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Defining Responsible Growth

What does Responsible Growth mean?

Recent elections have tilted towards a “responsible growth” narrative within local cities and towns. That got us thinking, what does responsible growth even mean and how does it impact our nation’s finance and economic development positions?

According to Merriam-Webster, the word responsible means being liable to be called on to answer or able to answer for one’s conduct and obligations. As for the meaning of growth, we will assume for our purposes that it means growth in the number of residents and businesses that call a community home. As more and more often, elected officials and budget directors of cities and towns are beginning to come across the term and we wanted to encourage discourse about what it means to our nation's local government finance professionals. Below is our way of thinking about incorporating responsible growth elements into small and medium sized community’s long-term plans.

How can my community embrace its key elements?

  • Develop a comprehensive growth plan: Create a plan that aligns with your community's long-term vision, considering infrastructure development, land use, transportation, and community services. Incorporate sustainability principles for a resilient future.

  • Encourage compact and mixed-use development patterns: Concentrate growth in existing areas to minimize urban sprawl, preserve open spaces, and promote walkability and public transportation.

  • Prioritize investments in sustainable infrastructure: Invest in infrastructure that supports sustainable growth, such as public transportation, pedestrian and cyclist-friendly infrastructure, and water and sewage systems.

  • Engage residents, businesses, and community organizations: Involve stakeholders in decision-making, seek their input, and foster open dialogue through public meetings and ongoing communication.

  • Preserve cultural and historical heritage: Protect and celebrate the town's cultural and historical assets through zoning regulations, design guidelines, and the integration of local materials and architectural styles.

  • Support local businesses and entrepreneurship: Foster a thriving local economy by providing resources and incentives for small businesses and promoting local products and services.

  • Promote environmental stewardship and sustainable practices: Encourage energy efficiency, waste reduction, and the integration of renewable energy sources. Preserve natural areas and create green spaces for recreational activities.

  • Invest in education and workforce development: Collaborate with educational institutions to develop programs that equip residents with skills for emerging industries, fostering a skilled workforce.

  • Collaborate with neighboring communities and organizations: Seek partnerships to leverage resources, expertise, and funding opportunities for responsible growth projects.

  • Monitor progress, evaluate outcomes, and make adjustments: Regularly assess the impact of growth initiatives and adjust strategies as needed to ensure responsible and sustainable growth.

What if we aren’t growing?

We would be remiss if we didn’t address the major assumption in our understanding of responsible growth. What if the growth is not there? Recently, the U.S. The Census Bureau published an article which claimed that over 50% of counties had less population in 2020 than reported in 2010. The same article reported that nearly 4/5th of the metropolitan area’s saw an increase in population growth.

For small and medium sized cities and towns experiencing population decline, the following considerations should be addressed:

  • Economic revitalization: Focus on strategies to revitalize the economy, attract businesses, and diversify industries.

  • Sustainable resource management: Optimize resource use, reduce waste, and adopt sustainable practices.

  • Invest in quality of life enhancements: Improve amenities, infrastructure, and services to enhance livability and attract residents.

  • Adaptive planning: Adapt planning strategies to changing demographic trends, including infrastructure development, land preservation, and repurposing underutilized spaces.

  • Collaboration and partnerships: Foster collaboration with regional development agencies, attract investment, and collaborate with neighboring communities to leverage resources and opportunities.


In summary, while responsible growth is a new term politically, is a long-term critical element of sustainable community development and therefore long-term financial planning. It enables strategic decision-making, promotes financial sustainability, enhances community resilience, ensures transparency and accountability, and improves long-term economic outlook. By following either of the above checklists and adapting it to specific circumstances, a city or town can promote responsible growth, whether it is experiencing rapid growth or facing population decline.

For more information and assistance with implementing responsible growth elements, please contact us today. Together, we can build a better future for our communities.

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