Angus Jennings: Enacting Smart Growth: Getting the Vote in Local Politics

Angus Jennings (M.R.P. '01) is president of the Massachusetts Association of Planning Directors and a recognized leader on smart growth zoning, infrastructure finance, and consensus building.

Local home rule is the dominant form of government in Massachusetts. Zoning and planning reforms for issues such as transit-oriented development, adaptive reuse, and renewable energy siting rely on a two-thirds vote of town meeting or city council. Grassroots consensus building is key.

In this context, the role of local planners can be especially critical to adopting and implementing local reforms. However, more than a decade of advocacy has not yielded reforms to the state's zoning and subdivision laws of the 1950s and 1970s, there is no state planning office, and a steady stream of new unfunded mandates place local planners in a reactionary mode of putting out the brightest fire. Our collective experience suggests these problems are not isolated, but systemic.

Will research bear out an imbalance between the statutory and regulatory responsibilities of municipal governments and their actual capacity to meet these obligations? If so, how will this affect the policy debate?