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Sprawl Reaches Front Burner

Long Drives, New Schools Wake Some Up

July 14, 2006
By JEFFREY B. COHEN, Courant Staff Writer

People don't wake up in the morning thinking about the problem of urban sprawl.

"If they do, they probably have other problems," said former Maryland Gov. Parris N. Glendening Thursday.

But parents do wake up and think about why the traffic is so bad that they can't get home for their daughter's soccer game, he said. City leaders wake up and wonder why they're building new school after new school, chasing residential patterns. Most Americans, Glendening said, are touched by the negative effects of urban sprawl and want to find a solution.

Sprawl and its alternative - what planners and policy types call "smart growth" - were the topic at a Thursday morning Key Issues forum sponsored by The Courant and moderated by Courant Place Editor Tom Condon. Glendening and former New Jersey Gov. Christine Todd Whitman - who also served as administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in the first term of President George W. Bush - spoke before a crowded house of roughly 250 people gathered at the auditorium at Christ Church Cathedral in Hartford. While in office, both governors said, they made smart growth a policy priority.

Now, the two are co-chairmen of the National Smart Growth Council.

Whitman spoke of her experience growing up on a New Jersey farm and watching how the pressure of property taxes forced local governments to cater to retail developments and neglect their downsides - the schools, the transportation infrastructure and the hospitals their staffs and customers would need.

"What was a great big boon to the treasury becomes a huge drain on services," Whitman said.

Under her leadership, Whitman said, New Jersey encouraged smart growth, including expediting plans that conform with state parameters; rewriting housing regulations to encourage mixed-use developments; and getting taxpayers to approve $1 billion to buy open space.

"It gets done at the local level, but you have to help people understand why it's important to even engage in the process," Whitman said, stressing the importance of state leadership.

Although the state would fail if it were to try to mandate broad anti-sprawl land use policies, it can stop subsidizing sprawl and the infrastructure that encourage residents to spread out, Glendening said.

Both governors stressed that equally important as committed leadership from state government was a committed coalition of associations who can keep the issue in the forefront.

"The best thing ... is providing municipalities with the tools to ask some of the questions and get some of the answers themselves," Whitman said.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
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