On February 1 I flew to St. Louis for the New Partners for Smart Growth conference, the largest gathering dedicated to dense, transit-oriented/walkable/bikeable development in the United States.
For many years the event has been run by the Local Government Commission, a non-profit, i.e., private, organization headquartered in Sacramento. In 2014 the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency awarded LGC a $208,000 grant to organize and plan the annual conference for five years (2014-2018). The 768 people listed on the 2017 roster of participants included public officials, consultants, developers, educators, health care professionals, and others. To my knowledge, I was the only member of the press in attendance.
What drew me to St. Louis, where the temperatures can (and did) drop below freezing in early February, was a desire to see how smart growth, the dominant paradigm in U.S. city and regional planning, would be presented on a national stage.
I had a particular interest in the session alliteratively entitled “Growing Grassroots ‘Good Growth’ Group.” Moderated by Greenbelt Alliance Executive Director Jeremy Madsen, the panel of three self-declared YIMBYs (Yes in My Backyard) included BARFer and East Bay Forward founding member Gregory Magofña, who was a legislative aide to former Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates.
I sat in on that session and four others dealing with smart growth basics, inclusionary housing, urban manufacturing, and public-private partnerships for “shared mobility.” That was a tiny sample of the nearly 90 sessions convened during the three-day event (I was there for two of those days), but it left some strong impressions.
I was hoping that the conference format would allow me to raise forbidden questions—planning issues that are suppressed in public policymaking in the Bay Area and beyond—and to see how smart growth advocates would respond. It did, as I describe in the following accounts of the Good Growth and “shared mobility” sessions.
Three flavors of YIMBY
The description for the Good Growth session:
We’ve all seen proposals for high-quality smart growth projects, policies and plans downsized, delayed or defeated by a small group of well-organized detractors. Local elected officials who make decisions to approve or deny development projects, policies and plans are responsive to residents of their community. If elected officials see more constituents supporting smart growth, they will be more likely to approve good proposals. Recent years have seen a rise of grassroots “good growth” groups in communities across the country. This session will explore this phenomenon and the impact it is having on the smart-growth movement. How are these groups forming? Who are their members? How do they determine shared goals? How do equity considerations factor into their work? What’s working well and what remains challenging? What are the pros and cons of different models? How are they having an impact in their communities?
In the course of the 75-minute session, moderator Madsen posed each of those questions to Magofña and the other two panelists: Susan Somers, president of the Board of Directors of AURA, a non-profit in Austin whose website says its members “want anyone and everyone who wants to call themselves an Austinite should have an opportunity to do so”; and Will Toor, a member of the steering committee of Better Boulder, described on its website as “advocat[ing] for sustainable and smart development.” See Full Article HERE