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It's time to build a strong community through smart growth

The future is here. We have no choice but to manage increasing population growth, and that’s why it is important to understand why smart growth has a positive impact on our communities. Opposition to smart growth initiatives likely undermines a community’s future success.

It’s no secret our region is among the most desirable places to live. We’re surrounded by natural beauty, a thriving economy, innovative business pioneers and a creative workforce second to none in the world. There is little that can’t be accomplished if the good people of the Puget Sound put their minds to it.

When Microsoft and Starbucks were putting us on the world stage in 1990, our state leaders created the Growth Management Act, or GMA. At the time, King County’s population was 1.5 million. The GMA requires rapidly growing cities to develop comprehensive plans to prepare for growth.

Opposition to smart growth initiatives likely undermines a community’s future success.

The Eastside is growing: Amazon in Bellevue, Microsoft in Redmond, along with many others. Anchored by these companies, the Eastside will continue to attract worldwide talent. The population in King County is now 2.25 million. More people are coming, so how can we build a sustainable, diverse and growing economy while enriching the entire community?

The answer is smart growth. Walkable communities served by retail and services that get people out of their cars, reducing traffic emissions and promoting a healthier, walkable neighborhood. Smart growth allows the GMA to balance community interests and thrive with the reality of an increasing population. Growth is the inevitable outcome of our vitality. Managed correctly, it can improve the life in our community.

For example, assume a smaller city needs an additional 2,000 residential units to meet their GMA mandate and the average density of homes is approximately nine houses per acre. That would mean about 220 acres of land are required.

Compare that to a town center which, at 40 housing units per acre (apartment buildings in the suburbs are often 100 units to the acre), can deliver the same number of homes on just 50 acres, while requiring much less investment for infrastructure and operation. There would also be considerably less traffic, which is caused more by suburban garages and driveways than by density. Smart growth creates more housing choices, preserves acreage for open spaces, increases transportation options, augments much needed amenities and ultimately creates a tangible sense of community.

Multimodal transit hubs, like the one we are developing in the Sammamish Town Center, are key to managing growth. This transit center, which King County Metro has committed to serve, would be connected to bike and walking paths as well as adjacent neighborhoods through a comprehensive trail system, increasing access and usage of regional transit options.

There is no debate we can thrive while our population rises because of a growing economy. The GMA requires balancing community interests rather than expanding the suburbs through unsustainable sprawl. The city of Sammamish wisely adopted a town center plan in 2008 addressing their commitment to the GMA as part of their comprehensive plan, and the private sector responded with large investment.

Regional leaders have the opportunity to plan upward rather than outward. Developers can make municipal visions a reality. The GMA designated the incorporated limits of Eastside cities as urban growth areas. As growth concentrates in those areas, a town center best preserves a sense of community and enhances quality of life.

The region always stretches for the next highest rung on the ladder. It is time to reach for it.

Originally Published in the Puget Sound Business Journal



AMERICAN PLANNING ASSOCIATION Creating Great Communities for All


WASHINGTON STATE DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE The mission of Growth Management Services (GMS) is to assist and guide local governments, state agencies, and others to manage growth and development, consistent with the Growth Management Act (GMA).


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