Introduction to Smart Growth / Smart Energy

This Toolkit is designed expressly to assist in the implementation of smart growth / smart energy. Before we get too far, let's explain exactly what these terms mean.

Smart Growth:

Smart growth is a principle of land development that emphasizes the mixing of land uses, increases the availability of a range of housing types in neighborhoods, takes advantage of compact design, fosters distinctive and attractive communities, preserves open space, farmland, natural beauty and critical environmental areas, strengthens existing communities, provides a variety of transportation choices, makes development decisions predictable, fair and cost effective, and encourages community and stakeholder collaboration in development decisions.

Smart growth is development that protects natural resources, enhances quality of life, offers housing choices, reduces energy consumption, and improves municipal finances by considering the location, design and long-term costs of development.

Smart growth is not "no-growth" - development is needed to keep Massachusetts economically and culturally vibrant. Currently about 1/4 of the Commonwealth is developed and 1/4 is permanently protected. The remaining 50% of the Commonwealth's land is at stake. Although some of this land will be needed to accommodate new homes and businesses, we are consuming far more land than necessary to accommodate our growth needs. Almost 9 out of every 10 acres developed go to residential growth, with 65% of that used for low-density, large-lot development. The smart growth/smart energy techniques included in this Toolkit provide communities the tools to work with the Commonwealth to use the remaining land as efficiently as possible, while building vibrant and sustainable neighborhoods and communities.

Smart Energy:

Smart energy is the use of clean, renewable resources to create electricity and heat, as well as more efficient use of energy through conservation and high efficiency technologies, which will save money as well as energy. In addition to buildings, the technologies and fuels used in the transportation sector are also major components of smart energy. Implementation of smart energy practices decreases global warming emissions and other pollutants, enhances public health, and reduces spending on fossil fuels while promoting the use of innovative technologies that enhance economic development in the Commonwealth. Described briefly below, clean energy practices are discussed in more depth in other sections of the Toolkit, most notably "Smart Energy." Through this Toolkit and other policies and programs municipalities are encouraged to promote smart energy through incorporation of building and fleet efficiencies, local power generation, energy purchasing, and regulatory practices.

Renewable energy technologies include:

  • Solar: Photovoltaic panels use the Sun's energy to produce electricity.
  • Wind: Turbines utilize the force of the wind to produce electricity or mechanical power.
  • Fuel Cells: Use of the chemical creation and breakdown of hydrogen to produce electricity and heat.
  • Biomass: The use of energy contained in forest and agricultural byproducts as fuel.
  • Hydropower: Harnessing of the power of river flows to produce electricity.
  • Ocean Energy: Utilizing of the power of waves, tides, and ocean temperature changes to create electricity.

Energy Efficiency/Green Building:

Efficient use of energy is central to attainment of smart energy goals. Reducing our power use saves money for customers, decreases our need for new generating plants, and improves our chances of meeting our future energy needs through renewable sources.

Besides reducing fossil fuel consumption in the transportation sector it is important to reduce the energy use of buildings. In addition to saving water, energy, and other resources the benefits of green buildings include higher worker satisfaction and productivity. Meeting energy efficiency goals through green building involves three distinct phases - siting, design, and construction. When designing and siting a building, factors like regional climate and ecology and the existing conditions of the site must be taken into consideration. In regard to construction, proper insulation is essential to maintain optimal indoor comfort and energy efficiency, as is careful selection of building systems for heating and cooling. The green design elements that a building team decides to incorporate will vary with building type and location, budget, project goals, and other factors.

In order to lead by example, the Commonwealth is working to meet aggressive smart energy goals for state facilities and fleets. Through policies, programs and investments the state will be encouraging others to implement smart energy practices as well.

Smart Growth in Massachusetts

Attractive village and town centers, vibrant urban neighborhoods, historic mill buildings, and fields, forests, and streams characterize many parts of Massachusetts. These resources help define the character of our towns and cities. Revitalizing and protecting these areas is a key smart growth strategy. The character and high quality of life found in towns and cities is a competitive advantage that differentiates us from many other areas of our country. While Massachusetts is not known as a low cost state, our vibrant neighborhoods, historic buildings, and scenic open spaces and natural features are attractive to new businesses and their employees. A major threat to these resources is sprawl, defined as low-density, single-use (only residential or commercial with no mix of uses), and auto-dependent development. Antiquated local zoning, state and federal subsidies, and lack of coordinated planning have historically made sprawl the often required path of least resistance. In many places sprawling development is the easiest form of development and more sustainable land use patterns and designs and more desirable uses are difficult, if not impossible to achieve. Successful and walkable downtowns like Newburyport and Northampton cannot be realized in many communities because of outdated zoning codes that prohibit a mix of uses or zoning that is geared to accommodate cars and not people. Smart growth can help us to build on the competitive advantage of our charming communities instead of encouraging sprawling growth that is typical across America.

