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Growth Management, Smart Growth, Sustainable Development, and Planning for Catastrophe

Growth management is generally defined as the regulation of the amount, timing, location, and character of development. Since the late 1960s hundreds of cities, counties, and towns in the United States have instituted growth management programs. Many state plans, too, have large elements of growth management.

The goals of these programs vary. Growth management programs are often heavily motivated by environmental considerations. A related consideration may be ensuring a desirable pattern of land development in future years. Preserving an existing lifestyle and community ambiance are common motivations, as is ensuring that community facilities such as schools, roads, utilities, and recreation will be adequate for future needs. In some cases a major goal of growth management will be fiscal, ensuring that the community will not be swamped by development-imposed costs. Finally, like the exclusionary zoning discussed earlier, growth management may have an exclusionary, or "keeping the good things to ourselves," motivation. Rarely will a program be instituted for a single reason. Untangling the various motivations and saying exactly why a community has entered into growth management may be extremely difficult.

In general, growth management plans or systems are made up of elements that have been well known to planners for years. Growth management systems differ from traditional comprehensive planning not in the elements that compose them but in the synthesis of those elements. Specifically, growth management systems are generally characterized by very close and long-term coordination between land-use controls on the one hand and capital investment on the other. They are often also characterized by the use of more modern approaches to land-use control and often by a great sensitivity to environmental issues. In that all of these points are to be found in planning efforts that are not specifically labeled as growth management, it must be admitted that no absolutely hard line separates growth management from more traditional planning.

When growth management appeared in the late 1960s and early 1970s, several different terms with overlapping meanings came into being. A multivolume anthology of articles on the field, published in 1975, carried the title Management and Control of Growth.1 In addition to the terms growth management and growth control, the term no growth also came into use.

Growth management might be taken to mean management without any implication of limiting growth. Growth control carries the implication that growth is not only to be managed or guided but also to be limited. The term no growth carries the obvious implication of an intent to stop growth entirely. With time, growth management became the standard term covering programs that fit all three senses of the term just noted. Growth management has its staunch defenders, who see it as a sensible and principled way to preserve both community and natural values. It also has its detractors, who see it as serving much more selfish purposes, as will be explained subsequently.2

Growth management policies are not common in older central cities, as there the problem is more likely to be shrinkage or stagnation rather than rampant growth. Growth management policies are common in suburban areas and in those cities where there is still substantial growth potential. They are also common in counties and towns outside metropolitan areas. The potential for rapid growth and a high degree of environmental consciousness predisposes communities toward the establishment of growth management policies. So, too, does a high degree of general prosperity. If people or communities are poor, they are likely to focus first on growth because growth implies jobs and revenues. In that case, environmental and quality-of-life issues seem less important. Interest in growth management was stronger a few years ago than today, as the slowdown in both residential and commercial development that followed the 2008 financial crisis drained immediacy away from it and shifted attention to economic development and fiscal questions.

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