Smart growth is the catch-all term for efforts to channel urban growth away from suburban sprawl and toward compact, livable neighborhoods. The US smart growth movement has stalled somewhat in the last three years in the face of a hostile presidency and a well-funded backlash from developers. But the toolbox for communities trying to design a more rational future for themselves continues to get better and more sophisticated. (Note: I can hardly claim to be a neutral observer here, having co-founded the Livable Communities Coalition and made my thoughts on the matter plain in print.)
Where much work remains to be done is in providing smart growth tools for the developing world. As Shayna Strom argues in The Next American City (which is fast becoming my favorite urban design mag, by the way), it is in the emerging megacities of the South that smart growth will meet its sharpest test. The problems, she argues, are clear: sprawl and haphazard development in these cities is destroying farmland and increasing erosion, contributing to pollution and serious threats to human health, making the provision of essential services and affordable housing more difficult. In short, developing world sprawl is making worse all the worst problems confronting developing world cities. What, though, does smart growth look like for these communities? That, as yet, remains to be shown.