Smart Growth: The Future of the American Metropolis?

Bruce Katz
Bruce Katz Founding Director of the Nowak Metro Finance Lab - Drexel University

November 1, 2002

Widespread frustration with sprawling development patterns has precipitated an explosion in innovative “smart-growth” thinking and action across the United States in recent years. This approach contends that neither the current shape nor quality of metropolitan growth in America is sustainable. It also assumes that metropolitan areas could grow in radically different ways if major government policies on land use, infrastructure, and taxation were overhauled. This essay, published by the London School of Economics, reviews the current state of smart-growth and metropolitan thinking in the United States. It outlines the demographic, market, and development trends that are affecting metropolitan areas and the consequences of these trends for central cities, older suburbs, newer communities, and low-income and minority families. It describes how current government policies facilitate the excessive decentralization of people and jobs and how smart-growth reforms are being enacted, particularly at the state level, to shape new, more urban-friendly, growth patterns. It concludes by identifying the major challenges the smart growth cause needs to address if it is going to succeed in shaping sustainable metropolitan communities.