Managing Growth in America's Communities

Managing Growth in America's Communities

by Douglas R. Porter



Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781597260060
Publisher: Island Press
Publication date: 11/09/2007
Edition description: REV
Pages: 324
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author

Douglas R. Porter is a consultant on land use planning and policy issues based in Chevy Chase, Maryland. He has written numerous books and documents for both ULI and APA. Anthony Downs at the Brookings Institution refers to Porter as “one of the nation’s leading experts in growth management.”

Read an Excerpt

Managing Growth in America's Communities

By Douglas R. Porter


Copyright © 1997 Island Press
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-61091-093-4


Introduction to Growth Management

Forty years ago, in the mid-1950s, the citizens of Fort Collins, Colorado recognized that they had a problem, or probably several. Founded in 1864 as a military outpost, Fort Collins developed into a small college town and a trade and shipping center for the surrounding livestock and sugar beet industries in the area. A century after its founding, the town still boasted fewer than 15,000 residents. In the 1950s, however, the college began expanding and new industries arrived; suddenly growth was everywhere. From 1950 to 1960 the town's population rose by two-thirds. Propelled by continuing college and industrial expansions, the number of residents kept rising, by 7 percent a year during the 1960s and 5 percent annually during the 1970s. From 1950 to 1980 the town frantically annexed land to accommodate development, virtually doubling the incorporated area each decade.

When this growth spurt started, town officials could notice development taking place on a daily basis. Traffic clogged roads, schools became overcrowded, water and sewer systems needed expansion, and parks were scarce. The town's rudimentary zoning ordinance appeared inadequate to deal with these problems. A task force, formed to consider solutions, recommended short-term public investments in new facilities but hardly touched on the larger ramifications of continuing growth. Years later, a member of that task force viewed its principal accomplishment as building a cadre of community leaders concerned with the town's future development.

Soon after the infrastructure crisis was resolved, at least temporarily, many of the participants in that effort determined that the town should embark on a more ambitious planning project. A "Plan for Progress" was formulated in 1967 that laid out future land uses, street patterns, and utility services. Although the plan had little effect on development, it prepared the ground for citizens' continuing interest in planning. From 1975 to 1977, city officials, the business community, and citizens' groups worked together to produce a statement of goals and objectives for city development. Unfortunately, a follow-on effort to formulate a traditional land use plan based on those goals and objectives failed to reach consensus.

Further efforts involving another task force, extensive public hearings, and a failed ballot initiative to limit growth finally led to the city council's adoption in 1979 of a four-part comprehensive plan: a land use policies plan, a land use guidance system (adding flexible development standards to existing zoning), an agreement with the county that defined an urban growth area, and a cost of development study. These plans and programs, some of them innovative and all refined considerably over the years, continue to provide the principal framework for guiding development in Fort Collins to this day.

The experience in Fort Collins over four decades mirrors the principal features of growth management programs in many communities throughout the nation:

• Sudden unplanned development caused major problems in the community, provoking citizens' concerns for managing growth.

• Consensus on workable ways to address those problems evolved over many years, during which community leadership coalesced and a variety of solutions was tried.

• City officials gradually learned that a single solution—meeting infrastructure needs—fell short of satisfying wider community concerns.

• The continuous involvement of many organizations, interests, and individuals built strong support for public guidance of the development process.

• The city's program today is an amalgam of both conventional and innovative planning and growth management components, closely tailored to its particular attitudes and needs.

In short, Fort Collins' citizens found that managing growth is a time-consuming, messy, and constantly evolving process, at times exhilarating and at other times deeply frustrating. Efforts to manage growth and change seldom produce quick solutions. Long-term investments of time, interest, innovation, and follow-up are absolute necessities.

These difficulties are rooted in the ways our communities develop. As Fort Collins' story demonstrates, growth brings changes: in habits of daily life, in needs for larger and more complicated systems of public facilities, in impacts on environmental qualities and open space once taken for granted, even in how local governments must learn to deal with competing interests and other jurisdictions, including state and federal agencies. In Fort Collins, additions of one or two houses at a time gave way to development of 100-lot subdivisions. Instead of a new store opening on Main Street, a new shopping center with 20 stores sprang up on an open field out on the highway. Residents of Fort Collins found that growth brings opportunities but also generates needs and issues. They learned that growth fosters needs for better public management of the development process.

Citizens, public officials, and city planners in many communities are becoming accustomed to a comprehensive view of the challenges of community growth and change. They are eager to anticipate and deal with potential problems before those problems overwhelm community resources. Especially, they understand the need to incorporate a broader sense of shared values and concerns in the community development process. Many citizens are involved in public decisions about community development. In addition, public officials have made great strides in recognizing important environmental, transportation, social, and other goals in decisions about development.

These initiatives fall under the heading of growth management, an inclusive approach to thinking about, and acting upon, community development strategies. In the following pages, the term growth management and its principal purposes are further explored to set a solid foundation for the remainder of the book.

