Sierra Club: The Planet--1996
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The Planet

Stopping The "Los Angeles-ization" of Kansas City

"Sprawl can be slowed down," says Club volunteer Diane Stewart, a leader of the Kanza Group's successful grassroots effort to stop a proposed highway outside Kansas City. "Even though we already have three times as many freeway lane miles per capita than Los Angeles," she says, "the county commissioners were pushing for an outer beltway - the 21st Century Parkway - since 1988. But this past winter, they voted 4 to 1 against it."

Fast-growing Johnson County boasts a low crime rate, affordable housing, good public schools and a booming local economy. A recent Kansas City Star series - "Divided We Sprawl" - explored the nether side of these prosperous suburbs. "Nowhere in the United States is sprawl more active, more virulent, than right here," it said.

The campaign against the beltway was an all-volunteer effort, says Stewart, spearheaded by the Metropolitan Coalition for Sensible Transportation, which included the Sierra Club, the Audubon Society, the Greater Kansas City Greens, the Kansas Natural Resources Council and many other individuals and groups. Stewart and her allies set up meetings with public officials to plead their case, created a series of widely distributed fact sheets, wrote letters to the editor, called local media, faxed county commissioners, cultivated relationships with reporters and regularly turned out hundreds of people at public hearings. Opposition to the beltway swelled. The mayor of a city in the proposed highway corridor announced that his city would use legal action to fight the project. Another city council that had backed the project reversed its decision. The Star published scathing editorials that added to the chorus of opposition. "At the outset," says Stewart, "the odds of defeating the project seemed pretty long. But the coalition tapped into an unexpectedly large reservoir of public sentiment. People don't want Kansas City to be known as 'Los Angeles of the Prairie.' We gained a lot of credibility during this campaign and showed that we won't be dismissed."

Not only did the coalition stop the beltway, but in January the chair of the County Citizens' Visioning Committee recruited Stewart as a member. "Now we have a chance to play a role in the county's planning process," she says. "And I'm finding out that there's more consensus on sprawl than I thought." Stewart says that when she asked for advice from the Sierra Club's Internet Transportation/Land Use Forum on how to be effective on the committee, she received helpful replies from all over the country. "The forum is a great resource for activists," she says.

For copies of the Kansas City Star's "Divided We Sprawl" report, call (816) 234-4907.

Suburbs More Dangerous Than Cities, Study Finds

Opponents of sprawl also got a boost this spring with the publication of "The Car and the City," by Alan Thein Durning of the Northwest Environmental Watch. For sheer irony, you can't beat this report's conclusion that people who flee the city to escape crime end up exposing themselves to greater risk in the suburbs from automobile-related accidents. Using police department figures from Pacific Northwest cities, and taking into account the greater number of miles driven by suburbanites, Durning calculated that the risk of injury or death due to either traffic accidents or crime was higher in the suburbs than in the city. "People dramatically underestimate the risks of driving and overestimate the risks of crime," writes Durning. "Traffic accidents kill more Northwesterners each year than gunshot wounds or drug abuse do."

Adding fuel to that fire were the recent release of "Sprawl Costs Us All," a report from the Club's Midwest office and "Saving Places: A Local Carrying Capacity Action Plan," a 23-minute video produced by the Club's Local Carrying Capacity Campaign. "Sprawl Costs Us All" links increases in low-density development to property tax increases and suggests "Property Tax Impact Statements" for new development projects.

"Saving Places" refutes the argument that sprawl development produces new jobs when, all too often, small urban center businesses lose customers to suburban malls and the heart of the city dies. The video also explores the critical role of campaign planning. Every successful campaign, says Field Director Bob Bingaman, must have a clearly written and detailed campaign plan, an assessment of available resources and expertise, an understanding of your allies and potential allies and a clear target. To obtain a copy of "Sprawl Costs Us All," send $5.00 to: Sierra Club, 214 N. Henry St., Ste. 203, Madison, WI 53703. For a copy of "Saving Places," call Jeff Bocan at (202) 675-7917.

