Monday, July 7, 2008

Shelby Smart Growth?

Today is the "call to action" event for Mayor A C Wharton's Sustainable Shelby initiative. Doug Farr, author of Sustainable Urbanism, will speak and the initiative's agenda and future plans will be announced. It starts at 2:30 p.m. at the Memphis Botanic Garden.

But, while I'm very supportive about what Sustainable Shelby is trying to do, I think they've got their work cut out for them.

I was looking over the Sustainable Shelby public opinion poll yesterday and was surprised by a number of results.

Forty-two percent of those surveyed put a "very high" value on walkable communities while 39 percent put a "high" value on it. Twenty-three percent "strongly agree" that the rising cost of fossil fuels will make longer trips from home to work unsustainable.

At the same time, however, when asked about "what is sometimes called urban sprawl," 62 percent of respondents were "for it," meaning they preferred the suburbs because they have "lower density development, are less noisy, more private, have better schools, less crime, and a generally slower lifestyle."

In fact, in response to a question about what your neighborhood needs to have in order to be sustainable for future generations, one person said this:

"I think the further away from Memphis the better."

Obviously, there's a disconnect.

More than 600 people — from Memphis, Bartlett, Millington, Germantown, etc. — were surveyed and of course, they are going to have a myriad different opinions. But I think the initiative will need to explain what smart growth and sustainable urbanism is, exactly, and what it means to the people involved.

Many people surveyed said smart growth was about building new (or better) homes and bringing new (or better) jobs to neighborhoods. I think those can be effects of smart growth, but I'm not sure I would call those the main tenets.

In my mind, smart growth is about controlling sprawl, re-using existing buildings when possible, mixed-use development, and a host of transportation options.

But maybe it won't be as challenging as I think.

When asked about responsibility for the local environment and natural resources, 47 percent said they felt "a great deal" of personal responsibility for those things. Forty-one percent said they felt "some" personal responsibility.

The trick, I think, will be tapping into people's self-interest.

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