land and allow for people being able to live in close proximity to services they need. I don’t see the population issue being a problem anytime soon but I also realize that conclusion is debatable.

                      I interpret your argument (with no doubt some over simplification) as the need to protect freedom of choice whenever it may be possible. I am sympathetic to that viewpoint.

                      I would ask if this is one of those situations where the common good outweighs the individual choice or not? I recognize that there are times the greater good argument is not the correct argument (just ask the Native Americans).

                      That appears to me to be the elements of our two positions (at least a well as my half-a-brain can manage).

    1. Not sure the problem here.

      Here is the conclusion “This implies that planning policies which increase population densities will,
      under „normal circumstances‟ reduce overall vehicle use, but increase its concentration
      in the intensified areas, causing a range of local environmental and social problems,
      unless significant steps are taken to constrain the generation of additional traffic.”
      Yes. San Francisco has more issues with congestion than Santa Rosa and Santa Rosa has more problems with congestion than Eureka.

  6. Mary Ella Anderson says:

    Wikipedia is the best you can do? Come on! What do YOU mean when you say social engineering?

  7. Anonymous says:

    Wikipedia definition looks good for me but I mean writing housing policies that cram everybody into the existing downtown areas, massively increasing the densities, and forcing the impacts of concentrated traffic and air pollution on the existing neighborhoods in order to prevent the dubious future sprawl in Humboldt County.

  8. Anonymous says:

    Mola – serious question: Have you ever tried to get a special permit or done any sort of development?

    I want to protect our economic base as much as the next person. I find it interesting you are concerned the development community is positioning themselves to move the bar a bit. I feel the same way about the environmental community but I am totally confused about the logic behind their actions.

    They all showed up when they (mistakenly) thought trails were removed from the plan, but when actual scientists release a report that says MJ is sucking our streams dry and killing endangered species, where’s the outrage? How many people showed up to demand a strict outdoor grow ordinance? It is puzzling Liberal John will argue about whether we should allow permitted structures within 150′ of a stream or 50′, while the unpermitted and illegal class of development is sucking the stream dry, never mind the setbacks. Very confusing to me, they are writing a plan to kill an anemic level of legal development while looking away from the real, rampant, and tangible damage being done.

    So when you say, “nip it in the bud” – I have to laugh a little bit and take it with a grain of salt. You would rather deal with a perceived future threat than reality. Nip it in the bud, indeed.

    You want to intensify the core areas, sure that sounds good but these projects are not necessarily good for the neighbors. You are concentrating the impacts as well. The sewer, water, and roads were generally designed for the densities they were built at. Doubling densities works well on paper, but depending on the surrounding infrastructure, can be nearly impossible – as in cost prohibitive, and unbearable for the neighbors – read “quality of life”.

    One of the big problems I see with the smart growth model in our community is that we don’t have the population base or the transit infrastructure to even do smart growth. Put a dense development in Cutten so they can what? Drive across town? Put one in McKinleyville so they can drive to Eureka or Arcata? I don’t see the benefit from a “reduction of automobile use” perspective. So what’s the other argument? Saving Ag land. Well, there’s a policy in the current and previous plan called “no net loss” of Ag Lang. So that’s done. Protect the forests? Read the Forestry section. You can get a house on tpz, maybe two if it is sited within the “converted” area meets all the other environmental restrictions and setbacks. So forests and Ag is essentially off limits for development.

    So why the big argument? I guess we both have the “they are up to no good” bogeyman to contend with. You sum my position up well with freedom of choice wherever possible. I would add, “and deal with reality, not hyperbole”

    Good Day.

    1. MOLA42 says:

      And Good Day to you.

      Your question answered:

      Nope. Is it supposed to make a difference? I once worked the other side of the desk in a permitting department (reception and record keeping) and it could (and should) be done better at times but that does not mean no good purpose is served.

      I’m sorry but you trot out the same old stuff you’ve been trotting out for the past month or longer (the Soviet stuff was new, I have to admit that) and it’s been dealt with by people smarter than myself already. I’m not interested. We should leave it at “we agree to disagree” because I don’t see you changing your tune anytime soon and I don’t find your arguments compelling enough to change mine.

      All I can do is present my views as concisely as possible and hope you see their merits or at least understand my viewpoint. I think I do understand yours.

      The only thing I really feel compelled to take on is your ersatz shock and dismay that no one has tried to burn down the courthouse because pot growers are draining the creeks dry. You seem to believe that no one on the left cares about that.

      Well, if you’ve read many lefty blogs you know we do. As for the lack of riots over the subject… Well, it is already illegal to do such things (so angry demonstrations to change the laws makes no sense) and it frustrates us as much as it frustrates you that it continues to happen. But I think most of us realize what is happening is that law enforcement across the board has become stretched too thin and as much as we may hate the environmental destruction, we also realize that the only cure for the problem is to make MJ legal.

      Legalizing MJ will not solve all our problems but possibly it might make it possible for code enforcement people to work the hills without getting shot or having a SWAT team escort them. In the meantime while I would like to see environmental protection be more of a priority I also recognize there is a limited law enforcement resource attempting to deal with an infinity of law enforcement problems. The poor management of law enforcement resources certainly does not help.

      Honestly, I get tired of that “accusation” of the left’s “hypocrisy” concerning environmental damage caused by growers. It demonstrates a desire to score points over wishing to hold a dialogue.

      1. Anonymous says:

        I only asked because i thought if you had, you would understand the multitude of existing rules that ensure environmental protection.

        Agree to disagree. Pay no attention to the actual policies. Weak.

      2. awesome.

