"Smart Growth" and "New Urbanism" Compared with "Large Lot Zoning" (Tom Lane) [ Home Page – Click Here]

(May 17, 2017) – Traditional "Large Lot Zoning" is "Greener" than "Smart Growth" within Urban Growth Boundaries . . . Copyright 2009 – 2017 . . . Tom Lane . . . Photographing California, Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico, Colorado, Utah, Oregon, and Seattle, Washington.

Smart Growth Fails to Save Native Plants: The Evidence – Seattle and Boulder compared with Scottsdale


Ancala HOA in Scottsdale – native desert vegetation preserved by City ordinance.


Moonlit view (Full Moon, 5/3/2015) towards the mountains called “Four Peaks,” along with a yucca, palo verde, and several other native plants, on Arizona state trust land between Pinnacle Peak and Rio Verde.

(April 16, 2015)  UNDER CONSTRUCTION  Despite all of their environmental goals, smart growth planners fail to save native plants. In the previous post which is still under construction (as is this one), I discussed the City of Scottsdale’s native plant ordinance requiring developers to save native desert vegetation. But smart growth cities such as Seattle, Boulder, and elsewhere do not save native plants.

Across this entire web site, I compare smart growth planning, with traditional low density zoning.  Native vegetation can be saved with low density properties.  But it is impossible to save native plants when “smart growth towers” are stacked right next to each other, with no street frontage adjacent to sidewalks, in cities such as Boulder and Seattle.

In low density Scottsdale, Arizona, native plants are inventoried and then replanted after construction.  But in high density smart growth cities such as Seattle and Boulder, buildings are so close together that native plants cannot be saved.

Under Construction.  Later,  photos of Seattle, Boulder, and for Scottsdale, also see the previous post.

Boulder and Seattle feature high density condo towers with very few trees.  Both cities claim to be “green,” however, this view is not shared by leading Landscape Architects in the Seattle region.

Before looking at Boulder, Seattle, and Scottsdale, read this media release of critical concern from Seattle’s leading landscape architects.  This is the 2006 Seattle Urban Forest Stakeholder’s Manifesto, signed by some of the region’s leading firms such as Jones & Jones, and Richard Haag Associates:

Media Release

Seattle’s Urban Forest Stakeholders:
Ilze Jones, AIA, FASLA, Principal, Jones & Jones
Kit O’Neill, K. O’Neill Consulting
Cheryl Trivison, Friends of Gas Works Park,
Erin O’Connor, Roanoke Neighborhood Elms Fund, Friends of Roanoke Park
Richard Haag, Professor Emeritus, Department of Landscape Architecture, University of Washington, Principal, Richard Haag Associates
Richard Ellison, SaveSeattlesTrees.org
John Barber, Seattle Parks and Open Space Advocates
Michael Oxman, Certified Arborist

Seattle’s good intentions are not saving the City’s trees. Seattle government has even adopted tree protection guidelines (Parks Policy 060-P5.6.1 June 1, 2001). But over and over mature trees are destroyed. Seattle needs a moratorium on destruction of healthy trees. All public actions should be evaluated for their impact on mature trees. This city has been responsible too many times – and dramatically in Occidental Park this year – for wholesale destruction of healthy mature trees.

In light of the soon-to-be released draft Urban Forest Management Plan and the aspiration of this city to be counted among the greenest of the green it is time for public officials to set the standard for tree preservation, and be held at least as accountable as private citizens for tree destruction.

· The Seattle Urban Forest Coalition, which drafted an Urban Forest Management Plan in closed meetings, is composed exclusively of city staffers. Although the plan’s adoption is scheduled for September, it has not been presented to the citizenry. (A Power Point outline was presented to city council committee members June 13, 2006.)
· This year 17 mature, healthy 35-year-old London Plane trees were destroyed in Occidental Park (citizens took legal action); City is spending $2.3 million to redevelop the park.
· Eleven specimen-quality, 50-year-old Oak trees are scheduled for destruction in City Hall Park. The Parks Department asks to spend $3.4 million to reconstruct the park without these trees. Design is on the board though money has not been allocated.
· The planned realignment of SR520 especially must be evaluated for its tree impacts,
· And the Parks Department plans to destroy more trees: perhaps the city’s largest Weeping Willow, in Dahl Playfield; a mature, healthy cottonwood tree along the Burke Gilman trail; many mature trees to make way for the Zoo’s parking garage; Freeway Park and Denny Park “revitalizations”.

