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The smart growth movement that emerged in the late 1990's seeks to change the way Americans think about growth, development, and urban planning. From a legal perspective, smart growth directly challenges several fundamental aspects of American land use law.

Substantively, smart growth attacks two goals that have been hallmarks of American land use law for more than three-quarters of a century: (1) decongestion, that is, reducing population density and dispersing residents over wider areas; and (2) the separation of different land uses from each other. Both decongestion and separation of uses were enshrined in the Standard Zoning Enabling Act of 1922, which provides the legal basis for most zoning in the United States. These goals were validated by the Supreme Court as legitimate aims of state and local land use regulation in the landmark Village of Euclid v. Ambler Realty decision of 1926. Decongestion of population and separation of land uses have been critical features of American land use law ever since.

Smart growth, by contrast, would limit the dispersal of population in order to prevent the loss of open space and reduce the need for the installation of costly infrastructure in newly developed areas. Higher densities would also facilitate the use of mass transit and hold down the energy and environmental costs associated with high levels of automotive transportation. Smart growth also challenges the separation of uses and would instead promote the greater integration of commercial and residential uses and of different types of residential uses. This, too, would reduce transportation costs while promoting more socially and economically balanced communities.


Land Use Law | Law


Reprinted with permission of the Saint Louis University Public Law Review © 2002, St. Louis University School of Law, St. Louis, Missouri.

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