Fed Up With Sprawl
New York Times -- November 11, 1998
Almost lost in last week's election results was an unmistakable mandate for elected officials to deal with an issue that affects everyone: unmanaged growth, better known as sprawl.
Given the opportunity to express their views on some 200 state and local ballot initiatives related to sprawl, voters delivered an overwhelming and bipartisan "yes" to quality-of-life measures.
New Jersey residents, for example, approved a constitutional amendment that dedicates up to $98 million annually for historical preservation and open-space conservation.
Other plans to preserve historical sites, parks, farmland and open space were approved in Alabama, Arizona, Florida, Michigan, Minnesota, Oregon and Rhode Island, as well as in localities as diverse as Douglas County, Colo., and Cape Cod, Mass.
Alaskans reaffirmed a ban on billboards, while Floridians voted to allow a property tax abatement for historical properties. Urban growth boundaries were approved in seven California communities.
It is clear from these results that Americans are increasingly fed up with traffic congestion, strip malls, visual blight and loss of open space. It is also clear that voters will pay for sensible means of dealing with them. Last week they committed an estimated $7 billion to conservation, urban revitalization and smart-growth initiatives.
The profusion of state and local initiatives underscores the importance of bringing the Federal Government into the fold. Long-overdue assessments of the extent to which Federal policies assist and subsidize the destruction of urban centers and rural landscapes are under way.
Once limited to a relatively small but determined band of environmentalists, support for smart growth policies is now widespread among governors and local officials as well as the public. In some cases, voters appear to be ahead of elected officials.
The New Jersey initiative, despite Gov. Christine Todd Whitman's backing, almost didn't make it onto the ballot because legislators were wary of it. But when residents got the opportunity, they approved it by a huge majority.
Developers, highway engineers and politicians used to assume that the public would accept the inevitability of sprawl. But last week's voting sends a new message.
Richard Moe is president of the National Trust for Historic Preservation and co-author of "Changing Places: Rebuilding Community in the Age of Sprawl."
Copyright 1998 The New York Times Company
: : last updated 15 November 1998 : 6:12 Caspar (Pacific) time : :
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