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Sierra Magazine
Last Words

How Can We Stop Urban Sprawl?

Last fall, citizens in Pennington Borough, New Jersey, voted to increase the county tax for the purpose of open-space preservation. In the same election, a two-thirds state majority voted to preserve one million acres of open space and farmland. The people of New Jersey are voting, on every level, to save land. Nearly 100 towns and 16 counties now have dedicated sources of preservation funding, totaling more than $200 million per year. In New Jersey, where sprawl has been rampant for decades, we are at last starting to regain a sense of balance.

Christine Todd Whitman, Governor of New Jersey

Global corporations like Wal-Mart and Home Depot have ambitious plans to sprawl across hometown America. But citizens' groups are battling back. The town of Yellow Springs, Ohio, bought up 930 acres to save them from development. In North Olmsted, Ohio, a new city ordinance requires that re-zonings win a majority vote at the polls. North Elba, New York, has placed a cap on the size of retail buildings, while citizens in Walpole, New Hampshire, convinced a developer to abandon his Wal-Mart project. Developers may have deep pockets, but community groups can prevail against the megastores.

Al Norman, consultant, Sprawl-Busters

The good news is that the Y2K problem is going to put the schnitz on the sprawling of America. Adios, business as usual. Hello, new paradigm. We are going to see disruptions in the global petroleum markets that will make the 1973 OPEC embargo look like the three-legged race at a Sunday-school picnic. One manifestation of this will be a spectacular loss of equity value in American suburban property. The more auto-dependent a place is, the more likely it will lose value, so you can kiss the Big Box stores good-bye.

James Howard Kunstler, author of The Geography of Nowhere

By restoring the plazas, transit stations, main streets, and downtowns that energize community life. San Bernardino, California, began by transforming a downtown parking lot into a thriving town square, then adding public amenities and a live/work arts-and-entertainment district. New Jersey Transit is refurbishing train stations with people-friendly seating, historic lighting, community-tended gardens, cafes, and concierge service. Such efforts are spurring the renewal of compact communities where people can walk to shopping, school, and other activities on attractive, lively streets, and mingle in the public spaces that are missing from the isolated settlements eating up our landscape.

Fred Kent, president, Project for Public Spaces

As long as the "not in my backyard" notion prevails, the fight against sprawl will be a battle of resourcefulness and cunning, not a crusade of understanding and persuasion. Only the containment of hyper-consumption will put a dent in sprawl's degradation of the biosphere. The high-density Arcosanti community in Arizona is dedicated to this via the reformation of the urban context-the city is the truer, if not the only, resolution of the not in my backyard myopia.

Paolo Soleri, architect, Cosanti Foundation

Over the next 30 years, the metropolitan Chicago region may sprawl into an area almost 200 miles long and 50 miles wide, reaching into parts of Wisconsin, Indiana, and Michigan. This would be the country's first quad-state urbanized region and the first to cross two time zones. The heartening news is that Chicago has already begun reclaiming its future with two powerful sprawl-busting techniques that help communities focus their efforts.

"Threats Maps," produced by the Openlands Project, show all the outlying land that is vulnerable to sprawl over the next 10 years in traffic-light red; any areas that might succumb within 30 years are in cautionary yellow. The meticulous "Visions" drawings from the Environmental Law and Policy Center show communities what they look like now, and what they'll look like in 20 years, depending on whether they choose compact, sustainable growth -or sprawl.

Tony Hiss, author of Experience of Place


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