In 1998, member groups of the Transportation and Land Use Coalition (TALC) implored the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) to initiate a regional "Smart Growth Visioning Process." TALC's goal was, and is, to break the self-fulfilling prophecy of sprawl, whereby we predict sprawl will take place on the far suburban fringe of the region then subsidize that development with billions of dollars of transportation and other infrastructure and investments. This process continues even as our regional agencies project that this cycle of sprawl will leave our region much worse off in 25 years!
It took two years to get funding for the Smart Growth visioning project then, during 2001 and 2002, citizens and elected officials have worked with five regional agencies, plus stakeholders from environmental, business and social justice organizations, to develop a new vision of how the region will grow.
A main theme during the visioning-process workshops in each of the nine Bay Area counties, and a recurrent theme in growth conversations, is that there is no single definition of Smart Growth. Indeed, appropriate development for a small town in Solano County will look very different from appropriate development for a lot adjacent to an Oakland BART station.
To make our ideas about Smart Growth more tangible, TALC members suggested that we review projects, and highlight positive developments, that help meet the Smart Growth goals listed below.
- Revitalize existing developed areas without displacing local residents
- Create livable communities with housing near jobs, recreation, transit, and services
- Provide real transportation choices
- Preserve open space
- Address the affordable housing shortage
The best growth in each county highlights those projects that support these principles. Because of the dire housing shortfall in the Bay Area, all of the best for this year either contain, or are exclusively, housing.
Other members felt that despite the growing number of good developments, poorly planned growth is still the norm, and its negative impact needs to be highlighted. Thus, we also sought out the worst projects in each county. These developments range from a "big box" retail proposal near a BART station to a ridgetop development that destroys habitat and makes travel by anything but automobile nearly impossible. These worst developments remind us of the critical need for region-wide support for the Smart Growth Vision and a workable plan to implement the vision's goals.
TALC's search for the best and worst developments in the Bay Area began with recommendations from individual members, as well as from leading member organizations. TALC representatives and staff then reviewed the projects. Although the winning projects vary widely, all adhere to multiple basic principles of Smart Growth.