newsletter archive
Sprawl Watch 
Volume 3, Number 3 - January 31, 2001

Due to high interest, Sprawl Watch will begin publishing its bi-monthly newsletter on a weekly basis. 

= = = State and Local News = = = 
While a decade ago public officials were agonizing over how to get people onto their trains, now that BART ridership has dramatically risen (15.6% in the past year!), officials are grappling with over-crowded trains and years of deferred maintenance.  The San Francisco Chronicle recently published a series on the challenges BART faces as its ridership continues its ascension. 

A new bill introduced in the Colorado State Senate will require motorists to maintain three feet of clearance as they pass bicycles and yield right of way if cyclists turn in front of them. 

Less than two months after the deadline to apply for funding under Gov. Roy Barnes' new green-space initiative, 13 of 40 eligible counties have been cleared to receive land-preservation grants. 

Mayor Daley has released a plan for improving transportation in downtown Chicago that includes dedicated bus lines and increased penalties for double-parking. 

The Detroit News completed a two-part special on the challenges of brownfield redevelopment in Detroit and how other mid-western cities have succeeded.  

According to a report by the State Legislative Auditor's office, Minnesota has the third lowest vacancy rate for rental housing in the country, hovering at around 1.5%.  This extremely low vacancy rate has led to an acute shortage of affordable housing in the state. 

New Jersey 
In her final state budget address before becoming EPA Administrator in the Bush administration, Governor Whitman approved a rule that will require developers, who build in areas without adequate public sewer systems, to undergo a rigorous permitting process. 

Many view Ohio's brownfields program as a model for other states to emulate.  It has recently come under attack by some environmental organizations and developers as burdensome and not sufficiently protective of public health. 

Governor Dean is hoping to avoid a lawsuit challenging construction of a new highway in Chittenden County by meeting with all the stakeholders to work out a compromise. 

Developers and slow-growth advocates have announced a cease-fire over controlling growth in Virginia.  In lieu of battling it out in Richmond, they have agreed to conduct a year-long study on how best to manage growth in fast-growing communities. 

Washington D.C. Region 
Montgomery County officials announced a $6.4 million farmland preservation program to protect 2200 acres of farmland.  Most of the easements are being purchased through Maryland's Rural Legacy program, a four-year old state effort that provides funding to local jurisdictions to protect large contiguous tracts of rural land. 

= = = New Releases = = = 
Transit Ridership at Record High 
In the year 2000, more Americans decided to leave the driving to someone else. Last year, usage of U.S. public transportation systems grew by an estimated 320 million rides, to a total of 9.4 billion trips, according to preliminary estimates released today by the American Public Transportation Association (APTA). This record ridership represents the highest level of use in public transportation in more than forty years, according to APTA. 

New EPA Report on Smart Growth  
In "Our Built and Natural Environments," the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) summarizes technical research on the relationship between the built and natural environments, as well as current understanding of the role of development patterns, urban design, and transportation in improving environmental quality. "Our Built and Natural Environments" is designed as a technical reference for analysts in state and local governments, academics, and people studying the implications of development on the natural environment. 

Mayors Call for National Rail Policy  
At their recent conference, the U.S. Conference of Mayors called for a national rail policy and urged President Bush and the Congress to make passenger rail service a top priority and a solution to the growing crisis of traffic and air congestion.  U.S. Conference of Mayors also released a nationwide poll that showed strong public backing for passenger rail investment, with a vast majority of respondents (82%) supporting funding for a rail service network as an option to driving their cars. 

= = = National News = = = 
New President at Rails-To-Trails Conservancy 
Keith Laughlin, executive director of the White House Task Force on Livable 
Communities, will become president in February of Rails-to-Trails Conservancy (RTC), the nationís largest trails organization.  He succeeds David Burwell, who co-founded RTC in 1986 with environmentalist Peter Harnik, and has served as its president for 15 years.  To learn more about Rails-to-Trails, visit 

Sprawl Watch 
Volume 3, Number 2 - January 17, 2001

= = =State and Local News= = = 
After years of speculation, a light rail link between BART and Oakland International Airport is viewed as a real possibility.  Not all transportation advocates believe, however, that this would be the best use of the region's transportation dollars. 

Although the job growth rate is shrinking in the Bay Area, the transportation bottlenecks and the income gap between the richest and poorest workers continues to increase, according to a study released by the Silicon Valley Network. 

In the aftermath of the bitter battle over Amendment 24, a coalition of businesses, homebuilders, environmentalists, and local governments are working on a compromise growth management plan with the Colorado Forum. 

