Without a big city like Boston or New York, a sunny climate or a cluster of major league sports teams, Connecticut competes on the national stage with its quality of life. Along with a skilled workforce and vibrant arts, we offer strong, compact communities set in a pleasant New England landscape of village centers and rolling hills.
But as this page has taken pains to point out over the past two years, that quality of life is being ruined by sprawl - poorly planned, car-oriented subdivisions and strip malls that increase driving and energy use; cause pollution; mar the characteristic Connecticut scenery; isolate the poor and seniors; and limit housing options for workers.
The Courant and a number of civic groups, from 1,000 Friends of Connecticut to the Archdiocese of Hartford's CenterEdge Coalition, have urged state leaders to counter the sprawl problem with an agenda that will encourage growth in town centers, job sites and transit corridors, and take pressure off the state's dwindling farms and forests.
Gov. M. Jodi Rell, though not an early advocate of "smart growth," as this approach is known, has nonetheless supported several elements of a smart growth plan, including a $3.5 billion investment in transportation infrastructure and the creation of a dedicated fund to support the protection of open space, farmland and historic sites, as well as the production of affordable housing.
On Oct. 6, she took the major step of creating a state office to control sprawl and promote sustainable growth. The new agency, the Office of Responsible Growth, is part of the state's Office of Policy and Management. It will bring together state agencies involved in land use to increase mass transit and transit-oriented development, and create incentives for sound regional planning and planning that protects natural resources.
A week later, Rell's Democratic challenger, New Haven Mayor John DeStefano, issued his own smart growth plan. It is more comprehensive than the governor's, befitting a longer familiarity with the subject. Mr. DeStefano was a co-chairman of the 2003 blue ribbon Commission on Property Tax Burdens and Smart Growth Initiatives.
Mr. DeStefano would direct state funds to targeted growth areas such as town centers to encourage private investment there. His plan makes a number of other key points. The governor must be in charge, if smart growth is to work. We need more transportation options right away.
Perhaps most important, Mr. DeStefano makes the connection between tax policy and bad land-use decisions. As long as towns need property tax revenue to pay for local schools, any green space not legally preserved is in danger of development. He calls for more state funding of local education and less reliance on local property taxes.
Smart growth is not a partisan issue. We hope that after the election, Gov. Rell or Gov. DeStefano will convene a session with legislative leaders, key commissioners and civic groups such as 1,000 Friends to take the best of the candidates' proposals, plus examples that work in other states, and put together a program that will do the job in Connecticut.
Smart growth is not no growth. It's encouraging growth in areas that build communities and preserve our vaunted quality of life. Sentiment for a Connecticut smart growth strategy has been growing for several years.
The time is now.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at