[GRRN] SUVs and Neal Peirce column

Fred Broadwell (FRED@self-help.org)
Thu, 4 Mar 1999 10:01:57 +0000

While the debate over SUVs, corporate responsibility and consumer
guilt is important, I fear that it can become a distraction from the
more pressing issue of sprawl and poor land use practices. You can't
ask people to give up big cars, if the landscape is designed for cars
and cars only. So, rather than fight a losing war against Ford, join
the Smart Growth movement which is winning battles against
auto-oriented development patterns. In the long run, that may be the
best way to reduce vehicle miles traveled, the increase of which is
at the root of car-induced pollution, oil consumption, road building,
etc. For an update on Smart Growth, see below.

For Release Sunday, February 21, 1999
Copyright 1999 Washington Post Writers Group

By Neal R. Peirce

WASHINGTON -- In 1996 Earl Blumenauer, a progressive
ex-state legislator and city councillor from Portland, Ore.,
took a seat in Congress nursing an unconventional -- some
would say quite outrageous -- idea. Why, he asked, couldn't
the federal government reshape its thousands of practices
and policies to stop hurting and start helping American
communities in search of better quality of life, stronger
neighborhoods, attractive downtowns?

Blumenauer wanted to establish a bipartisan congressional
"livability caucus." He favored a "Give Fans A Chance Act"
to curb sports moguls playing one town and its fans against
another. He had a bill to make the Postal Service consult
communities before moving any more post offices from town
centers to sterile outlying sites.

Blumenauer's livability mission, announced at the peak of
the anti-government Gingrich revolution, seemed almost quixotic.

But not today. Last week, on Capitol Hill, I saw an
exultant Blumenauer at work. His Livable Communities Task
Force has over 50 House members. His Post Office reform
bill almost made it through the last Congress and is now
co-sponsored by 10 percent of the Members of the House.
Another Blumenauer bill is already law -- to make a positive example
of Congress by letting House employees claim a subsidy for
transit passes in lieu of their free Capitol Hill parking

What's more, Blumenauer believes momentum is building fast,
in communities coast to coast, for a livability agenda that
substitutes "smart growth" for destructive sprawl, tames
mega-highway building, promotes transit, strengthens town
and city centers, protects parks and farmlands.

I discovered Blumenauer rushing to the House floor to make a
one-minute statement (and grab some C-Span time) combatting
an opinion piece by George Will, just printed in Newsweek

Will, in the columnist's classic acerbic style, suggested
smart growth is largely a creation of Vice President Al
Gore, a stew of recooked '50s or '60s Washington-knows-best
liberalism that's "evidence of Gore's propensity for muddy,
hackneyed and semihysterical thinking."

Families live in low-density suburbs because they like it
that way, whether liberals agree or not, Will had written.
Anyway, he added, Americans only occupy a tiny percent of
the nation's total land surface, so it's unbecoming for Gore
and a "fastidious political class" to tell folks to crowd
into cities.

The Earl Blumenauer response: George Will "simply and
totally misses the mark." And why? "Smart growth didn't
start in Washington, it started in states and communities."
It was Maryland's Gov. Parris Glendening who gave it a name.
Twenty-seven governors -- 19 Republicans, 8 Democrats --
alluded to its positively, in one form or another, in their
state-of-the-state speeches last month.

What's more, says Blumenauer, the smart growth movement
"isn't about compulsion." It's about how we publicly
influence the use of land -- which is nothing new Blumenauer
insists, we've been doing it since we took it from the lands
from the Indians, government approved homesteading, invented
zoning, built interstates.

Today Americans are dismayed how the open spaces and fertile
farmlands around their cities are being gobbled up by
helter-skelter sprawl. Smart growth is the rising demand of
the '90s for livable choices -- for neighborhoods with
corner stores, parks, better transit, and hopefully a chance
to do with fewer family autos and less time stuck in traffic.

Anyway, said Blumenauer, grinning past his trademark bow
tie: "When arguments like Will's arise, we have to push
back. The libertarian network and conservative think tanks
can't be allowed to put a negative spin on such a stunning
grassroots movement."

Even national groups of realtors and homebuilders,
Blumenauer adds, are now joining in serious smart growth
discussions. And across the country there are big regional
sustainability concerns -- how long, for example, can
Phoenix pave an acre an hour? What can Denver do about its
fast-depleting aquifer? How will Atlanta cope with its dilemma of
polluted air?

Blumenauer's glad to see Gore take up the livability-smart
growth cause. He's gratified that Gore and Clinton have
recognized his efforts. But in one sense, he notes, the
administration is really "just running to get ahead of the

And that parade, in this particular congressman's view, goes
even beyond the tangible issues of town and neighborhood
restoration, parks and open spaces and livable suburbs.

What's really exciting, he believes, is how citizens are
engaging development and town-building issues, insisting on public
debate, refusing any more to leave the critical decisions to
bureaucrats or highway engineers or other "experts."

"In this post-impeachment, post-Gingrich world, that growing
engagement is critically important. There is a healing
power in that engagement. Politicians, journalists,
political parties ignore it at their peril."

Blumenauer visited over 30 cities last year to confer with
diverse groups on livability and smart growth. The rapid
expansion of the issue, he confesses cheerfully, has "taken
me from being a wonkish advocate of good planning and turned
me into a cross between an evangelist and Johnny Appleseed."
Fred Broadwell
Commercial Loan Team
Self Help Credit Union
Box 3619
Durham NC 27702