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July/August 2000 Planet Main
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From the Editor

Take Me Out to the 'Smart-Growth' Ballgame

by John Byrne Barry

Several weeks ago, Jenny Coyle, The Planet's senior editor, and I left work in the middle of the day to watch a San Francisco Giants baseball game. Free tickets at the last minute. A sunny windless afternoon. The brand new Pacific Bell Park right on San Francisco Bay. We couldn't pass it up.

I left in the middle of a meeting. "I've got an emergency baseball game to attend," I said.

While sitting in the ballpark, I joked that we were really working, that this was a "smart growth" field trip. After all, one of the Sierra Club's priority campaigns is curbing sprawl, and here was this new ballpark within walking distance of downtown (and privately financed, to boot).

There was a whiff of truth to that statement. All over the country, Club activists are pushing smart-growth solutions to sprawl, a key tenet of which is concentrating development in existing communities (infill development) and near mass transit. (See "Teeming Texas Town Steers Growth.") Twenty years ago, new stadiums and ballparks were going up in the boonies. Now, in Baltimore, Cleveland, Detroit, Toronto, Denver and San Francisco, the parks are downtown.

Meanwhile, six blocks north of the park at the downtown headquarters of the Sierra Club, we are experiencing less pleasant consequences of infill development: pile driving and demolition.

In the lot just 20 feet north of us, a giant hammer pounds metal girders 60 feet into the ground. Every few seconds comes another whomp. It's a scene right out of an advertisement for headache medication. The pencils on my desk shake. Many of us are using earplugs.

The buildings in the lot to the east of us have just been cordoned off with yellow tape and chain-link fences - demolition is just beginning. The tallest skyscraper in San Francisco in two decades will rise from that site. And just last year, across the street to the south, a 25-story building opened for business after several noisy years of construction.

As more than one staffer has put it, "Sure, we're for infill development. But does it have to be next door?"

When the pile driving gets to me, maybe I can take another field trip to the baseball park. It's only a 20-minute walk.

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