The Costs of Sprawl

Sprawl is costly on many levels. Sprawling development requires increased municipal staff and significant and expensive infrastructure investments to provide services such as roads, sewer, and water. When housing is located away from jobs and commercial centers, driving is often the only transportation option. According to the American Automobile Association the average cost of owning and operating a new car is now $8,410 a year. For the young, old, and families without cars, this reliance on one form of transportation can become a huge burden. The amount of time people spend in their cars every year is large and climbing. Housing diversity is another casualty of sprawl. Single-family homes are often the only housing option. This one-size fits all approach leaves many without appropriate or affordable housing options. A single person may desire to rent an apartment or an "empty-nester" couple may prefer a condo but these options don't exist in every community. In regard to energy, dense development consumes half the energy of sprawl. Sprawl also comes with a heavy environmental cost. Lot clearance for new development contributes to fragmentation of animal habitat, increased stormwater runoff, and loss of biodiversity. Air and water quality are also threatened by increased vehicle trips, increased runoff, and new demand for water. Recent research has demonstrated that less dense neighborhoods have human health consequences as well.

The Commonwealth's Sustainable Development Principles

The state has worked hard to encourage planning and development that protects land, promotes social and economic health, conserves energy and resources, and meets the needs of our residents. A more detailed discussion of the state's efforts is included in another section of the Toolkit. However, as a basic guide to local officials, developers, and citizens, the Commonwealth has released the following ten Sustainable Development Principles that express desirable smart growth/smart energy goals.

  1. Concentrate Development and Mix Uses.
    Support the revitalization of city and town centers and neighborhoods by promoting development that is compact, conserves land, protects historic resources, and integrates uses. Encourage remediation and reuse of existing sites, structures, and infrastructure rather than new construction in undeveloped areas. Create pedestrian-friendly districts and neighborhoods that mix commercial, civic, cultural, educational, and recreational activities with open spaces and homes.

  2. Advance Equity.
    Promote equitable sharing of the benefits and burdens of development. Provide technical and strategic support for inclusive community planning and decision making to ensure social, economic, and environmental justice. Ensure that the interests of future generations are not compromised by today's decisions.

  3. Make Efficient Decisions.
    Make regulatory and permitting processes for development clear, predictable, coordinated, and timely in accordance with smart growth and environmental stewardship.

  4. Protect Land and Ecosystems.
    Protect and restore environmentally sensitive lands, natural resources, agricultural lands, critical habitats, wetlands and water resources, and cultural and historic landscapes. Increase the quantity, quality and accessibility of open spaces and recreational opportunities.

  5. Use Natural Resources Wisely.
    Construct and promote developments, buildings, and infrastructure that conserve natural resources by reducing waste and pollution through efficient use of land, energy, water, and materials.

  6. Expand Housing Opportunities.
    Support the construction and rehabilitation of homes to meet the needs of people of all abilities, income levels, and household types. Build homes near jobs, transit, and where services are available. Foster the development of housing, particularly multifamily and smaller single-family homes, in a way that is compatible with a community's character and vision and with providing new housing choices for people of all means.

  7. Provide Transportation Choice.
    Maintain and expand transportation options that maximize mobility, reduce congestion, conserve fuel and improve air quality. Prioritize rail, bus, boat, rapid and surface transit, shared-vehicle and shared-ride services, bicycling, and walking. Invest strategically in existing and new passenger and freight transportation infrastructure that supports sound economic development consistent with smart growth objectives.

  8. Increase Job and Business Opportunities.
    Attract businesses and jobs to locations near housing, infrastructure, and transportation options. Promote economic development in industry clusters. Expand access to education, training, and entrepreneurial opportunities. Support the growth of local businesses, including sustainable natural resource-based businesses, such as agriculture, forestry, clean energy technology, and fisheries.

  9. Promote Clean Energy.
    Maximize energy efficiency and renewable energy opportunities. Support energy conservation strategies, local clean power generation, distributed generation technologies, and innovative industries. Reduce greenhouse gas emissions and consumption of fossil fuels.

  10. Plan Regionally.
    Support the development and implementation of local and regional, state and interstate plans that have broad public support and are consistent with these principles. Foster development projects, land and water conservation, transportation and housing that have a regional or multi-community benefit. Consider the long-term costs and benefits to the Commonwealth.

This Toolkit is a guide to implementation of smart growth/smart energy techniques that decision makers can use to turn these principles into reality. By applying these principles, towns, planners, and developers can evaluate regulatory techniques and project proposals for smart growth/smart energy consistency. A critical component of smart growth is identifying areas that are appropriate for development and those that should be protected and preserved. Examples of areas that are not likely to be appropriate development locations are: prime farmland; wetlands; steep slopes; and areas with rare or endangered species. Good candidates for smart growth development include: downtowns; village centers; areas adjacent to these centers; brownfields; and sites with access to public transportation and other infrastructure. Each region and community should participate in a comprehensive planning process to identify these locations within their cities or towns. Following the identification of these areas communities must ensure that zoning and other regulations as well as incentives will result in development consistent with these plans. Where and how a community chooses to implement smart growth should be explicitly reflected in the zoning and subdivision regulations that dictate future growth.

Similarly, if a community wishes to promote renewable energy generation then its land use and development regulations should facilitate siting of these technologies in appropriate locations.