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Stop Sprawl
Sprawl Campaign Overview

Strip commercial developments along highways and large lot residential subdivisions spread out over farmland and forested areas. This is the classic picture of sprawl, and it's not pretty.

Tragically, though, it is an increasingly familiar and disturbing one. Sprawl is more than just an eyesore across our countryside. Sprawl contributes to increasing costs for public services, the declining health of central cities, environmental degradation and loss of farmland, isolation of people who cannot drive, and a degraded quality of life. Suburban sprawl costs us all.

Sierra Club Chairman Michael McCloskey cites the inability to deal with sprawl as "the biggest single policy failure of the environmental movement" reflecting the difficulty of addressing a problem that takes place lot by lot and county by county all across the country. With so many land use decisions made at the local level, sprawl is a problem as diffuse as the tract housing developments which help to define it.

The Sierra Club is fighting sprawl today by building on the strength of our more than 450 local grassroots groups so they are better equipped to address sprawl where so many of the decisions happen. Our Challenge to Sprawl Campaign promotes easily replicated techniques used by our local groups. Examples include:

  • "Sprawl Costs Us All" reports on the local economic consequences of sprawl;
  • "Tours de Sprawl" which take elected officials, the media, and volunteers on field trips to illustrate the best and worst types of development;
  • "Environmental Report Cards" which increase the ability of local groups to hold local officials accountable by grading their land use decisions which impact the environment;
  • "Growth Boundaries and Greenbelts" as visible place-based approaches to curbing sprawl

To date, reports have been published in Maryland, Virginia, Wisconsin, and a 10 state region of the Midwest. Tours have been conducted around the country at sites including: Arizona; Washington D.C.; Madison, Wisconsin; Richmond, Virginia; and Chicago, Illinois. Over 40 of our groups have requested information on how to craft environmental report cards: and we are working on a growth boundary ballot initiative in Arizona.

Current campaigns with nationally supported staff are located in Arizona, Georgia, Rhode Island, Virginia, and the Washington D.C. metro area. In 1997, the Club placed ten organizers in the field to address sprawl. Many more local campaigns are staffed with part-time assistants and funded locally. Nationwide, a large network of Sierra volunteers participated in the debate surrounding Congressional highway funding in 1997 and 1998.

  • Nationally generated materials and activities include:
  • Activist toolkit sent to over 500 contacts
  • Special sprawl editions of "The Planet" an activist publication with
    circulation of 30,000
  • Special edition of Sierra Magazine focusing on the plight of our cities, 5/97, circ. 1,300,000
  • "Sprawl Costs Us All" lapel stickers - over 35,000 distributed to volunteers for use in public
  • National reports on Sprawl for 1998 and 1999
  • National Steering Committee composed of staff and volunteers; Grassroots Training Academy - a roving 2-day long course delivered at least 12 times per year with a theme of how to address the proposal of a "Sprawl Mart" in your local town.
  • Sprawl List-Serve - a lively email discussion list with over 200 participants from a variety of backgrounds.

The Challenge to Sprawl Campaign has a pilot urban component. Our D.C. Chapter initiated a campaign in 1997 entitled "Restore the Core" aimed at retention of federal jobs that have been moving from D.C. to the suburbs and at redevelopment of brownfields. State level Chapters have been active in numerous brownfields initiatives across the country, as well.

The Sierra Club is a founding member of numerous regional alliances to address sprawl including the 1000 Friends of Maryland and the Coalition for Smarter Growth in the Washington D.C. metro area. Our emphasis on training and grassroots organizing frequently produces talented volunteers who are leaders in building broad alliances with preservation and urban advocates, redevelopment businesses and architects, planners, clergy and students.

contacts: Challenge to Sprawl Campaign Co-Chairs

Tim Frank, Co-Chair, 510-526-6586
Melody Flowers, National Staff, 202-675-7915
Challenge to Sprawl Campaign
408 C Street NE
Washington DC 20002


Sierra Club Sprawl Resource List:

Activist Tool Kit
A 40-page nuts and bolts guide to running a local Challenge to Sprawl Campaign with fact sheets on writing sprawl reports, running a "Tour de Sprawl," growth boundaries, community and environmental report cards.

Sprawl reports

  • National Sprawl Report (August 1998, September 1999)
  • Maryland Sprawl Costs Us All Report (January 1997)
  • Midwest Sprawl Costs Us All Report (August 1997)
  • Virginia Sprawl Costs Us All Report (September 1997)
  • Washington D.C. Report (due October 1998)
  • Wisconsin Sprawl Costs Us All Report (1996)

Sprawl website

Suburban Sprawl and Development Email Discussion List
This list serve is an appropriate place to pose questions regarding strategy or policy, to post notices of upcoming activities, to share our own news and to post relevant articles from major newspapers. Participants are asked to post no more than one message per day to keep the volume manageable. The list is open to the public and has approximately 260 subscribers.

List Subscription Instructions


-- prepared July 1998, updated November 1999 --



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