District of Columbia Region  
In an effort to increase the supply of affordable housing in Montgomery County, the County Executive is proposing to double the amount of affordable housing units built each year using a combination of financial incentives and money from the county's general fund. 

Branding a commercial airport ``inappropriate'' near two national parks, the U.S. Air Force reversed an earlier ruling and rejected Miami-Dade County's proposal to convert hurricane-ravaged Homestead Air Force Base into a bustling hub with more than 600 flights a day.  The fight against the airport has become analogous to many other land-use battles nationwide around the expansion of regional airports. 

Georgia Governor Roy Barnes abruptly cut off negotiations with environmental and equity groups over the air-quality impacts of Atlanta's long-delayed transportation plan. Most transportation projects in the Atlanta region have been delayed over the past two years due to the region's non-conformity with the Clean Air Act. 

Gov. Parris Glendening wants to expand Maryland's efforts to purchase open space throughout the state with $145 million during the next five years.  In addition to the open space proposals, the Governor promised $45 million each for neighborhood revitalization and recreational facilities over the next three years. 

The American Planning Association has released a list of 29 recommendations for changes to Montana's land-use and planning laws.  Included in these changes are a tightening of Montana's subdivision rules and the promotion of affordable housing. 

New Jersey 
In Governor Whitman's last State of the State address before taking over EPA for President-elect Bush, she pledged $25 million for state parks and historic sites.  The money would be concentrated on 10 parks, forests and historic sites. 

In the last decade, Ohio has spent over $100 million to restore its county courthouses.  Some see Ohio as the bellwether for a national trend to restore civic architecture. 

Seeking a regional solution to their transportation challenges, planners in southwestern Pennsylvania met at an inaugural conference titled "Transit Visions. Imagine the Possibilities.." organized by the Southwestern Pennsylvania Commission planning agency for the nine-county region. 

The Piedmont Environmental Council took title last week to most of the 1400-acre Ovoka Farm part of which borders the Appalachian Trail and Virginia's Sky Meadows State Park.  This picturesque piece of farmland located in Fauquier County had been one of Scenic America's Last Chance Landscapes. 

= = = New Releases = = = 
Does Affordable Housing Lessen Property Values?  
The Family Housing Fund, a nonprofit advocacy group based in Minneapolis, has published a report finding that affordable housing does not have a negative impact on the property values of surrounding neighborhoods. 

Property Tax Reform in Minnesota 
1000 Friends of Minnesota released "Taxing Our Stengths:  How Minnesota's Property Tax System Weakens Our Communities," which describes how Minnesota's property tax system inhibits strategies to promote livable communities.  Though specific to Minnesota, the report is useful to all seeking property tax reform in their respective states. 

High-Tech Regions 
Contrary to common perceptions, not all high-tech cities are alike. In most well-known high tech regions, high tech employment is concentrated in only a few industry segments, according to a new survey released today by the Brookings Institution Center on Urban and Metropolitan Policy. The survey analyzed tech-related employment concentration, patent activity, and venture capital flows in 14 U.S. metropolitan areas. 

Smart Growth and the Clean Air Act  
The federal Clean Air Act has been both criticized as a cause of sprawl and praised as a useful tool to curb it. This 56-page publication, released by the Northeast-Midwest Institute, attempts to reconcile the contrasting views of the law by examining its application in several major metropolitan areas. The results suggest that the act can complement efforts to promote growth in areas with existing infrastructure. 

Ten Most Endangered Stations  
The Great American Station Foundation released its annual "Ten Most Endangered Stations" report.  The report seeks to bring national attention to rail stations around the country that are at risk of destruction or serious damage due to neglect or inattention.  Visit to see the list and view the stations. 

Florida Growth Commission Releases Report  
The Growth Management Study Commission, appointed by Governor Jeb Bush to determine the effectiveness of Florida's growth management system, released its draft report of recommendations and policy proposals.  Significantly, the draft report includes, among others, proposals to make sprawl development "pay for itself" by correlating impact fees with proximity to existing infrastructure.  To read the draft, visit  (The Chairman of the Commission is Mel Martinez, President-elect George Bush's nominee for HUD Secretary.)  

Highway Construction and Sprawl  
An aggressive rate of highway construction has been a primary cause of sprawl in Maryland, according to a new report released today by the Maryland Public Interest Research Group (MaryPIRG). The study, "Paving the Way," gives concrete evidence using detailed data from the State of Maryland documenting the effect of highways on property development.  To view the report, click on 

= = = National News = = = 
National Resources Inventory 
The National Resources Inventory (NRI) is a statistically based sample of land use and natural resource conditions and trends on U.S. nonfederal lands.  This site contains results from the 1997 National Resources Inventory (revised December 2000). The NRI has been reissued because in March 2000 an error was discovered in the results originally issued in December 1999. 

