Wrestling with Growth in Acton, Massachusetts

The Possibilities and Limits of Progressive Planning

February 11, 2010

Alexander von Hoffman, Senior Fellow, Joint Center for Housing Studies and author of Wrestling with Growth in Acton, Massachusetts: The Possibilities and Limits of Progressive Planning
Commentary byToni Griffin, Adjunct Professor of Urban Planning, Harvard Graduate School of Design and
Eran Ben-Joseph, Associate Professor, Department of Urban Studies and Planning, MIT and author, The Code of the City: Standards and the Hidden Language of Place Making.

The history of land-use regulation in Acton, Massachusetts offers important lessons on the possibilities and the limits of our current systems for regulating land uses in greater Boston and other major metropolitan areas. Like many other suburbs, Acton initially embraced new development and then began imposing increasingly stringent and complex restrictions on future growth. Unlike many suburbs, Acton also adopted many promising new approaches, such as cluster zoning, that try to shape growth in ways that address some, but not all, concerns about the impacts of further growth. Consequently, the town offers both a model for other localities trying to manage their growth and a caution about what can be accomplished under the current political and legal frameworks that shape growth not only in greater Boston but in other areas as well.
Cosponsored by the Joint Center for Housing Studies and the Harvard Graduate School of Design’s Urban Planning Program