A city’s Green credentials call for more than techno-talk. It doesn’t matter how “green” our buildings are if our city government is cutting down trees in public parks and rights-of-way. What makes Seattle green are our trees and with trees, it’s not the simple stem count that matters, it’s the mature canopy bringing life to the city. The goals in the draft Urban Forest Master Pan for a healthy “green” city are flawed, since they do not include as the first priority a measure of protection for what we already have. Our first goal should be, as it is in San Francisco’s 2006 Urban Forest Plan, to “maintain and conserve the existing urban forest”.

The measure of canopy is the number of people it shelters; the measure of a city is the extent of the canopy that is allowed to grace it. Seattle’s average canopy cover is only 18 percent today, a loss of half the canopy measured in 1972. Forty percent is the average urban tree cover recommended by the American Forests conservation organization, which did a study of the Puget Sound region in 1998.

Life thrives in the company of trees, under the canopy and in the canopy. It is the nature of trees to shelter, shade, cleanse and cool the air. A mature canopy: filters 60 to 70 times more pollution than a cluster of small trees; raises property values between 7 and 15 percent; reduces peak stormwater loads on our piped drainage system and absorbs stormwater to reduce erosion and landslides. Studies show that in an inner city neighborhood, the greener the community, the lower the crime rate.

A contiguous canopy is a climate shield. The benefits of trees compound with their numbers. In order for canopy to do that work, to provide high performance, trees must be allowed to grow big—crowns touching, branches rubbing, leaves conversing. We want our trees to loom. Trees root us in the common ground of our lives and connect us to our past—the older the tree the stronger the attachment and the greater the benefits of all kinds.

Since trees have a longevity far in excess of ours, we need stewardship that is trans-generational. We must create a city tree department headed by a city forester. We want not just a tree ethic but an arborist ethic. We want more arborists. We need more than greenwash. There must be a security force to protect our trees. The City offered the rationale for removal that the Occidental Park trees were unhealthy trees. “Hazardous” has been redefined in this city as an excuse to remove inconvenient trees.

There are better ways to fund city parks and city trees than episodic levies. Seattle is named a “Tree City USA” by the Arbor Day Foundation because we spend $3/capita/annum to care for trees. In actuality City Light uses that $1.5 million to top/prune trees under power lines! In other municipalities, support for trees is tied to a tax on stormwater runoff, and stormwater utilities base their charges on a property’s impervious area.

To succeed with a master plan for trees in Seattle, we need a change in our attitude—on the part of the public and our elected leadership toward our trees.

First, call a moratorium on cutting down trees to prevent further reduction of our urban forest, especially our contiguous canopy, while we institute more effective vigilance and care of our urban canopy. All city actions that affect mature trees need to be evaluated for their impacts, including upzoning by removing setbacks or watering down incentives for open space.

· Hire a City forester whose primary mission is the cumulative treeness of Seattle.
· Charge the City forester with development of best management practices for our existing trees.
· Charge the City forester with conducting an inventory of every tree in the city, including those in the state’s right of way. Currently there is no record or catalog of removed city park trees or of the category of trees being removed or under consideration for removal by any city or state agency.
· Charge the City forester to double Seattle’s canopy cover with trees chosen for their ability to contribute to a healthy urban environment and creation of canopy.
· Charge the City forester with drafting a tree ordinance that has teeth.
· Perhaps most important at this juncture, include citizens, including certified arborists, in the City’s process to develop an Urban Forest Management Plan, in the drafting and passage of a strong tree ordinance, and in the City’s arboreal decisions.

To start this process we citizens suggest that the city hold an Urban Forest Stakeholders conference, modeled after the bringing together of Northgate Stakeholders, to create a win-win situation for the City.

It is common knowledge that trees are the vital link in the health of the planet. It follows that the health of our city, our citizens is dependent on the health of our tree canopy.

Boulder and Other Denver Subdivisions

It seems that the goal for every street corner in Boulder is a smart growth tower, where your front windows look down on the sidewalk, with no setback (i.e. the space between your windows and the sidewalk).  Would you want to sleep next to a window that’s five feet from a sidewalk, and fifteen feet from a congested, noisy six lane boulevard?


