Infill Development and Smart Growth Innovation


Author: Kelsey Storemski

East Lansing has several abandoned and underutilized infill sites that can be repurposed or replaced by new businesses, homes, and community centers. Infill development is a great way to preserve land, improve the environment, reduce transportation congestion, and improve the economy. Recently, East Lansing has had some issues with city development due to fragmented ownership, limited financing, lengthy approval processes, higher capital costs, conflicts of interest, and lack of reliable information. Although these barriers are real and have discouraged some developers from continuing projects, they are not unique or unsurmountable. East Lansing’s recent development ideas have been complex, elitist, and expensive. Although these Utopian designs are beautiful, they lack understanding of smart growth innovation. East Lansing is a great place for new development and will largely benefit from the implementation of smart city solutions, which will help the community achieve its goals of economic expansion.

The fundamental components of smart growth within cities consist of mixed-use buildings, compact and walkable areas that are in close proximity to homes, and aesthetically appealing focal points that create a sense of place. These areas are also diverse, easily accessible to the public, and uphold an exceptional level of public safety. Smart growth development methods focus on expandable and adaptable designs that set realistic expectations for the future and are financially responsible. These methods also help cities become more flexible during economic fluctuation because of improved risk management and responsiveness. Smart growth initiatives encourage innovation, maximize the benefits of future opportunities, and help cities become more resilient and proactive.

A recent case study written about an infill development project in Mizner Park of Boca Raton, Florida researched the overall impact that smart growth innovation had on its design. The infill site originally contained an underused shopping mall, but was replaced with a mixed-use town center in the 1990’s. The town center now consists of residential housing, a movie theater, a museum, restaurants, office space, and a tree-lined central boulevard. The project was reasonably financed by the city with $50 million in infrastructure improvements and $68 million in bonds. Before the redevelopment of Mizner Park, there was very little housing and office rents were the lowest in all of Palm Beach County. By 2002, the property values increased 14-fold and office rents were the highest in south Florida, which increased the city's taxable income. In 2010, the American Planning Association named Mizner Park’s Plaza one of the Great Public Spaces in the United States.

In order to achieve successful smart growth in East Lansing, the public agencies and developers must have a holistic understanding of the city’s social and economic culture as well as its physical characteristics. Development ideas that only focus on separate issues such as mobility and economic advancement are less likely to have a lasting, positive impact on the community because they do not support all of the essential aspects within the city. City planners that are knowledgeable about smart growth will give ethical consideration to certain variables such as income levels and family demographics within the city and will engage all stakeholders during their discovery process. Residents that are actively involved in their city’s development will have higher levels of satisfaction and pride within their communities. When smart growth development is properly implemented in East lansing, the city will attract long-term investors who are excited about the city’s progress and will want to help fund projects for future expansion.


An example of this principle at work: Direct Development Towards Existing Communities: Mizner Park, Boca Raton, Florida