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The Smart Growth Hot Potato

About 80% of Americans—regardless of political affiliation—support sustainable communities, reports Smart Growth America. The 2011 survey found Americans favor living in an “urban, suburban, or rural community that has more housing and transportation choices, is closer to jobs, shops or schools, is more energy independent, and helps protect clean air and water.”  Only 5% of respondents opposed this idea.

This finding runs counter to the political movement attempting to limit and even roll-back sustainable community planning efforts.  Just take three examples: Former governor Mitt Romney’s smart growth plans are being dismantled by Massachusetts’ current governor.  Further south, Governor Christie’s administration is considering the repeal of New Jersey’s anti-sprawl program.  And, further west, Wisconsin’s smart growth and historic preservation program is having its funding reduced.

The litany of critiques of sustainable development is wide-ranging and deeply embedded in partisan Tea Party politics.  What does this mean for students of sustainability?

I think it is good news.  The Smart Growth America report goes on to describe the public’s very high support for:

  • Reducing oil dependency, which translates to jobs for green engineers, energy efficiency architects, and sustainable agriculturalists.
  • Reducing commutes, which translates to jobs for transportation engineers and land use planners.
  • Making government more efficient, which translates into jobs investing in infrastructure that reduces long-term maintenance costs.

Just the fact that there is both growing support for and intense criticism of sustainable development is good news. It suggests people care.  They are paying attention.  We need to capitalize on this moment in history when political action is possible.

David Boyd makes a powerful point that language matters.  Sustainable development is about job creation, government efficiency, family health, and nation building.  We just need to carefully explain the connections.  Let’s get on with the good work.

R. Bruce Hull, IV, Ph.D. is a professor in the College of Natural Resources at Virginia Tech practicing social ecology. His work focuses on healing forests fractured by pressures of urbanization and globalization. He is author and editor of over 100 publications, including two books: Infinite Nature (Chicago 2006) and Restoring Nature (Island 2000). He serves on the editorial advisory board for Gale’s GREENR environmental and sustainability studies web portal.

Posted on: January 10, 2012, 6:00 am Category: Opinions Tagged with: , , , , ,

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