Development Near Metro
Is Truly 'Smart Growth'
In the guest column, " 'Smart Growth' Looks More Like 'Urban Cancer' " [Fairfax Extra, Sept. 23], William S. Elliott and Doug Stafford were understandably concerned about false smart-growth development, but they also misunderstand the nature of traffic congestion.
Higher density near Metro stations does not make the congestion worse but instead relieves it. I can understand and agree with Fairfax Citizens for Responsible Growth's objections to the loss of parkland and to overly high buildings on suburban land, but increasing the density of dwelling units near Metro by itself is the only way to head off even more congestion.
When 30 percent of the commuters walk to Metro, traffic nearby is reduced by twice that much because the walkers are living closer in than they would have otherwise. That means fewer vehicle miles traveled. Yes, there will be the added automobiles of the others who drive to work, but they will be closer to work than if they were in Centreville or Ashburn, so they will produce fewer vehicle miles traveled.
It is vehicle miles traveled that makes our pervasive congestion and pollution, not the ownership of autos alone. It is the number of intersections driven through, not the auto registration, that makes the problems. Smart growth sharply reduces vehicle miles traveled. That is the only way we can get relief from what would otherwise occur.
True, aggressive developers will abuse the words "smart growth" to wrongly label their sprawl "smart growth," but that does not make it so. We must rely on the people we elect to separate the wheat from the chaff and approve smart growth that is really smart growth and disapprove that which is just hype. Discretion is the test of valor.
The property owners at Fairlee have almost (not quite) unanimously agreed to the smart-growth plan. By saving the parkland and taking a few stories off the skyscraper, they have a property right to have their plan approved. Metro will not be overcrowded. It has new cars on order to expand seating by 33 percent. That is what we need to mitigate traffic congestion, cost, accidents and pollution.
Edson L. Tennyson
Housing Crunch Needs
An Urban Solution
I am continually perplexed by views such as those expressed by William S. Elliott and Doug Stafford and the organization Fairfax Citizens for Responsible Growth.
I, too, have reservations about smart growth, but my concerns lean in the opposite direction. Whereas their guest column supported even less growth, I think it is clear that this region needs more residential development.
Smart-growth projects are often nothing more than a big high-rise stuck near a Metro station. Smart growth should be true urbanization, the development of tightly packed buildings with a mix of offices, retail and residences, with a network of smallish roads and broad sidewalks and with attractive public spaces.
The Ballston/Clarendon area is a shining example of this. Since when did urbanization become a dirty word? Urbanization represents the development of neighborhoods with character and a true sense of place, unlike the sterile suburban sprawl that has been so popular over the past few decades.
The most pressing problem in this region is the insanely high cost of housing and the inability of working-class people to afford to live anywhere in Fairfax County. Overzealous residential development restrictions in Loudoun and Fairfax (sometimes dubbed smart-growth policies) have driven housing costs to absurd levels, even as both counties encourage commercial growth, therefore compounding the problem.
You can't have it both ways -- either stop encouraging job growth and put the county in stasis or build residences to keep pace with jobs. If reactionaries like Elliott and Stafford are unhappy with the inevitable changes of population growth, they can go live in the sterile neighborhoods springing up in Loudoun, Stafford and Prince William counties.
Accept the Inevitable:
Fairfax Citizens for Responsible Growth opposes smart growth for merely Not in My Back Yard (NIMBY) reasons and shortsightedness for the future.
Smart growth is beneficial to society because it encourages developers to build up in already urban and developed areas rather than building out into open farmland and forest. This type of development is beneficial for several reasons:
* Individuals will have access to public transportation. This equates to less traffic and less pollution. It is unfair to assume that residents in the new developments by the Vienna Metro will commute by car, and not rail, at the same rate as "everyone else." Instead of campaigning to stop smart growth, it is more worthwhile to campaign for an improved public transportation system, something we really need and which will truly be beneficial.
* Smart growth does save open space. To mention that the current Fairlee-Metro West development proposal would destroy 10 acres of wooded land is ridiculous. Ten acres of wooded land sacrificed to produce 2, 350 residences is unsubstantial. Furthermore, it can be argued that the wooded area is not truly "open space." It is a wooded area surrounded by development and is far from pristine. It is better to sacrifice a small plot of wooded area in suburbia to produce a large number of living units than to allow sprawl to cut into large areas of forest and produce a smaller amount of living units.
Smart growth is an effective way to develop urban and suburban areas and should not be opposed. There is no question that the population in Fairfax County is growing, and this growing population will have to be housed. It is naive to believe that this growth can be stopped and the effects hidden. Traffic will worsen, schools will overcrowd and open space will be destroyed to support our area and our planet's growing population. All these events will happen, smart growth or not, and we must make important decisions on how best to deal with these issues. Smart growth is one of those decisions.
All of our conveniences and luxuries today must be sacrificed sooner or later for the greater good of the future. How many more people can own homes on acre lots before we run out of space? How much longer can we drive our SUVs before running out of fossil fuels? How many children can each couple have before exhausting our food supply? Our growing population is the root of "urban cancer"; in fact, our species can be considered a huge malignant tumor on earth.
In terms of nostalgia, it is unfortunate that old neighborhoods are transforming into high-rises and condominiums. However, when considering the future, smart growth is a necessary step in preparing for a crowded future.