Ten Most Underrated Cities in America  
The current issue of the Utne Reader focuses on the changing American city; both the promising developments and the not-so-promising.  Especially interesting is an article by Peter Katz titled the "Ten Most Underrated Cities In America" that publicizes ten great American cities that were, only recently, dismissed by many as bad news.  To read this article and check out the whole issue, visit 

Sprawl Watch 
Volume 3, Number 1 - January, 2001

= = = State and Local News = = = 
After decades of severe disinvestment the revitalization of West Oakland has begun.  No doubt buoyed by a housing affordability crisis in San Francisco and a BART station that gets you to downtown San Francisco in 12 minutes, the neighborhood is changing to both the delight and consternation of many in the neighborhood. 

A year after one federal agency found fault with it, another U.S. agency is challenging the accuracy and quality of the $1 million Hartman-Hammond bridge study, which the Grand Traverse County Road Commission and Michigan Department of Transportation have submitted for final federal approval.  Smart growth advocates believe the new bridge and some related road widening projects will induce sprawl, and they are suggesting a more modest project. 

Many places throughout America probably should be on the National Register of Historical Places but are not because many people are unaware of the nomination process.  In Nebraska, preservationists fear historical sites may be lost due to this inaction. 

As many new suburban communities seek strategies to reinvent their image after years of unplanned growth, some are trying to, at least, gain some control over the prevalence of large, unattractive, business signs that dot the landscape.  Critics of this approach refer to it as mere "window dressing," that does nothing to prevent the root causes of sprawl. 

In an effort to return passenger train service to Wyoming and southern Montana, the Montana/Wyoming Passenger Rail Association has begun a lobbying campaign to regain the lost Denver-Seattle Amtrak route. 

= = = New Releases = = = 
Smart Growth and Climate Change 
What is the relationship between "smart growth" and climate change?  A new report by the Conservation Law Foundation documents a number of studies that consider the question of how to correlate VMTs and vehicle trips with greenhouse gas emissions. They conclude that discouraging low density, "sprawl" development and fostering concentrated development can significantly reduce both VMTs and vehicle trips, and is therefore an important component of a greenhouse gas reduction strategy. 

Conservative Principles for Growth Management 
The Competitive Enterprise Institute, along with over one hundred other co-signers, announced ten principles for "freedom and livability" in America's cities and suburbs.  The Lone Mountain Compact spells out "free market" principles for decision makers to follow when evaluating growth-related issues. 

Economic Benefits of Open Space 
The East Bay Regional Park District commissioned Economic & Planning Systems (EPS)to conduct a study of the economic benefits the District confers on the East Bay region.  The study considers not only the benefits the District now receives from the park district, but also focuses on enhancing the current acreage.  Although specific to the East Bay, it is useful for all who seek to justify park and open space purchases on economic grounds. 

Vacant Land in Cities 
More and more city leaders recognize that they can reuse vacant land and abandoned structures to promote economic growth. But little is known about the amount of vacant land or number of abandoned structures in U.S. cities.  This survey is designed to fill that information gap. It examines cities with varying densities and population growth patterns, and uses new data to estimate the amount of vacant land and abandoned structures in U.S.  

Heritage Tourism 
The National Trust for Historical Preservation released a survey documenting that more than half of U.S. states have established statewide heritage or cultural tourism programs, compared to virtually none a decade ago.  Twenty of those programs are less than five years old.  By definition, heritage tourism requires communities to preserve and enhance its historical resources. 

= = = National News = = = 
The Science of Smart Growth 
The December 2000 Scientific American published an article from Smart Growth America Executive Director Don Chen titled "The Science of Smart Growth," which reviews many of the successful smart growth projects already in existence.  The issue can be ordered through the Scientific American website, To learn more about Smart Growth America, visit 

The Secret Life of AAA 
While known largely for it roadside assistance program, AAA has always been tinged with a political agenda.  That agenda has typically aligned itself with the automobile industry to the detriment of transportation reform advocates. 

Smart Technology and Transportation Policy 
In response to increasing congestion and decreasing safety, the U.S. has invested billions in smart transportation technologies. This essay from the Winter 2001 Brookings Review examines the public and private sectors' role in this revolution and its impact on transportation policy. 

An essay in the new Conservation Law Foundation Journal highlights a promising trend in American Cities--"Daylighting".  Daylighting consists of removing asphalt and concrete and rediscovering our paved over waterfronts.