Balancing Density and Greenspace 

Smart Growth Principle 2

Image generated by Paul Coogan using Midjourney AI

Let’s explore a principle of Smart Growth that is easily misinterpreted by city governments and constituents alike: “Take advantage of compact design.” This idea extends beyond simply building up or downsizing living spaces; it’s about the strategic use of resources. Compact design leverages existing infrastructure and city services, to build housing where it is needed and stimulate economic opportunities for local businesses.

Increased density helps to conserve materials and infrastructure, like asphalt, plumbing, heat, and waste removal. Economically, higher density translates to increased property tax revenue per acre for the city but, without proper planning, increased density can overwhelm existing infrastructure capacity. Smart Growth emphasizes balance by considering building density in the context of available city services, open space, and traffic impact. Responsible planning, coupled with appropriately scaled developer impact fees, is crucial to facilitate upgrades necessitated by new construction to keep neighborhoods walkable, accessible, and, most importantly, human-scaled. 

In the 1960s and 70s, Normal Heights and significant portions of the mid-city areas experienced extensive infill, marked by the replacement of bungalows with Huffman-style apartment complexes. Within this design framework, off-street parking requirements resulted in a reduction in greenspace as landscaping and parkways gave way to parking spaces and curb cuts.

Contemporary design philosophies, however, pave the way for a more balanced approach, prioritizing the retention of greenspace within developments. Advances in mobility options and structured parking solutions can offer a balance between the competing demands for private vehicles, greenspace, and robust public transportation. 

The human element of infill development comes into play when housing is diverse and affordable, creating a community where people of all ages and backgrounds interact on a daily basis. Normal Heights, with its characteristic charm, exemplifies this unity, a place where public and private sector cooperation intersects with strong community input.