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November 2000 Planet Main
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The Planet
Sprawl Report Surveys Development in 50 States

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;

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 wonders.

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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