Seeds of an anti-sprawl

Urban critic David Rusk calls for a grassroots movement to heal America's cities-a movement on the scale of the civil rights movement or the environmental movement. It would involve all the constituencies harmed by the sprawling development patterns around our metropolitan areas.

A movement is needed because in places like Northeast Ohio the scale of our existing political institutions (local and county government) does not match the regional scale of our problems. Every mayor and county commissioner is looking out for his or her own turf. No one is elected to represent the region (although there might be room for a state representative or senator to speak out).

If all the constituencies hurt by sprawl could be organized, however, they would make a powerful political force. Below we offer a preliminary list of such constituencies. Then we list some of the organizations-in the city and the country-that are already working on pieces of the sprawl problem.

Linking the city and country is key, for we have to fight the sprawl battle at both ends. We have to revitalize inner-city neighborhoods so people will want to move into them. And we have to stop subsidizing the sprawling development on the metropolitan fringe, which saps the strength of the central cities.

Constituencies hurt by sprawl and
urban abandonment

  • Residents of declining inner-city neighborhoods, with all their community development organizations whose hard work is being undermined by outmigration.
  • Residents of older, inner-ring suburbs, who are also victimized by the spreading disinvestment (and who typically have fewer resources and amenities than the central city with which to stem decline).
  • Everyone who can't drive-children, senior citizens, people who can't afford a car.
  • Institutions with fixed investments in the city-churches, schools, hospitals, arts organizations, banks, utilities.
  • Environmentalists working to protect natural areas and wetlands, save energy, and prevent air pollution.
  • Transit and bicycle advocates.
  • Fair and affordable housing advocates.
  • The many ad hoc groups fighting Wal-Marts, highway interchanges and road widenings in their communities.
  • Historic preservationists.
  • Country residents who want their communities to remain rural.
  • Farmers who want to keep farming without the threat of encroaching subdivisions.
  • Business leaders who realize that their sprawling metropolitan areas will have a hard time competing with compact, efficient cities in Europe and Asia.
  • Developers who are tired of fighting anti-development NIMBYs and who would like to see a consensus on where development is appropriate.

Parts of an anti-sprawl network

  • Governments of central cities, inner-ring suburbs, exurban townshipsunited action on economic disparities and sprawl.
  • County planning commissions and metropolitan planning organizations (NOACA, AMATS)joint land use and transportation planning in the multi-county region.
  • Urban research programs at Cleveland State University and the University of Akronstudies of housing trends and outmigration impacts.
  • Other university partners (Case Western Reserve University Center for the Environment and Mandel School of Applied Social Sciences, Oberlin, Kent State, community colleges).
  • Cleveland neighborhood development organizationsgreater attention to the outmigration trends that undermine their work.
  • Anti-poverty programs (Council for Economic Opportunities in Greater Cleveland, Cleveland Community-Building Initiative)regional solutions for poverty.
  • Fair housing organizations (Metropolitan Strategy Group, Cuyahoga Plan, Greater Clevelanders for Fair and Affordable Housing)support for low- and moderate-income housing in every municipality.
  • Public housing authoritiesscattered site housing and rent vouchers.
  • Park districtscooperative projects to preserve open space on a regional scale.
  • Land conservation organizations (Land trusts, Trust for Public Land, Nature Conservancy)land protection in the path of development.
  • Transit agencies in the regioninvestments to make cities more livable and transit-oriented.
  • Environmental organizationssupport for transportation alternatives, compact development, sustainable communities.
  • Watershed organizations (Cuyahoga and Black River Remedial Action Plans, Grand River Partners, Friends of the Crooked River, Friends of the Black River)action to stop suburban development's destruction of streams; restoration of urban creeks.
  • Sprawl-mart foesorganization at the regional level.
  • Cleveland Museum of Natural Historybasic research on ecology of the region.
  • Religious groups (Catholic Diocese, Interchurch Council, Jewish Community Federation, WE-CAN!)moral arguments against sprawl, sister church relationships between city and suburb.
  • Schoolssister school relationships between city and suburb.
  • Environmental education (Cuyahoga Valley Environmental Education Center, Lake Erie Nature and Science Center,
  • Shaker Lakes Regional Nature Center, Great Lakes Science Museum)programs to increase awareness of the bioregion and the natural limits of life here.
  • Farmslinks between farmers on the edge of the metro area and consumers in the city.
  • Arts organizationscultural critiques of suburban sprawl, celebrations of urban life.
  • Business organizations (Greater Cleveland Growth Association, Cleveland Tomorrow, Build Up Greater Cleveland)
  • Akron Regional Infrastructure Alliance)business locations and infrastructure investments to revitalize central cities instead of promoting sprawl.
  • "Good government" groups (Citizens League)ideas for regional governance.
  • Utilities (water, sewer, electric, telephone)promotion of compact development patterns instead of facilitating sprawl.
  • Real estate industrygoal of steady appreciation of real estate values in existing urban areas instead of speculation on the suburban fringe.
  • Computer FreeNetsregional information and discussion groups in cyberspace.
  • Mediacoverage of sprawl and disparity issues in a coordinated, comprehensive way.


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EcoCity Cleveland
3500 Lorain Avenue, Suite 301, Cleveland OH 44113
Cuyahoga Bioregion
(216) 961-5020
Copyright 2002-2003

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