Goldman Prize Honors Environmental Heroes

The Goldman Foundation announced the six 1996 winners, one from each continent. This year's award-winner from North America is Mexico's Edwin Bustillos, who has already survived five attempts on his life since he launched a campaign to protect the rich biological diversity of the Sierra Madre mountains. Founder of the human rights and environmental organization CASMAC (Advisory Council of the Sierra Madre), Bustillos has already stopped a number of unsustainable logging operations - both legal and illegal - and is working to establish a 5-million- acre bioreserve in the western Sierra Madre.

It's not just the usual commercial loggers who are trying to stop him, but drug traffickers, who have forced the indigenous peoples to clear-cut the forests and grow fields of marijuana and opium poppies for export, and murdered some who have resisted.

Other Goldman Prize winners - each of whom will receive a $75,000 no-strings-attached award - include Brazilian Senator Marina Silva, a colleague of slain rubber tapper Chico Mendes, who has developed and promoted sustainable extractive reserves; Mahesh Chander Mehta, a public interest attorney from New Delhi, India, who has argued and won over 40 landmark environmental cases in India's Supreme Court since 1984; Bill Ballantine from New Zealand, who has successfully established "no take" marine bioreserves both in New Zealand and internationally; Amooti Ndyakira, who as the sole environmental reporter in Uganda, single-handedly developed the country's environmental consciousness and helped stop wildlife smuggling; and Bulgaria's Albena Simeonova, who has mobilized citizens against the construction of nuclear power plants and in support of environmental protection. Last year's winner of the Goldman Prize for Africa - Nigerian environmental and human rights leader Ken Saro-Wiwa - was executed six months after he won the award by the government he railed against.

The Sierra Club is actively seeking nominations of grassroots activists from the U.S. and abroad for the 1997 awards. The deadline for submissions is August 21, 1996. To nominate an activist, contact Stephen Mills at (202) 675-6691, or e-mail:

1996 Staff Awards

The Michael McCloskey Award, which honors an employee with a distinguished record of achievement in national or international conservation causes, went to Jim Blomquist, current Director of the Office of Educational Programs for the Centennial Campaign, for his nearly 20 years of service.

Jim Price, Senior Regional Conservation Director for the Southeast, received the Community Service Award in recognition of his many years of active work on social justice issues within his community of Birmingham, Alabama.

Jim McDaniel, Regional Director of Major Gifts in the Southwest for the Centennial Campaign, and Melanie Griffin, Public Lands Director in the Washington D.C. office, received the Virginia Ferguson Award for their demonstrated commitment to the Club and inspiration to the rest of the staff.

The Special Achievement Award went to the TRAIL Team, specifically, John DeCock, Dave Simon, Tony Rango, James Bullard, Steve Heathcock, Laura Vacco, Mark Maslow and Charles Hardy, in recognition of their work to benefit and streamline the work of the Club by designing and implementing a new operations system for the national Outings program.

The Club also honored Paula Carrell, state program director, and Jim Cohee, senior editor at Sierra Club Books, for their 20 years of service.

New Chapter and Group Committee

Joan Brasaemle reports on the formation of a new committee dedicated to helping revitalize chapters, groups and sections - the Chapters and Groups Committee. Brasaemle is chair of this new committee, which also includes George Hague, San Gorgonio Chapter delegate; Drusha Mayhue, Houston Group chair; Amy Potterfield, former Hawaii Chapter chair; Bonnie Sharpe, Angeles Chapter chair; Lois Snedden, newly elected Club director; jonathan stoke, Council chair; and Jan O'Connell, Western Michigan Group chair.

Material World Takes Flight

A new exhibit of 158 photographs from Sierra Club Books' "Material World" opens in June l996 at the International terminal of Chicago's O'Hare Airport and runs for a year. An opening celebration is planned the week of June 11 to tie in with the annual American Booksellers Convention.

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