This is dumb smart growth

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While Pioneer has done quite a lot of work on water pricing and on wetlands regulatory reforms, given the fiscal crisis and President Obama’s call for school reform, we have set environmental issues a little to the side for the moment. Over the next few months, I’ll post a few questions on environmental issues, which any gubernatorial candidate will need to weigh.

So, basic question on smart growth. I understand the politics of targeting $50 million a year for open space protection. I also understand the shortcomings, such as goal-setting based on dollars out rather than environmental significance (i.e. agricultural value, habitat protection, or drinking water source protection). But in the term “smart growth”, there is, well, growth. Land protection is important, but if we are to block development through land purchases, what are we doing to “grow” smarter?

Answer is… not much.

Consider the lack of focus on contaminated site clean-ups and brownfields redevelopment? Mills and sites needing clean-up are often in older industrial cities, and the cost of clean-up and the liability issues make the sites unattractive to developers. The so-called “Wave 2” regulations have come with greater controls over the use of licensed site professionals and stricter clean-up standards. And, currently, only the Mass Business Development Corporation, to my knowledge, invests in brownfield redevelopment, with a $30 million revolving trust account. (Developers can also take advantage of tax credits.) Clean-up support has averaged just over $ 4 million per year, less than 1/10th the open space protection budget.

Shouldn’t reuse (growth) be as important as protection? Think about it — reuse reduces the need for greenfield development. These properties are near commercial centers and transportation hubs — ahem, this is smart growth. They lie empty and off the local tax roles, and they reduce the value and attraction of abutting properties — bad fiscal policy.

Yep, I understand the politics of land protection for suburbanites (and, yes, more well-heeled urbanites). But there are also lots of folks living in these older, industrialized cities who would love a bit of focus on where they live.