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From Ilene Pevec: an interesting article on smart growth

  • Subject: [cg] From Ilene Pevec: an interesting article on smart growth
  • From: "Anna Wasescha" ariel@tc.umn.edu
  • Date: Tue, 22 Apr 2003 19:27:55 -0500
  • Importance: Normal

This is a forward from Ilene Pevec in Vancouver:


What Works, What Doesn't in Smart Growth Policy
Lessons for Michigan from other states

By Arlin Wasserman
Great Lakes Bulletin News Service

Now that the demand by a broad coalition of conservation, business,
civic, and elected leaders has persuaded Governor Jennifer Granholm to
establish a Smart Growth council, it's crucial that coalition members
use the best strategies available for making sure their efforts result
in permanent, meaningful land use changes. As the governor's bipartisan
Michigan Land Use Leadership Council gets set for their second meeting
tomorrow, reform proponents have a priceless opportunity to learn from
the successes and failures of colleagues in other states.

Research by the Michigan Land Use Institute and the Sierra Club/Mackinac
Chapter will certainly help. In a joint assessment, the organizations
determined both the blunders and the bold moves that have either sunk or
saved citizen-based Smart Growth efforts elsewhere. The Institute looked
closely at what happened in three large states - Colorado, Pennsylvania
and Florida - while the Sierra Club informally surveyed many
organizations across the country.

Here are three big lessons from the Institute's in-depth research:

Lesson #1: Big Money Talks
Large amounts of money can trump years of effective community organizing
unless top state officials publicly and actively back Smart Growth
initiatives. That's the take-home conclusion from the recent Smart
Growth debacle in Colorado, which, like Michigan, is plagued with
Olympian levels of sprawl.

In 1998, Colorado's environmental community launched a campaign for
Amendment 24, which required a state analysis of all new development.
The campaign's simple message: Sprawl is bad and this will help stop it.

At first, victory seemed assured; initial polls indicated 80 percent of
Colorado's citizens supported Amendment 24, and its proponents had
collected $1 million in campaign funds. But the homebuilders' lobby had
collected $6 million. They staged a sophisticated counter-campaign
painting the amendment as extremist, unworkable, and detrimental to
economic growth. The homebuilders also drafted a host of interests, from
building trade union leaders to retired state political leaders, to
defeat the proposal. And because reformers had not established a
successful working relationship with popular Republican Governor Bill
Owens, he came down against the amendment. Mr. Owens called on voters to
reject it and instead urged them to allow him to control sprawl through
what he claimed would be more effective, simpler measures.

With the governor offering this vague alternative and the amendment's
opponents boasting a huge campaign war chest, the proposal lost in a
Rocky Mountain landslide. Now Colorado's environmentalists find
themselves on the outside as the governor works his way through a list
of less ambitious reforms.

Lesson #2: The Right Message Must Reach the Right People Pennsylvania,
the Keystone State, offers the other side of the coin. The state now
boasts some of the best Smart Growth policies in the nation thanks to a
group called 10,000 Friends of Pennsylvania. The Friends spent years
garnering support for their list of reforms from moderate business,
government, planning and citizen leaders already engaged in land use

They struck pay dirt in 2000 when then-Governor Tom Ridge, a Republican,
unveiled his own list of reforms that was remarkably similar to the
Friends' . They were happy to let Mr. Ridge take the credit for their
proposals as they became law.

This big win stemmed directly from an innovative strategy. While the
Friends were historically rooted in environmentalism, they hitched their
wagon to Smart Growth's stars: improved efficiency and quality of life.
Their sophisticated email distribution system provided clear advice,
analysis and information to thousands of public officials, business
leaders, and agricultural experts while keeping Friends members and
supporters informed and organized. The group also researched many Smart
Growth-related issues and emailed its findings to the media, which then
covered them.

When Gov. Ridge launched a task force to solicit input on the issue, the
Friends had a large advisory board ready to provide a set of
recommendations already familiar to the state's business, farming and
government leaders.

Lesson #3: Political Shifts Require New Messages and Allies
The Sunshine State has already explored much of the political territory
Michigan is just beginning to enter. Florida was once like Michigan is
now: mired in 19th century-style local land use decision-making. Today
it boasts one of the nation's best Smart Growth programs.

This story begins in 1985, when the state Legislature and a mildly
supportive Democratic Governor Bob Graham overhauled local land controls
and created a top-down approach to growth management. A group of
environmentalists and savvy developers known as 1,000 Friends of Florida
showed him the way. As in Pennsylvania, these Friends stuck exclusively
to Smart Growth, convincing the state Legislature to enact
"concurrency," a requirement that roads, sewers, and water lines be in
place before a developer could start a project.

When Republican Jeb Bush ran for governor in 1998, he said he supported
the state's land use policies and proposed ways to speed up urban
revitalization. But once elected, Governor Bush pandered to the property
rights movement and tried to gut the state laws.

Fortunately, the Friends were still an active group. The organization
carefully picked environmentalists and political progressives as allies,
did some research, and unflinchingly cited the undue industry influence
and bias driving Mr. Bush's new position.

With the facts on its side, the Friends beat back the governor's
efforts. Today Florida's management program remains in force largely
because the Smart Growth community knew how to pick the right allies,
get its conflict-of-interest message out, and organize a political

Confirmed by the Big Picture
Researchers from the Sierra Club/Mackinac Chapter, who interviewed
environmental and land use organizations in 13 states, confirmed the
Institute's finding that political leadership from top state officials
is crucial to advancing Smart Growth. The group's report also found that
when officials who ostensibly favors land use reform win elections, it's
crucial to keep a close eye on them. In Maryland, for example, the
anti-sprawl coalition that helped elect Democrat Parris Glendening
governor became alarmed when he started slipping on his Smart Growth
commitments. The coalition said it would start issuing "report cards" on
how he was addressing the issue. The governor promptly began living up
to his promises.

The club also found that wide-ranging coalitions that include groups
from outside of the traditional environmental field are basic to genuine
land use reform. Groups as disparate as church organizations, the
American Civil Liberties Union, and the National Association for the
Advancement of Colored People often served as primary sources for Smart
Growth messages. Those groups focused more on quality of life and social
equity issues than on environmental concerns, and backed this up with
well-organized groups of volunteers.

It's Not the Party, It's the Money
One optimistic finding: It doesn't matter which political party controls
a state's government. That's because Smart Growth is pro-business,
pro-equity, pro-environment, and pro-quality of life. These are, in sum,
bipartisan issues.

But, as the Colorado landslide confirmed, the club found that the main
causes for the failure of Smart Growth initiatives or legislation were
lack of money and lack of support from top political leaders.
Well-organized platoons of volunteers are important. But if the message
they carry is either under-funded or unsupported by top officials,
citizen efforts may well be doomed.

This is true because dedicated opponents of land use reform - the
interests who profit from creating the plans, roads, and buildings that
comprise sprawl - have lots of money. They use it to paint Smart Growth
reforms not as ways to save tax dollars or improve quality of life but
as governmental takeovers, over-regulation, and property rights

This is why reformers must tie their goals to improving people's lives
and bring specific and practical advice for improving land use to
political leaders and the pubic at large before opponents poison them
with fear-based campaign tactics. It also shows that citizens need to
keep working closely with the politicians they elect; it's an essential
partnership for overcoming the influence of money in politics. It's also
part of a winning formula for making Smart Growth a reality.

Arlin Wasserman is the Michigan Land Use Institute's policy advisor. He
can be reached at arlin@mlui.org.

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