The concept is another term that encompasses many of the same principles as “sustainable development.” While “sustainable development” grew out of a concern for unbridled economic development, where natural resources were neglected or obliterated, the concept of “smart growth” was formulated by some in the architecture and planning fields as an antidote to the specific problem of “urban sprawl” where planning decisions lead to heavy car-reliance and residential properties spread widely across the landscape with little sense of a community life.  See entries for “sustainable development” and “urban sprawl” in iePEDIA on this website.

In one sense, sustainable development stresses the protection of natural resources in the face of pressures from economic development and smart growth seeks to apply those principles in an urban planning context.  As a result, smart growth concentrates on planning and transportation issues and promotes growth in the center of a city combined with public transport, and use of bicycles, reliance on local schools and mixed-use developments where work and living are not separated by great distances, and land-use decisions that support these principles.  Enhancing a sense of community is an important corollary to these environmental protection efforts.

The term is more widely used in the US but a comparable term used within the EU context is “eco-efficiency” which is a “strategy enabling sufficient de-linking of the use of nature from economic activity, needed to meet human needs (welfare), to keep it within carrying capacities; and to allow equitable access to, and use of the environment, by current and future generations.”  It would appear that eco-efficiency has been replaced, by and large by the term “sustainable development,” whereas in the US “smart growth” remains in wide use along with “sustainable development.”

Some further ideas to explore on Smart Growth:

Develop a definition of “dumb growth.”

How can you use environmental protection actions to promote a sense of community?

Where can you walk in your neighborhood?  How can you expand the areas in your neighborhood where people can walk safely?


Dorothy Stewart, “Smart Growth in Ireland: From Rhetoric to Reality,” Progress in Irish Urban Studies, Vol. 1, Issue 2, 2005, pp.21-30

“Making sustainability accountable: Eco-efficiency, resource productivity and innovation’ EEA Topic report No 11/1999

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