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In This Section
  September/October 1997 Features:
Hold Nothing Back
Heat Wave
Pockets of Paradise
Field Guide
Ways & Means
Good Going
Way to Go
Hearth & Home
Lay of the Land
Home Front
Natural Resources
Last Words

Sierra Magazine


While I agree with many of the solutions for alleviating urban sprawl in "Twelve Gates to the City" (May/June), many will not truly work unless we ameliorate racial tension. Does it not strike anyone as odd that suburbs are overwhelmingly white, whereas inner cities are overwhelmingly black? Or that the degree of white/black segregation in most U.S. cities has remained alarmingly high despite desegregation and subsequent open-housing laws? Indeed, the urban-sprawl phenomenon has such a strong racial component that sociological literature has deemed it "white flight."
Edward Morris
Austin, Texas

I found the articles on livable cities informative, but noted the absence of any discussion of overall population size. New York and Los Angeles will never be among the more livable U.S. cities; they are simply too big. People don't like to be crowded, nor do they enjoy spending an hour or more getting to work each day. This sets limits. I would suggest that you add one thing to your dozen ways to build livable urban areas: implement a national policy that ends U.S. population growth.
Philip Cafaro
Brookline, Massachusetts

The examples of new and sensible land development mentioned in "Twelve Gates to the City" are likely to remain isolated exceptions unless we can also alter national tax and spending policies that favor consumption over investment, automobiles over public transit, and mobility over local cohesion. Furthermore, it is a nationwide economic system that promotes Kmarts at the expense of mom-and-pops, making sprawling cul-de-sac housing tracts more profitable for developers than clustered self-sufficient neighborhoods connected by mass transit and offering few incentives for existing communities to responsibly control their own gradual outward expansion. By all means tell us about local exceptions, but be at least as concerned with the fundamental national policies behind the continued spread of auto-dependent urban sprawl across America.
Drew Keeling
Berkeley, California  

Your "Livable Cities" issue was hopelessly naive about the enormously powerful economic and political forces creating sprawl. The literature of the design professions has been filled with similar articles for years. Yet the "livable cities" problem keeps growing. The way for the Sierra Club to be effective in this field is to apply its unique strength--a very different approach to change from that of the design profession. Faced with a challenge, we analyze the underlying science, the industries, the laws, the power, and the complex human decisions that create the problem--and find real alternatives. Then we identify and mobilize for the battles that will truly make a difference.
Robert L. Hart
New York, New York

Sierra Club Sprawl Campaign Chair Tim Frank replies: "Twelve Gates to the City" was a primer on urban design. The Club's "Sprawl Costs Us All" campaign, on the other hand, is working to build broader awareness of sprawl's underlying causes and of its consequences-social, environmental, and economic. We are building an integrated campaign that addresses local, state, and federal policies.


Accolades to Alan Thein Durning for his cogent "Pedestrian Paradise" (May/June). Owing to impaired eyesight, I have had to eschew private transportation for years--hence discovering the genuine joy derived from long-distance perambulations. I'm not like the tailless fox in the fable, wishing all foxes were without tails for my own solace. With the knowledge that every car on the road belches its own weight annually in carbon, the peripatetic alternative has manifest appeal.
William Dauenhauer
Wickliffe, Ohio


I disagree with Robert Fullerton that organic food is out of reach for the average middle-class family ("Letters," May/June). Choosing a diet lower on the food chain (for example, meat, fish, or poultry only twice a week), will reduce grocery bills, as meats are costly. This would allow money for the more expensive organic fruits, vegetables, and grains. If one is not inclined to change eating habits, selecting these higher-quality food items costs at most $25 a week extra for a family of four. This seems like a small price to pay for a healthier body and planet.
Laura E. Roll
Ashland, Oregon

After reading Robert Fullerton's letter, I feel that I have to respond. It is very disturbing when people decide that nothing will change, especially regarding the availability of organic foods. My question for the people who feel helpless in these situations is: what have you done to make things change? How many times have you gone to your supermarket manager and asked for more healthful and organic foods? Have you changed your diet in such a way as to minimize purchases of foods made by agribusiness conglomerates? Have you written your legislators about your concerns for the environment and how chemicals affect the food supply? Have you contacted organic-food manufacturers to find out about mail order, where local retailers are, or how to get local stores set up as retailers? Everyone has the power to help change the world for the better. We just have to realize that we can.
Todd Mizenko
Yardville, New Jersey


Point Reyes National Seashore covers 100 square miles, not the larger figure we mentioned in our May/June issue. Stuart Cowan is a co-author of Ecological Design, along with Sim Van der Ryn.

Sierra welcomes letters from readers in response to recently published articles. Letters may be edited for length and clarity. Write to us at 85 Second St., Second Floor, San Francisco, CA 94105-3441; fax (415) 977-5794; e-mail:

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