It’s always comforting to get third-party validation for what you’ve been doing, particularly if what you’ve been doing is different than what everyone else is up to. It means you’re not simply indulging in a fantasy of your own creation, but instead, that somebody outside actually sees value in what you’re doing.
So when Cranberry recently received some flattering attention from PittsburghTODAY, a leadership project which grew out of a series of regional benchmark features begun by the Post-Gazette more than a decade ago, we found it very reassuring.
If you look in this month’s issue of Pittsburgh Quarterly
, you’ll find an article by Julia Fraser, a research coordinator for the PittsburghTODAY project, that talks about Smart Growth in southwestern Pennsylvania and its arch nemesis, Suburban Sprawl.
Here’s what she said: Sprawl is a bad form of development. It’s expensive. It’s environmental irresponsible. It isolates communities. And it erodes social institutions.
Smart growth, on the other hand, is shorthand for public policies that promote connectivity, increase development density, make more efficient use of public resources, and place a value on pleasing aesthetics.
For years, Cranberry has been depicted – unfairly, I should add – as the region’s poster child for suburban sprawl. But what Ms. Fraser and the PittsburghTODAY project saw here was something different.
“A closer look reveals evidence of the steps the Butler County municipality has taken to make amends for the fragmented development of its past, including miles of sidewalk and tree-lined streets, a dense downtown core connected to housing developments,” she said. Her conclusion: Cranberry has “some of the most forward-thinking policies for smart growth found in Southwestern Pennsylvania.”
In a part of the country where smart growth policies are not yet widespread, we’re delighted that she recognized our Board’s efforts to apply higher standards to Cranberry’s land use and infrastructure investments. And we’re pleased that she saw our efforts as sustainable – something that sprawl-type development is typically lacking.
At the same time, though, there were other reasons behind Cranberry’s approach to smart growth – reasons which the PittsburghTODAY study didn’t get into. One of them was to foster economic growth. Cranberry is not simply a bedroom community for people who work in Pittsburgh; we have a vigorous export economy, including major operations of world-class corporations whose employees commute here from all over the region. Our daytime head count is significantly larger than our residential population. That didn’t happen by accident; our policies helped to create it.
Our transportation system is also one that runs counter to most smart growth advocates. Regrettably, Cranberry has no significant public transit service. Nor do we have any rail service. Commuting by car – and increasingly by foot and bicycle – are essential to our daily lives. So is freight movement by 18-wheelers. As a result, improving our highway connections and local road network are essential priorities here.
Of course, every community is different. What smart growth means for us may not apply in another municipality; everyone needs to find their own way. But we were happy to read that Cranberry’s approach has attracted the attention of our region’s leadership. We hope they’ll come back and visit us again sometime.
I’d love to hear your thoughts about Cranberry’s approach to development. Write me at: Jerry.Andree@CranberryTownship.org