Journal of Comparative Urban Law and Policy


Smart growth was conceived in the mid to late 1990s as a fresh approach to urban development that was neither for nor against growth but sought to change its form and location as an antidote to urban sprawl. The prescription was supported by a broad network of organizations and promoted extensively nationwide. Toward that end, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency launched the Smart Growth Network that includes many of the nation’s premier planning, development, environmental, and local government organizations. Today, many would argue that smart growth has become the predominant planning paradigm in the United States.

It has now been nearly 30 years since the seeds of smart growth were first planted. In this paper, we seek to explore how prevalent the term smart growth has been in discussions among the general public, the planning profession, and the print media over time. More specifically, we explore the frequency with which the term smart growth, and related terms, were used in various venues and publications over time. The exploration was based on analyses of Google searches, the programs of the annual meetings of the American Planning Association, and the newspapers of major metropolitan areas in the United States. The exercise involved searches for the term, smart growth as well as terms that represent the principles of smart growth, such as mixed use, redevelopment, walkability, land preservation and others. It is important to note that our queries allow us to search for the appearance of terms but not the context or placement of the term in the source document.

In general, we find that the appearance of the term smart growth rose rapidly in google searches, APA conference programs, and in major newspapers until the early 2000s but then seem to fall slowly but steadily until it barely appears at all. The appearance of terms that represent smart growth principles had a mixed pattern of use that varied across media and by term. In contrast, the appearance of the term gentrification has risen markedly in all three venues.

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