Ian Ritter is national online editor of GlobeSt.RETAIL.

BOSTON-Symptoms of sprawl are inevitable and there’s not a lot that communities can do to prevent them, said some speakers at the International Council of Shopping Centers Research Meeting here at the Boston Park Plaza. The panel, “Smart Growth: What We Know, What We Think We Know and What We Need to Know,” discussed the reasons for sprawl and gave a few examples of mixed-use projects that have combated it.

Sprawl is primarily caused by natural population growth and immigration, said Anthony Downs, a senior fellow at the Washington, DC-based Brookings Institute, and there isn’t a whole lot that local governments can do to prevent those actions. Growing populations in areas have caused the building of low-density housing on large plots of land, the loss of farmland and major traffic congestion.

So far, most metropolitan areas, with the exception of Portland, OR, have been unsuccessful in combating sprawl, Downs said, and there may be little they can do. “Unfortunately I don’t think there’s any cure for traffic congestion. It’s getting worse everywhere, and there’s nothing we can do to stop it.”

But a few projects with large retail components have worked, pointed out Rick Peiser, a professor of real estate development at Harvard University. He mentioned the downtowns of Pasadena, CA and Waltham, MA as good examples of mixed-use retail working with high-density housing, as well as the Mockingbird Station development in Dallas, just north of the Downtown area.

Mixed-use projects are not the easiest developments to get done, though, speakers said, because they are much more expensive to build than other types of centers. “Right now we have a disconnect between the financing of mixed-use development and the desire for it,” Peiser said. “People may like it, but can they afford it?” Downs contended that there is plenty of money to fund mixed-use projects, but questioned whether they are viable developments for many suburban communities.

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