Smart Growth wrapped around a colorful vocabulary of nostalgic living is nothing more than concentrating people into smaller areas. It is building vertically. As smart as Smart Growth may sound, the reality is that Smart Growth creates more problems than it solves.
What I find most interesting is that American’s tend to keep larger personal spaces between themselves and others, yet many Americans are advocating Smart Growth. A paradox to be sure. The problem with Smart Growth lies in the unnatural state of human interaction. Humans, especially those of western influences, like to keep greater distances from others. Grouping people closer and closer increases fear and aggression. This leads to the unintended increases in community expenses in medical and security issues.
Although I have no data to support my belief that homelessness is, in part, a consequence of concentrating a greater number of people together I nonetheless see evidence of this hypothesis in my frequent travels. It is not just about transient homelessness like El Paso sees, or homelessness due to medical issues but, in my opinion, it seems to be a consequence of forcing people unnaturally together.
Recently I had an opportunity to spend time in San Francisco, arguably a “progressive” city. This gave me the opportunity to compare and reflect on over 25 years of travels to the city. What struck me about San Francisco was the apparent rampant homelessness. It wasn’t your typical homelessness as they ranged from the obviously long-term, world be damned homeless person to the homelessness who didn’t want to be there but had no other choice. This was new to me for San Francisco.
It’s not a novelty for me to see rampant homelessness having lived and travelled through some of the world’s largest metropolises, but what struck me about San Francisco was the apparent hopelessness of the situation by the locals and the community governmental entities. I saw people sprawled out, right in the middle of the street in the middle of the day with commuters gingerly picking their way around them.
They were not just in downtown, or the surrounding streets but also in the tourist areas such as Fisherman’s Wharf. There, sprawled out in the middle of the street. I even wondered if some were still alive. In most cities, especially ones making a living from tourists, an attempt, however misguided it is, is done to hide the homelessness from the tourists. I saw no evidence of this in my recent trip. In fact, I saw no anger, disgust, or even empathy from the locals. Although they were everywhere as you had to avoid them walking the streets, it was as if they did not exist. They weren’t there was the feeling expressed by everyone, although you couldn’t avoid seeing them.
Is this phenomena a byproduct of the economic conditions we live under, another issue as of yet unidentified, a byproduct of Smart Growth or something else, I can’t be sure. I’m not willing to blame it all on Smart Growth but I would argue that this is, in part, a byproduct of it.
My argument is based on the notion that concentrating people, literally on top of each other dehumanizes people into accepting an unnatural state in the mistaken belief that the nostalgia of walking to work and eating and shopping in the neighborhood is the way to live. Humans are wonderers and explorers by nature. We look for greener pastures down the road and we do this by spreading our wings. In the vertical cities of Smart Growth our wings are clipped because to spread them will only hit someone else in the face, figuratively that is.