Growth and Change in America's Communities

Communities throughout the United States continue to grow and change. In the early days, waves of immigrants poured through the ports into the hinterland. People staked out farms and towns, villages grew into towns and cities. When the industrial age arrived, people moved from the land to towns that quickly grew into new urban centers. Over the centuries, towns expanded into cities, and cities into metropolitan areas.

America's population keeps growing. The Census Bureau projects that the 266 million people now resident in the United States will increase to 394 million by 2050. Although fertility rates are not expected to rebound to earlier levels, average life expectancy probably will increase and immigration will continue.

Most of the increased population will flock to towns and cities clustered in metropolitan areas. Almost 90 percent of the nation's increase in population since 1980 has occurred in cities, towns, and urban counties. About four out of five Americans live in metropolitan areas today, and those areas are growing at almost twice the rate of rural areas, according to the 1990 census. That tremendous expansion of urban and suburban population, the U.S. Census Bureau predicts, will continue well into the twenty-first century.

Many members of the "baby boom" generation of Americans are retiring to once-rural areas and telecommuters are moving farther away from cities. Most, however, cluster in and around existing settlements, sometimes reviving declining rural towns and often creating satellite communities just as suburban in character as the suburbs of large cities.

Meanwhile these population trends, coupled with economic shifts, propel interregional population movements and structural economic shifts across America. Some regions grow at the expense of others. Sunbelt states continue to attract residents and employees from the "Rustbelt" states of the Northeast and Midwest. About 85 percent of the nation's population growth during the 1980s occurred in the west and south, bringing unprecedented growth to California, Florida, Texas, and other western and southern states. The Los Angeles/Long Beach metropolitan area, for example, gained almost 1.3 million people in the 10 years before 1990. Some suburban counties around Los Angeles grew by as much as 45 percent in a decade.

Further migrations are taking place in the 1990s, most visibly into the Rocky Mountain states. Much of the urban growth occurring in places such as Boise, Idaho; Denver and the Front Range communities in Colorado; and Albuquerque, New Mexico draws from rural areas in those states, although fueled to some extent by an exodus of jobs and retirees from California and movement from other parts of the nation. And Texas, Florida, and California have emerged from their late-1980s economic doldrums to lure in-migrants once again.

At the same time, many older cities continue to lose population. St. Louis' population dropped by 41 percent since 1970 and by 7 percent since 1990. Pittsburgh's population declined by 31 percent and Cleveland's by 34 percent since 1970. Among large eastern and midwestern cities, New York stood out by gaining 7 percent since 1990 as a result of in-migration.

Even metropolitan areas losing population experience change. People move from inner-city neighborhoods and older suburbs to newly forming urban areas. While metropolitan Detroit's population dropped almost 2 percent from 1980 to 1990, for instance, the suburb of Troy increased its residents by more than 8 percent. Reflecting this phenomenon, all of the population increases in midwestern and northeastern regions during the 1980s occurred in suburbs rather than central cities. And in the cities, needs change as the demographics change.

Community growth and change, therefore, happen everywhere, not just to a few cities or regions. Some municipalities and counties in virtually all parts of the nation must cope with the phenomenon of urban development.

Many communities expect and even welcome development. Historically, Americans have sought the good life by moving outward, establishing new communities and leaving old ones behind. Growth has meant expansion, pushing into the countryside, building on new ground. Much of that expansion has been necessary to accommodate rapid population increases and a growing economy. But moving outward also generates problems and issues that defy simple solutions.

Fort Collins' experience is not unique. For almost a century its small-town ways made few demands on public facilities and its citizens saw no need to guide growth. Increments of development were small and easily assimilated into the town and its infrastructure systems. Town administrators were accustomed to dealing with relatively straightforward development issues. Rapid growth changed all that.

Growing communities often experience radical and disorienting alterations. Open farmland turns into subdivisions full of new houses practically overnight. Rural crossroads are transformed by new shopping centers. Green fields become industrial parks and golf courses. Office buildings replace old country stores.

With these highly visible changes come shifts in social and economic aspects of daily life. Different kinds of people arrive, some with different ideas about lifestyles. Some are wealthy and make higher bids for housing while others are poor and require special services. Demands for public facilities and services change as well. Roads and utility lines and schools must be expanded to serve additional people, and in addition a larger population desires a higher quality of services and more varieties of facilities. Gravel roads must be paved, paved roads widened, and new roads built. New schools, libraries, fire stations, and other facilities are required, each designed according to the latest standards. In turn, local governments scramble to secure funding and administer the construction and operation of ever-larger systems of public services and facilities.

Some communities fear that these changes will alter the comfortable character of their living environment. Growth can threaten the way of life of residents of small towns and rural communities. Instead of a relaxing shopping trip to the corner store, residents encounter a nerve-racking drive on congested highways to a busy shopping mall. Once-verdant views of rolling farmlands and wooded hills may be blocked by new buildings.

