Mitt Romney’s Smart Growth Period

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"Mitt Romney’s Smart Growth Period"

Alex MacGillis details Mitt Romney’s couple of years as a savvy smart growth advocate before his growing national ambitions caused him to (you guessed it) flip-flop:

Romney’s liberal heresies on health care, gay rights, and abortion are well established. Less well known is that, as governor of Massachusetts, he was a smart-growth acolyte. He hinted at this predilection during the campaign in 2002. “Smart growth, or purposeful planning, is a concept that will be in the governor’s office if I’m elected,” he said. After winning, he created a new “Office for Commonwealth Development” to oversee the transportation, environment, and housing departments—and named as its chief Douglas Foy. It was a brash decision for a business-oriented politician: Foy was the head of the state’s Conservation Law Foundation and an ardent environmentalist who often commuted 20 miles by bike. “He was the bane of the business and development community,” Benjamin Fierro, the lobbyist for the state homebuilders’ association, told me. “My clients were very concerned about that.”

Romney and Foy wasted little time in putting smart-growth policies to work. The state, they declared, would take a “fix-it-first” approach to highway spending—repairing existing roads instead of building new ones. They also pledged to cut the number of SUVs in the state fleet. In addition, the state put out a new highway-design manual intended to make towns more pedestrian-friendly, with narrower streets designed for slower driving speeds. “It was all really woolly, totally green, new-urbanist stuff—and it was state policy,” says Anthony Flint, who covered land-use issues for The Boston Globe and went on to join Foy’s office in 2005. The biggest move came in 2004, when Romney signed legislation, dubbed Chapter 40R, providing funds to towns and cities that agreed to allow more high-density, multi-family housing. “It was fundamentally anti-sprawl. It was saying that the days of having a developer buy a Christmas tree farm and throw up a bunch of single-family homes on half-acre lots were over,” Flint recalls. “It was a real awakening.”

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