See the full report
by Kim Todd
The acres of cookie-cutter houses, strip malls and new roads gobbling up the
countryside seem to imply that development equals sprawl. But a new Sierra Club report
challenges this equation by highlighting 52 innovative examples of choices that create
vibrant communities instead of suburban blight.
The fourth in a series of Sierra Club sprawl reports, this year's offering, "Smart
Choices or Sprawling Growth," profiles 104 developments, one good and one bad for
each state and the District of Columbia. (California received four profiles, two for
northern California and two for southern California.)
While much of the public may have an indefinite idea of what sprawl is, this report
fleshes out general principles by providing concrete examples of poor planning, according
to Deron Lovaas, representative for the Sierra Club's Challenge to Sprawl Campaign.
Offering specifics about smart developments is even more important, he said. "When we
say there are alternatives to sprawl, we're not dreaming. There are actual examples
happening on the ground across the country."
What smart-growth sites have in common is that they focus growth in already built
areas, provide public-transportation options, and preserve open space and farm land.
Developments that promote sprawl drive up local taxes, consume open space and increase
traffic and air pollution by leaving residents with few options other than driving. Often
the only green is a golf course.
Combined, the bad developments paint a portrait of poor planning, short-term thinking
and environmental negligence, while the good ones add up to innovation, creativity and a
commitment to building livable, environmentally responsible communities.
Like those before it, the "Smart Choices" report generated substantial media
attention, including spots on CNN and the CBS evening news. Coverage was particularly
strong at the local level. The Las Vegas Review Journal ran a feature on the Sierra Club's
choice of Del Webb's Anthem - a development bordering a proposed wilderness area - as the
worst of what Nevada has to offer. In addition, a Kentucky newspaper profiled a Louisville
redevelopment project on its front page with the subhead "Sierra Club praises rebound
in housing." An accompanying photograph showed a 63-year-old woman who said she never
thought she'd be able to purchase a house, standing in front of her new home.
To read the full text of the sprawl report, go to the Sierra Club's Challenge to Sprawl website. For more information on the Sierra
Club's Challenge to Sprawl Campaign, contact Deron Lovaas at (202) 547-1141; firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Good, the Bad and the Poorly Zoned
Below are two excerpts from "Smart Choices or
Sprawling Growth," a Sierra Club report highlighting 52 developments that
demonstrate smart growth and planning - and 52 that don't.
East Russell, Louisville (Kentucky)
Smart Growth Restores Urban Decay
East Russell was once a solid working-class neighborhood with a good sense of
community, but in the 1960s and 1970s it began to decline. As shops closed and buildings
fell into disrepair, crime increased and the neighborhood became trapped in the spiral of
urban decay. Many thought inner-city communities like East Russell could never thrive
again. But recent efforts to revitalize the area using smart-growth planning have worked
This collaboration between the University of Louisville's Sustainable Urban
Neighborhoods program, the city, private developers and local residents used a holistic
approach that combined
redevelopment with intensive outreach. The project did more than build buildings, it
also gave residents the tools and training they needed to turn things around. Instead of a
top-down approach, the project empowered those who lived in the neighborhood to take
possession of their community.
One result of that process: Residents expressed a strong preference for creating new
housing for sale instead of rental units or public housing. So, chief among the plans was
the construction or rehabilitation of affordable houses that low-income residents could
buy. Since then, 500 quality homes have been built close to downtown, jobs have been
created and millions of dollars of investment are flowing into the neighborhood.
Now that crime is down and the area is showing signs of life, a bookstore and movie
theater have recently opened and more business is on the way. A growing neighborhood
business area, new housing and a great location close to jobs and transit have turned this
once-abandoned community into a smart-growth success story.
Newhall Ranch, Los Angeles (California)
Development Threatens 12,000 Acres
Just when we thought Los Angeles was turning things around, along comes Newhall Ranch.
The project will chew up 12,000 acres of some of the last pristine open space in L.A.
County. Located at the Ventura County border, Newhall Ranch, if built, would eventually
house almost 70,000 people.
Kern County Superior Court Judge Roger D. Randall recently put the project on hold due
to unresolved questions about the development's impacts on local water supplies, but
Newhall Ranch's impacts on roads and air should also be examined more closely.
The area currently has some of the worst traffic and highest ozone levels in Southern
California. But the environmental impact report doesn't even address the project's
consequences on air quality in adjacent Ventura County.
Equally troubling is the development's location in a floodplain along the Santa Clara
River. Newhall Ranch would destroy more than 300 acres of the floodplain, increasing the
risk of flash floods in L.A. and Ventura counties.
Local watershed groups note that the project surrounds more than 1,200 acres of the
best stream-side habitat anywhere on the river, and runoff from the project is sure to
degrade local waterways. Among the "natural" features planned for the project
are an 18-hole golf course and a 15-acre man-made lake.
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