It seems that every corner in Boulder features a smart growth tower on a congested six lane boulevard.

This smart growth tower represents bad design, next to a parking lot with trucks for the associated Target store. Again, no native plants.


Smart Growth Towers in Boulder. No native plants. Horrible planning next to a Target parking lot.

Boulder – Denver Natural Vegetation

The natural vegetation of the Front Range in Eastern Colorado is shown here, from a photo in Castle Rock, with deciduous oaks, Ponderosa Pines, and wild grasses:


Development in Castle Rock, Colorado. Photo demonstrates the natural vegetation of the Colorado Front Range – deciduous oaks and pines with wild grasses. However, with smart growth, these native plants are clearcut.

Again, no vegetation in these photos in a smart growth development in Superior, Colorado, just a couple miles outside of Boulder. The garage alley in the second photo is dreadful:


Smart Growth in Superior, Colorado, homes just a few feet from the street with no fences or walls.


Intimidating garage alley in Superior, Colorado, a couple of miles outside of Boulder. Smart growth often features alleys of garages, with associated high crime. Police do not know how to patrol these areas.

But Aren’t Boulder and Scottsdale Essentially the Same Cities?

Absolutely, in terms of demographics! Both are viewed as snobby cities, where highly educated singles move there because of the paradise syndrome.  This means that singles move there in search of happiness, due to the city’s “trendiness.” They move there in an attempt to form relationships, both financial and personal.  Both cities have very high citizen satisfaction rates.  Indeed, in the Scottsdale 2015 State of the City video below, Scottsdale Mayor W. J. “Jim” Lane calls Scottsdale, “The Greatest City in the United States, if not in the World.”

But the two cities could not be more different in terms of their urban planning. Boulder wishes to increase density, and has pledged to never extend its urban growth boundary.  Boulder city officials state that they will just keep building upwards (I still cannot find the citation for this.). Scottsdale has designated large areas of the city for lots of several acres, something that Boulder essentially has not done, except in a few isolated areas.  Just like Boulder, Scottsdale has towering condos, but they are limited to only two areas of town.  Otherwise, Scottsdale is a very low density city with abundant native plants and wildlife.

Is Seattle the Same as Boulder? How is Scottsdale Different?

Absolutely, in terms of both demographics and urban planning. Seattle and Boulder continue to displace older structures, replacing them with expensive “smart growth towers,” in an effort to attract young urban professionals seeking the “paradise syndrome.” However, Seattle is more of a “welfare” city than Boulder, probably since Boulder shares midwestern values.

Scottsdale is politically moderate, with precincts north of Shea Blvd. voting Republican, and precincts south of Shea Blvd. voting Democrat.  Scottsdale attracts conservative entrepreneurs from states within  “The Empty Quarter” as defined by Joel Garreau in “The Nine Nations of North America.”

Generally speaking, Republicans prefer low density properties with private yards, and, Democrats prefer higher density neighborhoods (citations are out there in my files and needed here).

Comparison – Scottsdale Tunnels of Trees

The streets of North Scottsdale and Paradise Valley feature large lots and native plants cascading over the street.  Would you rather look down a garage alley in Superior, Colorado on your way home (above), or, look down this beautiful street in North Scottsdale, where native plants are preserved by law?


North Scottsdale street lined with native plants extends as far as the eye can see. Compare this to the garage alley in Superior, Colorado, above.  This neighborhood features a fully shielded dark sky light.


Large lots of an acre or more, north of Pinnacle Peak Road and west of Pima Road.


Nice street in Sonoran Hills HOA in North Scottsdale, near Pinnacle Peak Road and Pima Road.


Large lot near Pinnacle Peak Road and Pima Road, with native grasses extending to the road.

Far North Scottsdale – One to Ten Acre Lots – The Greenest Part of the City

From this HOA actually located within the Tonto National Forest, looking south towards Pinnacle Peak reveals how green the Sonoran Desert is.  In this area of far north Scottsdale (north of Pinnacle Peak Road), most of the desert has been untouched with very large lot zoning of several acres:


Looking south to North Scottsdale from an HOA actually located within the Tonto National Forest. Phoenix in the far distance.

This view is of the neighborhing cities of Cave Creek, and Carefree, who also protect native plants. The photos are not the best, since weather conditions were unusual on this day in April, 2015, blowing all air pollution to the north part of the valley with 40 mile an hour winds.


