|forging a new kind of metropolitics|
As early as the 1950s, some urban planners warned that unplanned development would create enormous problems -- a conclusion that was extensively documented by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) in a landmark 1974 report, The Costs of Sprawl, and by dozens of additional studies over the past twenty-five years. The impotence of these warnings suggests a sobering reality: knowledge about the dynamics of sprawl is simply not enough to spur remedial government action. An effective "transmission belt" is needed to translate knowledge into action, and that can be supplied only through a new kind of citizen-led political action.
It is indispensable that new forms of "bottom-up" activism be nurtured which, over time, can alter the political equations for reform and inspire the political culture with a new vision. There must be new initiatives to educate and organize the public; new pressures brought to bear on politicians and government officials to take serious anti-sprawl action; and the development of a new activist infrastructure that can win tangible political victories that will generate a self-sustaining momentum.
Fortunately, the moment is propitious for this vision. After years of lurking on the political margins, various smart growth factions are starting to discover the wisdom of Ben Franklin's words, "We must indeed all hang together, or, most assuredly, we shall all hang separately." United in opposition to sprawl and urban disinvestment, environmentalists, good government reformers, fiscal conservatives and urban minorities now have a chance of defeating the familiar pro-sprawl lobbies, the auto, highway construction and real estate industries. Ever more highways, strip malls and congestion are not inevitable.
A confluence of political interests offers an historic opportunity, writes Douglas Kelbaugh in Common Place: "Now that different classes have more problems in common [crime, traffic, job development, etc.], there is an opportunity to build broader coalitions and more community solidarity. There is more of a feeling that everyone is in this dilemma together. Although there is still an unfinished agenda for social justice, the clicking environmental clock and population time bomb have brought a new urgency to working together."
Some hard numbers give this vision real credibility. In Chicago, 72 percent of the region's population live in the city, the inner-ring, older suburbs and the satellite suburbs: a latent smart-growth majority just waiting to seize power. In the Twin Cities, 60 percent of the population lives in these areas, a fact that Myron Orfield exploited to create a new majority coalition that challenged the favored-quarter suburbs.
In other metro areas, a majority of voters live in communities that are disadvantaged by sprawl; the problem is, these voters are so disparate politically that they have not recognized their common interests or the value of organizing new sorts of coalitions. It is true that many barriers of race, class and political style will have to be overcome in forging new alliances. But as Orfield has shown in the Twin Cities, this challenge can be met.