Smart Growth Developers Reduce Sprawl with Innovation

By Brian Hansen

WASHINGTON, DC, September 14, 2000 (ENS) - The sometimes acrimonious relationship between environmental groups and developers took a turn for the better on Thursday, as the Sierra Club unveiled a report applauding examples of smart growth construction projects in every state of the nation.

The report, announced by Sierra Club president Robert Cox, finds that an increasing number of developers are building innovative smart growth projects to combat sprawling and unchecked growth.

"It's not often that the Sierra Club convenes a national press conference to praise developers, but that's precisely why we're gathered here today," said Cox, who was flanked at the media event by a housing developer and a professor of urban planning.


Fort Mill, South Carolina, is building neighborhoods where residents can walk to shops. (Photos courtesy Sierra Club)
"Innovative developers and forward thinking communities across the country are using smart growth techniques to build neighborhoods that are walkable, accessible to public transportation, and that strike a balance between access to jobs, shops and open space," Cox said.

Developers in other communities are using smart growth strategies and techniques to revitalize neglected neighborhoods, to create affordable housing, and to rejuvenate downtowns and main streets, he said.

The Sierra Club report highlights an example of a smart growth development project in each of the 50 states, plus the District of Columbia.

Stuart Armstrong, a housing developer who played an instrumental role in orchestrating the Simplicity development project in Charlottesville, Virginia, was on hand to highlight that Sierra Club success story.

"It's all about having a passion for partnering," Armstrong said. "That's the best way, in my opinion, to come up with a community based program and really create a successful project."

Cox was quick to praise the design of the Charlottesville housing project, which protects three of its four acres as open space. The project was also designed to be pedestrian friendly, as Armstrong and the other developers involved in its inception provided residents with a central parking area with foot access to homes, parks and open spaces.

Cox also cited the Vermillion development project in his home state of North Carolina as another example of a well planned community. The 360 acre Vermillion project, located adjacent to Huntersville, North Carolina, will include easy to use public transportation, people oriented architecture and mixed use building design.


The Vermillion Project epitomizes smart growth. It preserves open space, provides alternatives to driving and is located close to jobs and shops.
"Projects like Vermillion are being built across the country," Cox said. "In Denver, Colorado, the redevelopment of the Stapleton Airport will create a neighborhood that is close to the downtown area. And in Kentucky, a unique coalition has used smart growth ideas to rejuvenate a neglected neighborhood."

That Kentucky neighborhood, known as East Russell, was teeming with crime and other serious problems before a coalition of private developers, city officials, and others decided to do something about it, recalled John Gilderbloom, an associate professor of urban and public affairs at the University of Louisville.

"It made South Central Los Angeles look like Beverly Hills, by comparison," Gilderbloom said of East Russell prior to the smart growth redevelopment efforts. "The inner cities must come back. We must work to see that they do come back."

East Russell now sports 500 quality new homes near the downtown area that low income residents can afford, Gilderbloom said. And now that crime is down and the area is showing signs of life, a bookstore and a movie theater have recently opened, and more business is on the way, he said.

But despite all of the success stories, urban sprawl still poses a grave threat to the nation's farmlands, wild places, air, water, and everyone's quality of life, Cox warned.

"We continue to lose over one million acres of open space, farmland, and important [wildlife] habitat to poorly planned development every year," Cox said. "Despite the huge toll to lives and property, irresponsible developers continue to build in floodplains, and to destroy wetlands essential for natural flood control."


Traffic jam emits smog.
Distances from jobs, shopping and entertainment limit how far urban sprawl can spread as commuters will not spend unlimited amounts of time in their cars. But the traffic congestion that stems sprawling development is a significant contributor to air pollution.

Runoff from unchecked development is contaminating the nations rivers, lakes and streams, Cox added.

"These problems are obvious to Americans across the country," said Cox, who pointed out that scores of ballot measures designed to curb sprawl have been adopted by voters in recent years.

Cox also noted that according to a recent survey conducted by the Pew Center for Civic Journalism, sprawl tied with crime as one of the most pressing concerns for Americans at the local level.

To illustrate that point, the Sierra Club's report cites examples of a poorly designed development project in each state. For instance, the report cites the Rock Creek/Interlocken project in Colorado as an example of what it calls "classic urban sprawl."

"There are few shops, restaurants or civic buildings - and since Rock Creek is not served by public transportation, residents must drive for every chore," the report says. "This project shows that without greenbelts and open space protection, development will creep along freeway corridors, creating textbook suburban sprawl with all its problems: traffic, air pollution and loss of open space."


In the congested Santa Clarita Valley California's massive Newhall Ranch will add to suburban sprawl. If built, the project would turn 12,000 acres of pristine open space into more poorly planned development.
The Newhall Ranch project in Los Angeles, California also epitomizes irresponsible suburban sprawl, according to the Sierra Club report. The project, now on hold due to worries over water use, threatens to destroy 12,000 acres of open space, including 300 acres of floodplain.

Development projects cited in the Sierra Club report were selected according to how they scored on a 42 question survey form drafted by the staff of the organizations Challenge to Sprawl Campaign Committee, which includes experts on transportation, land use planning and smart growth.

For more information about the methodology used to compile the report, or to read it online, go to the Sierra Club's website at: