prevention of superstore sprawl and small town decline
The following material is excerpted with written permission from How Smart Growth Can Stop Sprawl, a briefing guide for funders by David Bollier. (Washington, D.C.:Essential Books), 1998.

    When sprawl begins to affect small towns far from major metropolitan centers, different smart growth strategies are often needed. Small rural towns may be at an earlier stage of unplanned development, and thus may not appreciate how new growth will alter the community in unintended ways. Thoughtful intervention now could critically affect the future character and economic well-being of the town and surrounding area. 

     The political equation for confronting sprawl is often quite different in small towns than in the metro areas described by Minnesota State Legislator, Myron Orfield or David Rusk. Old-time residents in small towns may want to reap the rewards of their real estate investments, and in any case, distrust government agencies and outsiders who presume to say what's best for them. Yet newcomers who have fled sprawl-blighted communities can be quite vocal about wanting to preserve the small-town character and quality of life of their adopted community. 

     Western states are especially vulnerable to the perils of unplanned development. Six of the fifteen fastest-growing metropolitan areas in the country are in western states, and dozens of small towns are becoming meccas for newcomers, especially people fleeing Los Angeles and southern California for smaller, more stable communities. 

     These urban refugees -- sometimes known as "equity exiles" --  bid up real estate prices and spur powerful growth spurts that replicate the sprawl they fled. 

     Towns such as Traverse City, Michigan, Durango, Colorado; and Prescott, Arizona, are towns that are grappling with huge influxes of newcomers. 

     A sociological crisis often ensues as affluent newcomers with cosmopolitan tastes and more money descend upon more modest, culturally distinct small towns. When the price of land and housing soars, old-timers may be forced out and their children may not be able to afford to stay. This happened in Bozeman, Montana, where the price for an acre of land rose from $600 in 1981 to $10,000 in 1994. This problem is particularly acute in small towns that have become popular tourist destinations, as monied urbanites seeking vacation homes bid up prices. 

     One of the best critiques of how sprawl endangers small towns is Balancing Nature and Commerce in Gateway Communities, by Jim Howe, Ed McMahon and Luther Propst.  The book, sponsored by the Conservation Fund (Arlington, Virginia) and the Sonoran Institute (Tucson, Arizona) describes the common plight of so-called  "gateway communities" -- towns that are adjacent to national and state parks, wildlife refuges, forests, historic sites, wilderness areas and other public lands. On the one hand, these towns have had few opportunities to prosper, and so welcome whatever economic development prospects they have, particularly tourism. On the other hand, commercial activity itself -- if not properly planned --  can easily degrade the town's chief asset, its beauty and quality of life. 

     Through a series of case studies, the authors explore how more than a dozen gateway communities have successfully managed growth, from Jackson Hole, Wyoming, to Estes Park, Colorado, to Calvert County, Maryland. Among the secrets of successful communities: developing a widely shared vision; creating an inventory of local resources; meeting the needs of both landowners and communities; teaming up with public land managers; and recognizing the role of nongovernmental organizations. 

     Another valuable critique of the effects of development on small towns is Paradise Paved: The Challenge of Growth in the New West, by Raye C. Ringholz.  The book describes the special challenges of smart growth in the West, whose very identity as a haven of open space, individualism and traditional values is being challenged by the realities of sprawl. 

     The Aspen Institute's Rural Economic Policy Program has also been examining the peculiar dilemmas facing small rural towns. Its 1995 report,  Rural Communities in the Path of Development: Stories of Growth, Conflict and Cooperation,  distills a great deal of the wisdom that small town mayors and developments experts have acquired in combating sprawl. As distinctive, stable small towns, many communities have the luxury of deliberately choosing what kind of community they want to become.  "We can't ignore the fact that this economy shapes people, and either arms them or disarms them in terms of being able to be part of the community,"  said Maria Varela of Ganados del Valle, Los Ojos, New Mexico.  It's our desire to create a model of doing business in a way that we generate community, not just economic wealth. 

     The Aspen Institute outlines three strategies for dealing with rapid economic growth in small rural towns:
    * Managing land use and resources to protect, for example, open space, environmental resources, historical structures and community character;
    * Community-based economic development to restructure and diversify the local economy so that long-term and low- and moderate-income residents benefit from growth; and
    * Community or civic capacity building to help communities confront change through goal-setting, education, leadership development, organizing, civic participation, conflict resolution and consensus-building. 

