“I have always resisted the notion that smart growth and sustainability are some kind of international plot to take away American sovereignty. Even if it were true, saying so marks one as a kook and eliminates all credibility. But I don’t think it is true; we have enough socialists and central planners in our own midst that we don’t have to look for them elsewhere. And yet when I look at the publication date of “The Ideal Communist City,” I get a very creepy feeling. Though written in the mid 1960s, the book was first released in English by a New York socialist publisher in 1971.”
“The earliest mention of smart-growth concepts I can find in the planning literature came out just two years later in the book, “Compact City: A Plan for a Livable Urban Environment.” Like “The Ideal Communist City,” “Compact City” advocated scientific or “total-system planning.” Like “The Ideal Communist City,” but unlike New Urbanists, “Compact City” advocated high-rise housing. Like the New Urbanists, it quoted Jane Jacobs’ book, “The Life and Death of Great American Cities” in support of mixed-use and transit-oriented developments.”
While I don’t seriously equate urban planners with communists, the similarities between the Ideal Communist City and smart growth are far more numerous than their differences. As the table below shows, both seek to use planning to create a sense of community and promote collective rather than individual transportation. Beyond the superficial difference that the soviets preferred high rises and smart growth prefers mid rises, the main difference is that the communists tried to put everyone in identical small apartments while smart growth allows people to have as big a house or apartment as they can afford, but just tries to get them to build those houses on small lots.
|Concept||Ideal Communist City||Smart Growth|
|Higher density housing||Yes||Yes|
|Discourages auto parking||Yes||Yes|
|Calls suburbs “monotonous”||Yes||Yes|
|Minimizes private yards||Yes||Yes|
|Maximizes common areas||Yes||Yes|
|Minimizes private interiors||Yes<td No|
|Height of res. buildings||High Rise||Mid Rise|
“Though smart-growth advocates publicly claim they want to reduce congestion, most smart-growth plans admit they seek to increase congestion to encourage people to use transit. Though they publicly claim to worry about affordable housing, smart-growth plans drive up land and housing costs with the hidden agenda of encouraging people to live in multifamily housing or at least on tiny lots.”
“Before visiting Europe, I spent a few days in Madison, Wisconsin. After returning, I spent a few days in Hamilton, Ontario. Though neither region is growing particularly fast, in both places I heard politicians talk about the dangers of uncontrolled growth and how the firm hand of government planning was needed to prevent chaos and sprawl. Part of their plans, of course, called for packing much more of that growth into urban infill than the market would build.”
“Planners call this giving people more “choices”; what they mean is forcing people to accept lifestyles that they would not choose for themselves. How different is this from the philosophy of the Ideal Communist City?”
Open space and increasing densities
Nearly without exception, urban renewal proposals involve increasing urban densities. The following excerpts are from Juris Greste’s exploration of the issue in the latest edition of ‘Urban Briefs’ which he publishes for AIUS.
“While the thoughts below are generated by Brisbane’s present discourses, they are likely to have relevance to varying degrees to all parts of urbanized Australia. Most of our larger cities and towns, especially capitals, are variously dealing with the challenge of increasing densities, consolidation or generally more efficient use of land and urban resources. We do not get very far in the deliberations before the question of greening and open space emerges. How much do we have, what area is required, where and how? If we are to reassess these questions in the context of the future visions and scenarios, we need to consider the following:
“If the objective of increasing densities is to create some alternatives to suburbia and sprawl, then we must be mindful that we do not apply the usual suburban mindset and standards to the provision of green space and parks. Contemporary suburbia means car dependence. It thus also means that expanses of ‘greenery’ can be accessed by car. People with back yards of their own no doubt look for different outdoor experience than those living more densely.”
“Much of our current green and open space provision and planning is based around size and area. We must move beyond mere size to give high priority to location. All primary green space must be accessible by walking. It is public and community space of high order which must be given due regard as a vital social and urban form element.
“How it is designed, equipped and arranged is at least as important as area and location. We have scant standards for what constitutes high quality urban ‘open’ space as a social, recreational and cultural artefact.”
“We must rationalize a balance between conservation of greenery, open space and urbanization. Preservation of large areas of remnant vegetation can be counterproductive to the kind of urbanization which we need to support public transport and walkability. The present diversity of urban wildlife in some areas may not be sustainable in the face of other objectives. There are times when we cannot have our cake and eat it too.”
“We need to redefine the meaning of ‘green’ in each urban context. It does not have to be bushland in large swathes or open spaces with a lot of grass. We are yet to discover the value of ‘green roofs’. High density cities can have a greener expression, presence and amenity than many of our sprawling suburbs.”
“How many of our cities and towns have an overall ‘greenscape’ plan? Why is it that too often existing trees nominated for preservation end up dead well before their time? How effectively can one manage the urban landscape if major decisions on street trees are made by the utility service providers and not the city authorities?”
“We are facing the challenges of a changing climate, energy availability, different demographic and social scenarios and a new era in water management. In that context we must reconsider what we mean, want and need in a ‘green’ city.