Patterns of growth also threaten essential environmental qualities and features, and thus the sustainability of life. Over the past few decades, development in metropolitan fringe areas has been increasingly consumptive of land. Densities of development have been declining as homeowners elect to settle on larger and larger lots. Land that could remain in a natural condition or used for farming and forestry is cut up into lots and covered with houses and pavement. Hundreds and thousands of individual wells and septic tanks alter the aquifers and groundwater. Wetlands, drainage areas, and wildlife habitats are invaded. Residents must use automobiles for long-distance commuting and shopping trips, sending fumes into the air.

But growth is not the only agent of change. Declining cities and towns are constantly evolving and adapting to new economic and social realities. When growth bypasses inner cities, neighborhoods decline and employment opportunities wane, leaving them mired in hopelessness. Communities compete for growth by maintaining desirable living areas, increasing job opportunities, and undertaking the redevelopment of underused areas. In many cities that have seen residents departing for the suburbs, new downtown office buildings, sports arenas, and civic buildings are revitalizing central-city economies, and middle-and upper-income inner-city neighborhoods are flourishing.

Community change can be beneficial. New development can be a positive force for improving the lives of many residents. More and better employment opportunities may become available, not just in construction but in businesses and industries expanding or moving to the area. New stores and businesses may offer goods and services previously difficult to find. Residential development may provide wider choices of housing styles and prices to fit the preferences of a more varied population. New development may produce a sounder long-term fiscal base for the community and diversify possibilities for social and cultural activities. Development can be designed to be compatible with environmental features rather than destroying them.

The Hazards of Unmanaged Development

Community growth and change challenge both citizens and governments to prepare for new circumstances. Citizens must find ways to adapt personal living styles, and structures of government must meet new needs. Governments of developing jurisdictions often find the pace, quality, and amount of advancing growth difficult to deal with. Fort Collins' sudden attraction for development caught town officials by surprise. No one had anticipated the college's rapid expansion nor the industries that arrived seemingly overnight. Although the prospect of growth was welcomed by business and property owners and by families that saw possibilities for new and better jobs, its implications for the town's way of life went unexamined. Public officials worried about the tax rate and were excited about additions to the tax base, but they were unaccustomed to looking beyond these current events to evaluate the potential longer-term effects of growth.

Like public officials in Fort Collins, elected officials in growing rural areas and small towns often are overwhelmed by expanding needs associated with growth. They are unprepared to envision new governmental responsibilities and often unwilling to take decisive steps to meet them. Even professional administrators in local governments are often unready to take on the managerial and operational complexities of planning, financing, and operating larger systems of public services and facilities.

The combination of residents' negative reactions and government officials' fumbling response to growth and change spells trouble of several kinds. When local governments are slow to recognize emerging needs, they neglect to insist on appropriate standards of development and fail to program and deliver facilities required to support new development. Postponing planning and facility funding can quickly affect citizens' quality of life; citizens view inadequate roads, schools, water systems, and other basic services as inconveniences in their daily lives and potential threats to property values.

Unfortunately, for decades throughout the United States, all levels of government have underinvested in community infrastructure. Roads, water supply, sewerage, and other critical support systems in many older communities have not been maintained. Those in newer communities often lack capacity to expand without major investments. Simply catching up with existing system deficiencies will take substantial funds in many communities. Meanwhile, growth continues to erode capacities and qualities of vital services.

As the gap between needs and expenditures has expanded, consumers want more and better services, spelling higher costs for new infrastructure. Furthermore, as public officials approve higher standards of facilities for new developments, residents of older neighborhoods expect equal treatment, thus adding to fiscal burdens.

Unplanned growth also may endanger important natural and cultural assets of the community and region. Haphazard development consumes valuable open spaces and prime farmlands, disturbs wildlife habitats and wetlands, and destroys historic and cultural features that link the community to its heritage.

Communities that pay insufficient attention to potential growth and change are caught short when it occurs. When public officials simply let growth happen, they miss opportunities for creating value in the community, for maintaining important community characteristics, for establishing stability in the development process, and for providing efficient systems of infrastructure for all residents. Unfortunately, their reactions often are too little and too late, putting the entire community behind the curve of dealing effectively with development.


Excerpted from Managing Growth in America's Communities by Douglas R. Porter. Copyright © 1997 Island Press. Excerpted by permission of ISLAND PRESS.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


Chapter 1. Introduction to Managing Community Development
Chapter 2. The Practice of Growth Management
Chapter 3. Managing Community Expansion: Where to Grow
Chapter 4. Protecting Environmental and Natural Resources: Where Not to Grow
Chapter 5. Supporting Growth by Managing Infrastructure Development
Chapter 6. Design to Preserve and Improve Community Character and Quality
Chapter 7. Managing Growth to Advance Social and Economic Equity
Chapter 8. Regional and State Growth Management
Chapter 9. Deciding How to Manage Growth


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