I'm slowly making my way through a detailed report just released by the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy that evaluates smart-growth policies in the United States. It analyzes states that have smart-growth programs, such as Florida, Maryland, New Jersey and Oregon. Then it looks at states without legislation aimed at controlling growth, like Colorado, Indiana, Texas and Virginia.
From what I've read so far, it's an interesting breakdown of how successful various policies actually are at controlling suburban sprawl. Some work, others don't. And additional factors that we don't normally associate directly with smart growth, like affordable housing, turn out to have a significant impact on sprawl.
Colorado, interestingly enough, gets a good amount of attention in the report. Here's what they found:
The most successful states use a variety of regulatory controls, market incentives, and institutional policies to achieve their objectives. For example, Colorado has no statewide smart growth program, but it outperformed some states with such policies by supporting local government actions to pursue effective land use planning within a regional context.
The chapter on Colorado looks at state policy going back to the John Love administration in the 1960s and moves decade by decade, showing the state's progression in adopting policies that favored self-regulation by counties and municipalities over the kind of broad governmental mandates that cause property-rights advocates to scream bloody murder (as they do in Oregon). The report concludes:
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Colorado is arguably a smart growth state without a comprehensive state-level growth management program. Its performance not only stands apart from the other selected states in this study, but also from several smart growth states - most notably Florida. Part of the reason seems to lie in relatively effective bottom-up self-regulation. In particular, Colorado ranks higher than several smart growth states in the overall extent of local regulation of residential development.
Of course, anyone who has witnessed with disdain the rapid development of housing and strip malls in Weld, Douglas and Arapahoe counties, or the political pussyfooting of the Denver Regional Council of Governments, might question the true effectiveness of this type of self-regulation. But the report reaffirms my recent complaint about the excellent but flawed PBS documentary Blueprint America: Road to the Future, which presented Denver as a quintessential example of poor growth planning in the United States.
Yes, Colorado has sprawl. But when compared to the worst offending states, we are the best.
Read the whole Lincoln Institute report here.