"Encouraging smart growth"2009-06-11 by Robert Selna from "San Francisco Chronicle" [www.sfgate.com/realestate/article/Encouraging-smart-growth-3295469.php]
The Bay Area could serve as a national model for environmental sustainability by creating new jobs and housing on underused and blighted land while cutting carbon emissions, according to a Greenbelt Alliance initiative announced Wednesday.
The Grow Smart Bay Area campaign is not only intended to push the smart-growth philosophy that has been around for decades - reducing sprawl by creating new, dense development near public transit - but also to provide clear strategies for communities to use when planning growth in the years and decades to come.
In that vein, the Alliance, an Oakland organization focused on regional growth issues, said there are approximately 40,000 sites in Bay Area cities and towns that could accommodate new development. The parcels have vacant lots, parking lots or generally are not economically vital, but often exist on transit corridors in places such as Oakland, Concord and Hayward.
The group identified 100 "priority" development sites that could best handle growth. These should be the areas for future housing and commercial development, rather than farmland, forests and other open space, according to the group's executive director, Jeremy Madsen.
"The Bay Area could create a model metropolis," Madsen said, speaking to about 220 people and a panel of experts at a downtown San Francisco high-rise with sweeping views of the Bay Area. "The region should be more livable and sustainable than it is today. We should focus on development where jobs, amenities and transportation already exist."
Madsen said the nine-county Bay Area's population is expected to grow from 7 million to 9 million by 2035 and to add 1.7 million jobs, but many local governments have not planned ways to handle the growth. At the same time, California recently has approved innovative legislation in an effort to reduce global warming.
One bill calls for cutting back the state's greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020. Another is designed to encourage metropolitan planning agencies to reduce the distances residents must drive. It also provides financial incentives for local governments that embrace smart growth and develop transportation plans that take automobiles off roadways.
Madsen noted that while many cities already have embraced smart-growth policies, they could take their efforts even further. He outlined the following strategies for planners and government officials to push smart-growth development:
-- Increase the density of new development, design streets for pedestrians and cyclists and reduce parking.
-- Bring residents into the planning process so that they support smart-growth concepts.
-- Create urban growth boundaries and other limits on sprawl.
-- Invest in infrastructure that supports growth in cities and towns, such as transportation and parks.
The panel assembled Wednesday said the Bay Area is primed for urban infill growth because there are opportunities for development within cities, and studies indicate that aging Baby Boomers and younger generations want to live in dense, urban environments. However, the economic model for such development also must exist, they said.
"One question is, will people really be coming here for jobs in the next few years and will the jobs really be here?" said Jim Wunderman, the chief executive officer of the Bay Area Council, a business advocacy group.
San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed, also a panelist, said that San Jose grew by 500,000 residents in the past 30 years with urban, infill development and would need to do that again in the next 30 years, while continuing to attract creative and talented people with other options.