Smart Growth UK is an informal coalition of organisations and individuals who seek to promote the Smart Growth approach in the United Kingdom.
The Smart Growth philosophy is an internationally recognised approach whose elements are designed to support one another to produce better environmental, social and economic outcomes.
First developed in North America in response to hyper-sprawl and over-dependency on cars, it incorporates the best approaches to planning from all over the planet.
Traditionally, our cities, towns and villages were compact. They were built at medium densities, often using great space-savers like terraces or mansion blocks. They were permeable – allowing easy walking and cycling – and they generally had good rail-based public transport. They were designed so that the places people needed to reach – work, shops, education, healthcare, public buildings etc. could be reached without a car.
Slowly we have been rediscovering how to build urban areas so they don’t waste land but do build communities. The towns and cities of the future will be low-carbon, not high-car-use as at present.
Our transport system is fatally dependent on high-carbon modes – cars, trucks, planes even and is proving the most intractable sector to decarbonise. Because we have followed such a dispersed settlement pattern, because we have built our towns and cities so they are impossible to move around without a car and because we have destroyed so much of our sustainable transport, we face a massive challenge to make our transport system sustainable.
We must stop building of major roads and expanding airports. A switch to electric vehicles has its place, but there is no route to zero-carbon if we simply replace our current vehicle fleet with EVs.
We will need to rebuild our urban transport systems around active travel and a new generation of public transport: light and heavy-rail, metros and buses. Our inter-urban transport needs a rail renaissance: electrification of our railways, capacity expansion, new freight facilities and lines reopening. Only then should we consider well-designed high-speed rail.
Our freight transportation needs an urgent rethink involving a big shift to sustainable modes and a move away from truck-dependent distribution systems.
Transit Oriented Development
When we plan major residential, employment or retail developments, they should always be planned around rail-based transportation. That should be part of a network rather than just a single station. The alternative is that most of the residents or people who use the development will make most of their journeys by car.”
One of the strangest things about England is that, although it has the highest population density in Europe, it has been building its homes at the lowest densities for the past century. This land squandering is destroying our countryside and all the “ecosystem services” it provides: food, water, flood control, timber, biodiversity and outdoor leisure, plus all the intangible benefits the United Kingdom’s extraordinarily beautiful countryside gives us.
Some still advocate the low-density “garden suburb” type of development despite its extraordinary ability to waste land, destroy countryside and increase car journeys. But there is nothing idealistic about it any more. We’re only still building like that because house builders find it most profitable.”