From the same location, looking southwest to Cave Creek, and Carefree, AZ.

 Troon in Far North Scottsdale, Pinnacle Peak Area

The next view is from the Troon Highlands HOA, looking towards the Tonto National Forest, where the above two photos were taken.

From the Troon Highlands HOA, looking NNW towards the Tonto National Forest, Cave Creek, and Carefree.

From the Troon Highlands HOA, looking NNW towards the Tonto National Forest, Cave Creek, and Carefree.

The street above serves one area of the new development “The Estates at Miramonte,” by Luxor Homes.  The lot sizes are 2.3 to 3.7 acres, with views towards the mountains north of the Phoenix Metropolitan Area in the Tonto National Forest (i.e. the mountains north of Scottsdale, Cave Creek, Carefree, and Rio Verde).

From their web site, it is truly a highly desirable area, adjacent to the McDowell Mountain Preserve:

“The Estates at Miramonte is a unique, gated community situated high on the north slopes of the McDowell Mountains. Home sites range from 2.3- to 3.7-acres and from 2,885 feet to 3,005 feet in elevation making it one of the highest elevated communities in Scottsdale. Because of the higher elevation and the gentle breeze drifting through the mountain saddle just west of Miramonte, temperatures at Miramonte are typically eight to ten degrees below the temperatures in most other areas of Scottsdale and Phoenix.

The Estates at Miramonte is surrounded on three sides by The Scottsdale Mountain Preserve making it a one-of-a-kind community. The purchase of a home on a three-acre lot in Miramonte, contiguous to the Preserve, will place you next to thousands of acres of undisturbed, pristine mountainside desert abundant with wildlife. You will enjoy a different million-dollar view from each window of your new home.

Each lot at The Estates at Miramonte includes a building envelope of 50,000 square feet allowing Luxor Homes to build the estate of your dreams for you. There is room for a very large home, guesthouse, cabana, pool, water features and much more while leaving the majority of your 2 1/2 acre to 3 1/2 acre lot as undisturbed native desert.”

Below, homes on three acre lots in Miramonte:

The Estates at Miramonte, very low density, 2.3 to 3.7 acre lots on the south slope of the McDowell Mountains. This photo is looking south.

The Estates at Miramonte, very low density, 2.3 to 3.7 acre lots on the south slope of the McDowell Mountains. This photo is looking south.

Site plan for Luxor’s The Estates at Miramonte:


Large lots of 2.3 to 3.7 acres at “The Estates at Miramonte,” by Luxor.

Scottsdale Is Not The Only One

Reno, also preserves native plants in its (newer) developments, and the City has a relatively low population density. Look at this nice office park in Northwest Reno:

Roundabout at entrance to Monte Vista Office Park, with Farmers Insurance, and sagebrush in bloom, October, 2012.

Reno: Roundabout at entrance to Monte Vista Office Park, with Farmers Insurance, and sagebrush in bloom, October, 2012.

Monte Vista offices.

Monte Vista offices.

See the Other Scottsdale Native Plant Post –

Please see the original one, covering various Scottsdale HOA’s – DC Ranch, Greyhawk, McDowell Mountain Ranch, the McDowell Sonoran Preserve, etc. etc.


For Seattle Smart Growth Photos – Click Here –


But you should ESPECIALLY see THIS one – on the Issaquah Highlands Smart Growth HOA near Seattle –


And, this additional post on Issaquah Highlands shows where the contractor, Port Blakely Holdings (who is also a timber company) clearcut all native vegetation prior to construction –


More, later.

Tom Lane 4/16/2015, 05/02/2015

Unfiled Photos

Cave Creek, Arizona Zoning. The smallest permitted residential single family lot, 18,000 square feet, is equivalent to half an acre.

Cave Creek, Arizona Zoning. The smallest permitted residential single family lot, 18,000 square feet, is equivalent to half an acre.

Ugly, Towering Condos NE of Downtown Seattle with no trees.

Ugly, Towering Smart Growth Condos NE of Downtown Seattle with no trees.


Tonto National Forest, North Scottsdale.


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This entry was posted on 2015 by in Bellevue, Boulder, Reno, Scottsdale, Seattle, Tree Ordinance.


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