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Why is transportation a key to smart growth?

Transportation and land-use patterns are inextricably linked. Transportation facilities and networks have the power to shape development, influence property values and determine a neighbourhood’s character and quality of life.

In addition, transportation investments have important consequences for the environment, including air and water quality, climate change and open space preservation. How communities develop also affects how convenient and appealing public transportation, bicycling and walking are for their residents.

All of these contribute to an approach called smart growth but what exactly is smart growth?

What is smart growth?

According to Smart Growth America, “Smart growth is an approach to development that encourages a mix of building types and uses, diverse housing and transportation options, development within existing neighbourhoods, and community engagement.”

Smart growth is an urban planning and transportation theory that concentrates on growth in compact walkable urban centres to avoid sprawl. It also advocates compact, transit-oriented, walkable, bicycle-friendly land use, including neighbourhood schools, complete streets and mixed-use development with a range of housing choices.

Smart Growth is a term used primarily in the US. In Europe and the UK, terms like ‘compact city’ and ‘urban densification’ are often used to describe the same approach.

Smart growth is a long term vision with a focus on sustainability. At the heart of smart growth are 10 principles which include:

  1. Mixed land uses
  2. Taking advantage of compact design
  3. Creating a range of housing opportunities and choices
  4. Creating walkable neighbourhoods
  5. Fostering distinctive, attractive communities with a strong sense of place
  6. Preserving open space, farmland, natural beauty and critical environmental areas
  7. Direct development towards existing communities
  8. Providing a variety of transportation choices
  9. Making development decisions predictable, fair, and cost-effective
  10. Encouraging community and stakeholder collaboration in development decisions

The key principle we want to talk about in this post is transportation and the importance of providing a variety of choices including high-quality public transportation as well as safe and convenient walking and cycling infrastructure.

Here at NEC New Zealand, our focus is on helping cities to become smarter. We recently signed a long-term agreement with Environment Canterbury and the Christchurch City Council to evolve the current bus network into a smart transportation network and it is initiatives like this that put transportation at the heart of smart growth.

Transportation is key to smart growth

Integrated transportation and land use planning gives people more choices for getting around their town and their region. When homes, offices, stores and civic buildings are near transit stations and close to each other, it is convenient to walk, bicycle or to various take transit options. This expanded transportation choice makes it easier to incorporate physical activity into daily routines, reduces transportation costs and gives more freedom and mobility to low-income individuals, senior citizens, disabled persons and others who cannot or choose not to drive or own a car.

With traffic congestion worsening throughout the world, cities are starting to take action. Communities are starting to implement new approaches to transportation planning, including better coordination of land use and transportation, increasing the availability of high-quality transit services and ensuring connectivity between pedestrian, bike, transit, and road facilities.

In short, cities are coupling a multi-modal approach to transportation with supportive development patterns, to create a variety of transportation options.

Smarter cities attract talent

Providing a variety of transportation choices—high-quality public transportation, safe and convenient biking and walking infrastructure, and well-maintained roads and bridges— helps communities to attract talent, to compete on a global scale and to improve the day-to-day lives of their residents.

To make this happen, city councils and transportation agencies must change how they prioritise, select, invest in, build and measure transportation projects at the local, regional, and nationwide level.

Smart Growth in New Zealand

In a 2010 report by the New Zealand Transport Agency, Integrated planning toolkit, the NZTA were already thinking ahead to Smart Growth and understanding the issues faced in this country, “Urban structure and transport systems shape each other. There are social, environmental and economic costs to growing car use in urban areas, and congestion is increasing. Roads play a critical role in meeting New Zealand’s transport needs. However, urban areas dominated by road infrastructure generally suffer from poor amenities and congestion. To improve transport choice, we need to create an environment that is friendly to pedestrians, cyclists and public transport users.”

The report goes on to state, “Smart Growth is really a combination of techniques. Primarily, it requires developments to be more compact, mixed-use and multi-modal.

The features that distinguish Smart Growth in a community will vary from place to place. Commonly, it invests time, attention and resources to restoring community and vitality to city centres and suburbs. Smart Growth is town-centred, is public transport and pedestrian-orientated and has a greater mix of housing, commercial and retail uses. It also preserves open space and many other environmental amenities.”

The goal of any Smart Growth strategy is to reduce per-capita car travel. Households in areas with good public transport tend to own fewer cars, and residents, employees and customers in such areas tend to generate fewer vehicle trips and rely more on alternative modes.

We are already seeing the rollout of Smart Growth initiatives, especially in the Bay of Plenty region and our recent partnership with Environment Canterbury is another step towards Smart Growth in the region.


Smart transportation solutions are one of the underlying principles of Smart Growth and here at NEC New Zealand, we are excited to be working with Environment Canterbury and the Christchurch City Council to deliver smart transport solutions that will help to reduce congestion and improve the overall quality of life in and around Canterbury, especially for commuters.

Find out more about our smart transportation solutions and read more about our partnership with Environment Canterbury.


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