As urban populations grow, the most healthy cities expand. However not all expansion is equal. Smart growth is an urban planning theory that creates small walkable centers in areas expanding away from an large urban site. This allows for public transit and saves taxes because it reduces the amount of new public infrastructure. A 2011 study conducted for the National Society of Realtors shows that 56% of Americans would prefer to live in a smart growth community.
Interestingly, people on both ends of the socio-economic spectrum favor smart growth, while those in the middle prefer more sprawl-type communities. Walkability may mean good health to the affluent, whereas it is essential to someone who does not have a car. Those in the middle do not have the time, nor the necessity to walk to the store. Sprawl is also favored by Republicans or conservatives, while those with liberal or Democratic politics favor smart growth. The preference for sprawl-type communities is linked to a desire for privacy, whereas social safety nets, as well as collaborative and creative enterprises work best in higher densities.
If smart growth is indeed better for the environment and for taxpayers, how can we as designers, encourage more to join the smart growth ranks? The study seems to indicate that people who are in favor of sprawl want a free-standing house and a high level of privacy. Are there places in our designs for these structures? If services from education to street repair were improved in the city, would people feel the same urge to isolate themselves? If citizens felt that they had agency in their metropolis, would they think owning a lot was important enough to spend 90 minutes per day (7.5 hours per week (15.6 days per year)) just driving to work(with two week vacation and the weekends off)? Currently, 39% of Americans are willing to drive that long for a large hose and privacy. What can we design that will get their cars off the roads and give them their days back?