Conn College speaker says 'smart growth' key to better cities

New London - With reinvestment and redesign around "smart growth" principles, cities large and small could become epicenters of a new "green" economy. Those principles would include such concepts as walkability, easy access to public transportation and mixed-use neighborhoods that might include solar panel and wind turbine plants.

So said Anthony Flint, keynote speaker at the Smart Growth conference at Connecticut College Friday and today.

"Cities are the greenest form of human settlement we can aspire to," that can help "chip away at climate change," with frugal land and energy use and reduced dependence on cars, said Flint, author as well as a fellow and public affairs director at the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy in Cambridge, Mass. "We don't need to build any more single-family homes in subdivisions. The smartest developers have started turning to multifamily and urban infill, and it's also increasingly what people want - to have shorter commutes and be near transit."

Flint began his talk with a summary of the theme of his coming book, "Wrestling with Moses," about writer and urban advocate Jane Jacobs' successful activism opposing the construction of a multilane elevated highway through Greenwich Village, where she lived with her family in the 1950s and 1960s. The project, which would have bisected Washington Square Park, was one of many public works projects spearheaded by Robert Moses, the powerful builder of highways, bridges and parks throughout New York City, Long Island and the rest of New York state.

"You don't mess with a mother with a stroller who uses a park near her home," said Flint.

Today, he said, the principles she promoted of urban developments built on a human scale and walkable neighborhoods centered around train or subway stops are the framework of the "smart growth" ideal. Two main obstacles in the way of more "smart growth" development or redevelopment projects becoming reality, he said, are outdated municipal zoning rules that prohibit the mixing of commercial and residential uses, and aging public transportation infrastructure. He advocated for major new public-private investment in mass transit, as well as federal policies that favor repair of existing infrastructure, especially in cities, over construction of new highways.

"France and Japan and China have long since figured this out and realized the payoff from these investments," Flint said.

A Connecticut native whose father and aunt live in this region, Flint said he has had a "fascination" with New London, both because of its infamous struggles over the long-stalled Fort Trumbull redevelopment and use of eminent domain, and because of its ongoing efforts to revitalize. He is particularly interested in the suggestion that New London adopt a land value tax to help attract developers and investment. Under this system, only the land is taxed, not any buildings or improvements to those buildings, as is now the case.

Flint said the Lincoln Institute has researched how the land value tax has worked in communities that have tried it, such as Pittsburgh.

"But it's never been cleanly implemented," he said. While he remains intrigued by its potential, "we have yet to find a really strong example of it being implemented well."

j.benson@theday.com

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