Alternatives to Smart Growth

Commentary, Urbanization, Owen McShane


The arguments about the costs and benefits of Smart Growth have now been well canvassed.
Few people involved in urban land use, transport and urban economics can claim to be
unaware of conflicting views within this debate. Some of us have been challenging the
claimed benefits of “urban intensification” and “control of urban form” for many years. My
concerns and warnings were first aired in a report to the Reserve Bank in 1996.

While there is some satisfaction in saying “I told you so” regarding the impact of Smart
Growth on house prices and the whole economy, I have to concede that my arguments fell on
deaf ears for most of the last ten years. In recent times I have had to ask why Smart Growth
carried the day for so long.

I believe our weakness was that we failed to offer attractive and workable alternatives, and in
particular, failed to offer alternative forms of growth which were demonstrably superior to
Smart Growth. Whenever any of us suggested we should loosen the stranglehold of Metropolitan Urban Limits and abandon pursuit of higher density as an over-arching goal, the
counter-argument was always “But then Auckland would sprawl from Hamilton to Whangarei.”

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