Smart Growth and Development Key Words and Concepts

Activity Center

Activity center is a term that refers to concentrated areas of housing and or employment such as downtowns, town centers, or edge cities.

Affordable Housing

According to the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development, the generally accepted definition of affordability is for a household to pay no more than 30 percent of its annual income on housing. Families who pay more than 30 percent of their income for housing are considered cost burdened and may have difficulty affording necessities such as food, clothing, transportation and medical care.

According to the Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce, fully 2/3 of metro Atlanta residents and 40 percent of households earn less than $40,000 per year. However, in much of the region, particularly where jobs are concentrated, current zoning regulations do not allow housing that workers can afford. As a result, too many are driving too far to find affordable housing.


BRT refers to the mode of transit called bus rapid transit. According to Bus Rapid Transit Central, BRT includes the following:

  • Enhanced Bus Services – These systems include ITS (intelligent transportation systems) features and other system improvements to regular, fixed route bus service.
  • Advanced Bus Services (Right-of-Way Modifications) – These systems often include technologies used for BRT - Enhanced Bus Service but also include limited Right-of-Way improvements.
  • Maximum Implementation – These systems often include technologies used for BRT - Advanced Bus Service but also include significant Right-of-Way improvements such as a fully dedicated ROW for the majority of the service area.   Speeds achieved with this level of implementation resemble rail rapid transit in many respects.

City Planning

City planning, also referred to as town planning or urban planning, is the activity or profession of deterring the future physical arrangement and condition of a community. It involves an appraisal of the current conditions, a forecast of future requirements, a plan for the fulfillment of these requirements, and proposals for legal, financial, and construction programs to implement the plan.

Complete Community

Complete community refers to community whose mix of housing offers many types of homes affordable to people with a wide range of income.

Compact Development

Compact development refers to development that uses less land than conventional development.

Conservation Subdivision

Conservation Subdivision is one form of land regulation that permits flexibility of design in order to promote environmentally sensitive and efficient uses of the land. With land subdivided through a conservation subdivision regulation, local government can preserve unique or sensitive natural resources such as groundwater, floodplains, wetlands, streams, steep slopes, woodlands and wildlife habitat. Conservation subdivisions enable clustering of houses and structures on less environmentally sensitive soils which will reduce the amount of infrastructure, including paved surfaces and utility easements, necessary for residential development.


Density is a standard measure of units per area (typically reported in dwelling units per acre or du/ac). High-density areas have more homes per unit of land than low-density areas. A typical suburban development (lower density) may have a housing density of 2 units per acre, while a typical townhouse development (higher density) may have a housing density of 22 units per acre.

Green Building

"Green" building and sustainable design refers to the class of construction/design that involves energy-efficient practices, environmentally friendly materials, and practices that reduce negative impacts on the environment. Typical features of green building and sustainable design include energy conservation, water conservation, adaptive building reuse, and recycling of construction waste.


Greenfields refer to vacant, previously undeveloped land.

Growth Nodes

Growth nodes are designated areas in future land use plans for medium or high-density growth.

Lifelong Community

Lifelong community refer to a community that respects the needs of children and seniors by making it possible to walk, cycle or ride transit to important place like schools, grocery stores, pharmacies, and parks.


Light rail transit

Mixed-Income Housing

Mixed-income housing includes both market rate and affordable homes within the same development. This delivers affordable housing choices in areas close to jobs that generate more modest incomes. Mixed-income housing is often financed through public-private partnerships. The subsidy is determined by a formula requiring a certain percentage of the housing mix to be allocated for affordable housing. Municipal government policies related to mixed-income housing are known as inclusionary zoning.

Mixed-Use Development

Mixed-use development, sometimes referred to as live/work/play communities, refers to development that includes a mixture of complementary land uses. The most common mix of land uses include housing, retail, office, commercial services, and civic uses.

Mixed-Generational housing

Mixed-generational housing allows for a mix of all ages within the same community.

New Urbanism

New Urbanism is the movement in favor of the restoration of existing urban centers and towns within coherent metropolitan regions, the reconfiguration of sprawling suburbs into communities of real neighborhoods and diverse districts, the conservation of natural environments, and the preservation of our built legacy. The New Urbanism Charter recognizes that physical solutions by themselves will not solve social and economic problems, but neither can economic vitality, community stability, and environmental health be sustained without a coherent and supportive physical framework. New Urbanism advocates for the restructuring of public policy and development practices to support the following principles: neighborhoods should be diverse in use and population; communities should be designed for the pedestrian and transit as well as the car; cities and towns should be shaped by physically defined and universally accessible public spaces and community institutions; urban places should be framed by architecture and landscape design that celebrate local history, climate, ecology, and building practice.

Overlay Zoning

Overlay Zoning allows for special development controls to be applied to existing zoning district. This planning tool enables local governments to install more specific site-based controls.

Pervious Surfaces

Pervious surfaces allow water to filter into the ground, which enables natural groundwater to recharge, helps with filtration of pollutants, and reduces erosion and flooding. The use of pervious asphalt and concrete for parking lots, roads and sidewalks is an important part stormwater management that conserves precious natural resources.

Regional Development Plan

The Regional Development Plan (RDP) is part of the Atlanta Regional Commission’s policies that encourage local governments to take a holistic approach to community building, issuing permits for higher-density developments where appropriate, protecting the integrity of existing neighborhoods, and preserving open space.

Senior Housing

Senior housing is exclusively for those age 65 and older, which represents a growing sector of the U.S. population. Public subsidy programs are available for this type of development and help to provide new homes for low and moderate income seniors with fixed incomes.

Smart Growth

Smart Growth, or quality growth, refers to developing urban (metropolitan) communities that are more hospitable, productive, and fiscally and environmentally responsible than most communities developed in the last century. The principles of smart growth are based on compact and multiuse development, infill and redevelopment, expansion of infrastructure, enhanced livability, expanded mobility, and conservation of open space. While some parties focus on one aspect of development over another, smart growth seeks to identify a common ground where developers, environmentalists, public officials, citizens, and others can all find ways to accommodate growth.

Stormwater Management

Stormwater management is the process of controlling and processing runoff from rain and storms so it does not harm the environment or human health.

Traditional Neighborhood Development

The purpose of Traditional Neighborhood Development (TND) is to create walkable and sustainable communities. Borrowing principles from the neighborhoods built in the pre-1950s, TNDs include high-density residential choices integral to or within walking distance to neighborhood stores, services, schools, recreational activities and open greenspaces. The connectivity of roads and sidewalks is another key element to achieving less traffic congestion and better air quality.

Transit-Oriented Development

Also known as Transit Oriented Design, or TOD, it is the creation of compact, walkable communities centered around high quality train systems. This makes it possible to live a higher quality life without complete dependence on a car for mobility.

Urban Design

Urban Design is the aspect of architecture and city planning that deals with the design of urban structures and spaces. The Livable Communities Coalition supports a greater reliance on design in order for the market to provide innovative development types which are consistent with community desires.


VMT refers to vehicle miles traveled and is a standard measure of transportation activity.