Metropolitan smart growth centers: An assessment of incentive policies in four regions

Richard D Margerum, Susan Brody, Robert Parker, Gail McEwen


Across the United States, metropolitan areas face challenges related to transportation and land use. An emerging policy in many regions is to promote development around higher-density, mixed-use (smart-growth) centers that create locally accessible nodes; many of these nodes are also linked to transit stops. Some metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs) have developed regional plans and incentive programs to encourage local governments to develop these centers. Incentives include grants as well as funding criteria in transportation improvement programs (TIP) that favor projects supporting centers. This paper assesses these policies as they have been applied in: (1) Puget Sound, Washington; (2) Portland, Oregon; (3) Denver, Colorado; and (4) San Diego, California. For the four regions we reviewed documents, conducted 40 interviews with key individuals, administered an online survey of 450 experts (response rate = 44 percent), and held a two-day forum involving 40 participants. We found that incentive policies by themselves were having a limited impact because they are new and offer small amounts of funding relative to local government needs and market forces. However, when incentives are combined with plans, policies, and transit investment, they provide a significant foundation for promoting growth around centers. There are a number of ways these policies can be improved, and many policies are transferable to other metropolitan regions.


transportation; smart growth; metropolitan planning organizations

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