        Word of the day – erstatz

        From Google:

        (of a product) made or used as a substitute, typically an inferior one, for something else.
        “ersatz coffee”
        synonyms: artificial, substitute, imitation, synthetic, fake, false, faux, mock, simulated; More
        antonyms: genuine
        not real or genuine.

    2. Re: MJ. Good and real point. This environmentalist is with you on MJ – answer walk and chew gum. Others in the environmental movement are weak on this (ie EPIC) and I think the reason is clear. They have affinities for MJ and probably believe that sustainable growth of MJ is OK in our hills. But this cannot be discussed publically.

      Bohn, and Rose Welsh also have argued that MJ should be legalized, but I don’t think they are talking about a strong regulation/tax/enforcement which would clearly need to go with it because they either don’t believe this or it would alienate their base.

      So yes, MJ and smart growth. But what I think is going on is MJ is used as a diversion to, again, stay with the status quo. Smarth growth does not take a great amount of money or energy. What it does take is a commitment over decades. BTW, that is also what sustainability will take too.

      anon. Do you believe the status quo is sustainable? Do you believe that climate change is happening and is human-caused? If either of those may be true. What should we do about them?

      And btw, the House just shifted rightward last night. Good luck with any help from the Federal government given the rights abstructionism as a choice for governing. We liberals have to be able to stop the local abstructionism. Here the methods are different, but the results are the same. A do-nothing government.

      Yes there is a plan anon. but it’s one that is currently going in the wrong direction listening to the people arguing for changing 150 ft setbacks to 50 ft or less. Why? Because there are more important priorities environmentally.

      Walk AND chew gum.

      1. Anonymous says:

        Good news Jon. MJ is not being used as a diversion, I just don’t understand why people would be so up in arms over a setback when the creek is drying up – because hello, THERE WON’T BE A CREEK ANYMORE. It seems to me that the most efficient use of resources, as in the biggest bang for the environmental buck would be to get the MJ situation under control rather than worry about a house or two in TPZ once in a while. But they would rather rally around trails and guiding principles than actually make a big difference in the environment. What do you think would happen if Big Timber was out there damming up creeks and tearing the place up…oh wait, that did happen. And they were sued, protested, and worst offenders, run out of town essentially.

        There is this strange idea that the big landowners or developers want a free-for-all. In reality, their equity depends on the scarcity of their land, so if the county were to say one day, “anybody can do anything anywhere” these people would lose tens of millions. Also, there aren’t really any “big developers” in this county in the first place. The largest development proposed in the last 20 years was that one in Ridgewood, proposed by an out of towner; which was embraced by the planners and left as smart growth, although it was on the edge of town, not within walking of any job centers.

        Please define status quo? Are you talking about our loss of population in Humboldt? That is not sustainable, as we will eventually all die.

        And yes, I believe in climate change. I don’t know why it’s happening, but I do know one thing: Nothing in our general plan will change it one way or another as long as India & China have over 50% of the world’s population.

        Reality, bites.

  9. Anonymous says:

    “Social engineering” is what your opponent does. It’s the term that Arkley Jr’s lobbyist trotted-out at every GP meeting from 2005 to 2010 when she mysteriously vanished.

    They call it a “free market” when the biggest industries win legislation enabling them to maximize profits by saturating this nation in big homes, big cars, big medical tests, big financing schemes, and the big public bailouts that follow.

    Land profiteers like Barnum, Kluke and Barreilles are outraged at the suggestion that sprawl exists in Humboldt County because their personal financial empires are more important than the raw sewage discharged on their property, or the deadliest streets in CA for pedestrians cyclists and motorists, or the local building moratoriums.

    While these clowns decry “forcing people into cities”, Dan Johnson makes millions constructing affordable housing projects downtown where he receives hundreds more applications than he has available units.

  10. Mary Ella Anderson says:

    Well, if you’re going with the Wiki definition, then I would suggest to you that Hum CPR is engaging in social engineering by promoting a pro-growth, pro-unregulated development strategy for communities and ignoring policies that protect the environment. There is a value system inherent in that strategy as well. The bottom line comes down to how you perceive community. Is it a free for all or do we try to share?

  11. Crab Fan says:

    Sorry to be off topis but the following came from Eric’s blog. Anybody know what’s up with this? Big deal or just blogger fodder? Sounds like Madsen wrote some kind of letter about wrongdoing before he died. How can we get a copy?

    “Someone who wants to break a big story should ask about the Lance Madsen letter city hall received last week”

    Lance was a pretty good friend of mine. He spoke to me a number of times regarding the letter he intended to write shortly before he passed. I’m glad his family has had an opportunity to mourn and begin to ‘normalize’ to life without a wonderful husband and father before this aspect of Lance’s legacy is unleashed. I truly hope that the city takes Lance’s words to heart and follows through with appropriate action. Our community has a right to know Lance’s concerns regarding members of city staff and their actions. To the end Lance put the city and our community first and to squash his final words would truly be sinful. Lance intended the public to be aware and that’s the way it should be. Rest in peace my friend.

  12. crab fan. I don’t have time to verify any of that. I’ll put it as pending now because the subject matter seems sensitive and is very personal. Sorry. I’ll post it later if it’s out there somewhere else, but because I only have 2 minutes I’d rather be safe than sorry.

  13. Anonymous says:

    Gee, isn’t that what I said?


    In 2010, County planning staff overestimated the capacity to convey sewage in the current MSCD wastewater system. Based upon an engineering analysis obtained by MSCD during the course of this litigation, the County recognized that the existing MCSD system could not serve development as dense as the County originally thought.

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