Smart Growth is an approach to community planning and development that integrates what are known as the “3 Es”—Economy, Equity and Environment, with an emerging fourth E—Energy. Smart Growth promotes several land use planning principles that create livable, sustainable and equitable communities, including:
- Walkable, bikeable, transit-friendly streetscapes and transportation systems (also known as “Complete Streets”);
- Compact development in areas appropriate for higher densities, such as downtowns;
- Infill development in previously developed areas, particularly brownfields;
- Transit-Oriented Development;
- Downtown revitalization in municipal centers;
- Historic preservation and adaptive re-use;
- Environmental justice;
- A mix of housing options to accommodate all households, ages, backgrounds and incomes;
- Green Infrastructure/nature-based stormwater management;
- Public art;
- Storm resiliency;
- Safe, accessible and well-planned public spaces;
- Inclusive, community-based outreach and engagement in the planning process; and
- Green buildings, energy efficiency and renewable energy.
Smart Growth is embedded in all of the major Office of Planning, Development and Community Infrastructure programs, including the Downtown Revitalization Initiative; Brownfield Opportunity Area Program; and Local Waterfront Revitalization Program.
The Department of State (DOS) administers a portion of the State Smart Growth grant program, which is funded annually through the Environmental Protection Fund. DOS and the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) designate Smart Growth funding for a variety of purposes. DEC applies funds exclusively to Smart Growth planning and projects in the Adirondack and Catskill Parks; DOS uses funds for a variety of purposes related to community planning and development. DEC Smart Growth grants are described on the NYS DEC website.
Age-Friendly NY/Health Across All Policies
The 2019 Age-Friendly NY planning grant program provided funds for counties to develop plans and policies that promote healthy, age-friendly community design. The principles of Smart Growth overlap significantly with the principles of livable, healthy, age-friendly communities used by AARP/WHO.
Countywide Resiliency Planning
In 2018, five counties were awarded funds to develop countywide resiliency plans that integrate the principles of Smart Growth and climate resiliency (Albany, Genesee, Orange, Sullivan and Tompkins counties). The grants will help counties and their localities take the necessary local steps to protect people and property from more frequent and severe natural disasters resulting from a changing climate.
Long-Term Community Recovery
Following catastrophic flooding caused by Tropical Storms Irene and Lee in 2011, Smart Growth funds were incorporated into Long-Term Community Recovery Plans for affected communities. Mini-grants were awarded to communities to establish a blueprint for how they will rebuild more resiliently and reduce their vulnerability to future disaster as they move beyond the immediate recovery phase. The LTCR for the Village of Owego is available online.
Several laws have been enacted in New York State that promote and fund smart growth community development.
Historic Preservation Tax Credit
Historic preservation projects have become the cornerstone of successful downtown revitalization efforts in communities throughout the State. A 20% state tax credit is provided to developers for rehabilitation costs of buildings listed on the National and State Register of Historic Places. Because historic rehabs are generally more expensive, often making them cost-prohibitive, the tax credit saves many buildings from remaining vacant, decaying, and possibly demolition.
New York State Land Banks Act
The Land Bank Act provides an effective tool for addressing blight and promoting revitalization in distressed areas by creating a new not-for-profit corporation category for land banks. Land banks acquire, transfer, demolish and re-develop vacant and abandoned properties that are a scourge on the urban landscape contributing to blight, crime, vandalism, and decreased property values.
The Complete Streets Act
Road projects must consider incorporating Complete Streets principles into design and construction. Complete Streets are streetscapes that accommodate all users—pedestrians, bicyclists, transit-rider, seniors, children and those with mobility restrictions, and vehicles. Features include sidewalks; marked cross-walks; traffic medians; sidewalk bump-outs; and safe, accessible transit stops.
The Smart Growth Public Infrastructure Policy Act
This law requires New York State agencies to review public infrastructure projects through the lens of the principles of Smart Growth to avoid subsidizing sprawl and to promote funding for infrastructure projects with sustainable land use outcomes.
Community Risk and Resiliency Act
Flood resiliency, storm surge, and sea-level rise projections must be incorporated into state permits, policies and programs pursuant to the Community Risk and Resiliency Act. The act added a resiliency criterion to the Smart Growth principles in the Smart Growth Public Infrastructure Policy Act; and required DOS, working with DEC, to develop Model Local Laws to help increase resilience to the effects of climate change and extreme-weather events.
The following online resources are available to learn more about Smart Growth:
- Smart Growth for Coastal and Waterfront Communities
- Achieving Hazard-Resilient Coastal and Waterfront Smart Growth
- Smart Growth America
- Congress for the New Urbanism
- Sustainable Communities Network
- Walkable Communities
- Project for Public Spaces
- Lincoln Institute of Land Policy
- American Planning Association