How do you implement smart growth successfully? Take one bite of the apple at a time.

That was the advice from local smart growth leaders in Nashville and Baton Rouge at a panel on implementing smart growth at the New Partners for Smart Growth conference in Washington, D.C., Friday.

Ann Hammond, assistant executive director of the Planning Commission in Nashville-Davidson County, Tennessee, said her agency had focused on taking small steps – partly because the 40-person elected council government for the combined city-county government makes it hard to make sweeping changes.

So instead of proposing zoning code changes, which require council approval, Nashville focused on changes in subdivision regulations, which only require approval from the planning commission. The planning commission also focused on creating a project or a plan change in an individual neighborhood, thus creating "plan envy" among elected councilmembers. "If you do it in council district 26," she said, "the guy in council district 25 says, I want one of those."

Progress has also been slow in Baton Rouge – especially after Hurricane Katrina, which expanded the city's population temporarily by more than 100,000 and permanently by some 30,000. And while the overarching vision is grand, the actual issues that civic activists have dealt with are at the neighborhood level, according to representatives of the Center for Planning Excellence in Baton Rouge.

Boo Thomas, the center's president, said that connectivity – that is, connecting new neighborhoods to existing neighborhoods with a consistent road system – has been hugely controversial in Baton Rouge. "There's a huge outcry every time somebody wants to connect a 12-house subdivision to an existing neighborhood," she said.

As the post-Katrina population swelled, however, so did traffic congestion – and this has given smart growth advocates a new line of argument on connectivity, because most new areas have only a few crowded arterials. "We tell them, don't complain about traffic congestion unless you want to connect," said Richael DiResto, the center's vice president.

The panel highlighted communities that have worked with the Smart Growth Leadership Institute under a grant from the Environmental Protection Agency. Staff members at Solimar Research Group, CP&DR's sister organization, worked with SGLI in most of the communities.

-- Bill Fulton