     The National Trust for Historic Preservation has also been active in helping small towns balance growth with community values. Through its National Main Street Center, the National Trust has provided technical expertise to help downtowns revitalize themselves in ways that build upon a town's historic identity. Another excellent resource is the Nature Conservancy's Center for Compatible Economic Development in Leesburg, Virginia. 

Superstore Sprawl
     The colonization of rural America by superstores such as Wal-Mart is another issue that calls for a response from small towns, whose downtown business districts are often decimated. The National Trust has two publications that address these issues: How Superstore Sprawl Can Harm Communities: And What Citizens Can Do About It, and Better Models for Superstores: Alternatives to Big-Box Sprawl. The first report, published in 1994, describes the actual economic, fiscal, environmental and social impacts of superstores, before outlining effective strategies for combating  mall sprawl.  The report also provides a number of case studies of small towns that have devised better models for dealing with the multinational retailers. The second Trust report, published in 1997, describes how such stores as Wal-Mart and Toys-R-Us have been integrated into existing downtowns rather than located on a town's fringe, where it typically contributes to sprawl and downtown decline. 

     Another player in combating superstores is Al Norman, who led a successful campaign to prevent Wal-Mart from locating on the fringe of Greenfield, Massachusetts. Norman now operates a consulting business, Sprawl-Busters, which advises community groups how to combat Wal-Marts that are not wanted. 

Wal-Mart Watch is designed for community members to share stories and information of Wal-Mart's impact on local business, employees and consumers.  There are several areas of this website that solict personal stories and allow for people to post info for others to read. 

Wal-Martyrs is designed for Wal-Mart employees, or former employees, to share their experiences and work together to improve wages, benefits and working conditions for all Wal-Mart employees.  There are online bulletin boards, sections to post your story, surveys to compare Wal-Mart wages to those of union retail employers, and other resources on your rights in the workplace.

Sprawl-Busters advises community groups on how to combat Wal-Marts that are not wanted. 

Aspen Institute's Rural Economic Policy Program

National Main Street Center of the National Trusts for Historic Preservation 

Nature Conservancy's Center for Compatible Economic Development , Contact:  7 East market Street, Suite 210, Leesburg, VA 20176, Telephone: (703) 779-1728. 

Beaumont, Constance, How Superstore Sprawl Can Harm Communities: And What Citizens Can Do About It (Washington, D.C.: National Trust for Historic Preservation, 1997). 

Beaumont, Constance, Better Models for Superstores: Alternatives to Big-Box Sprawl (Washington, D.C.:  National Trust for Historic Preservation, 1997). 

Howe, Jim, Ed McMahon, and Luther Propst, Balancing Nature and Commerce in Gateway Communities (Washington, DC:, Island Press, 1997). 

Humstone, Elizabeth, and Thomas Muller, What Happened to Downtown When Superstores Located on the Outskirts of Town: A Report on three Iowa Communities with a Statistical Analysis of Seven Iowa Counties (Washington, D.C.: National Trust for Historic Preservation, 1997).

Ketcham, Brian T., "The Full Cost of Big Box Stores," Metro Planner, Metropolitan Chapter of the American Planning Association, March 1995, Volume 7, Number 6. (Brian Ketcham Engineering, P.C., 175 Pacific Street, Brooklyn, N.Y. 11201).

Marx, Julie and Priscilla Salant, Rural Communities in the Path of Development: Stories of Growth, Conflict and Cooperation (Washington, DC: The Aspen Institute Rural Economic Policy Program, 1996). 

Ringholz, Raye C., Paradise Paved: The Challenge of Growth in the New West (Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 1996).

Shils, Edward B., Ph.D., The Shils Report: Measuring the Economic and Sociological Impact of the Mega-Retail Discount Chains on Small Enterprise in Urban, Suburban and Rural Communities, The Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania, Feb. 7, 1997. (123 S. Broad Street, Suite 2030, Phila., PA, 19109-1020)

Stone, Kenneth, "Competing with the Discount Mass Merchandisers," Department of Economics, Iowa State University, 1995.

Weinstein, Alan C., "How to Cope With - Or Without - 'Big-Box' Retailers," Zoning and Planning Law Report, Vol. 17, No. 7 (New York: Clark Boardman Callaghan), July-August 1994.