San Francisco Chronicle columnist John King has a smart piece on the “generation gap” between old-school environmentalists suspicious of urban development and young people who see density as essential.

He looks at Berkeley’s recent ballot measure to allow denser growth near transit stops and concludes the green urbanism crowd is ascendant:

More and more, there’s a disconnect between the established view of how we should grow, and the values of people who weren’t even born when activists first battled “Manhattanization.” The (mostly) gray-haired guardians who radiate the certainty that They Know Best have dominated the debate for decades, but they can’t defy the calendar. With every passing year, the old certainties look a bit more … old.

The change is reflected by green groups that supported the growth plan:

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… “We’ve gone from mostly saying ‘no’ to saying ‘yes – in the right places,’ ” [Greenbelt Alliance  executive director Jeremy] Madsen says.

This shift rubs some old-school environmentalists the wrong way, Madsen admits. But as the Berkeley vote shows, it’s in sync with younger people who like the idea of filling “their” downtowns with people and life.

“The options aren’t the cul-de-sac or Manhattan,” Madsen suggests. “What you see in Berkeley is a bit of what we see happening all over the Bay Area. … People are saying there’s a different urban form they’d like to see come to fruition.”

Best of all, King gets a Berkeley prof, urban designer John Kriken, to begin his quote with “Kids today …”:

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“Kids today have grown up with a much greater awareness of sustainability issues and the role that density plays in protecting land from indiscriminate use,” Kriken says. “They see the bigger buildings, and they’re not fearful of them.”

To me, one of the more telling lines from the anti-growth crowd is the accusation that the growth measure is “a developer-backed plan,” as if the fact that developers are involved in a development plan makes it suspect. Of course real-estate developers have a hand in development. They might even build something that’s good for the city — and try to make a profit in the process!

The simplistic businesses-are-bad insinuation didn’t succeed the way it might have in the past. That shouldn’t be surprising. “Kids today” seem to understand that businesses — just like non profits, just like government bodies — are capable of both creative and destructive work in the world.

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