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Meet the Elm Street Writers Group

Commentary About Sprawl, Land Use, and Smart Growth


Introduction and Contributers

A spirited debate has erupted across America about what communities can do to curb sprawl, reduce traffic congestion, rebuild cities, and improve the quality of life. Taming sprawl has emerged as a powerful political issue and is influencing state and local election races in every region of the country.

Critics attack the Smart Growth movement as elitist, racist, unnecessary, a challenge to private property rights, economically damaging, and a waste of time. Supporters counter that the movement amplifies the great governing themes of our time. The political messages that have resonated throughout America in the last decade involve cutting taxes and subsidies, embracing traditional values, and giving local governments more authority in their communities. These are the same messages that residents bring to city halls and county commissions as they seek to improve local planning, reinvigorate neighborhoods, rejuvenate Main Street, preserve scenic regions, and encourage economic development without creating sprawl.

Fifteen prominent writers whose work has played a significant role in elevating the Smart Growth debate to national prominence make up the Elm Street Writers Group. They are:


David Beach is founder and director of EcoCity Cleveland, a nonprofit organization that promotes a regional vision of ecological cities existing in balance with the surrounding countryside. Mr. Beach edits the organization’s award-winning EcoCity Cleveland Journal, which provides coverage of land use trends, transportation planning, and environmental issues in northeast Ohio. In 1996 Mr. Beach edited EcoCity’s book, “Moving to Corn Fields: A Reader on Urban Sprawl and the Regional Future of Northeast Ohio.” In 1998 he collected his writings about environmental and urban issues, along with selections from other local environmental experts, in a comprehensive guidebook, “The Greater Cleveland Environment Book.” Mr. Beach has been a prominent writer, editor, and community activist in Cleveland for the past 20 years. He has a bachelor’s degree from Harvard University.

Constance Beaumont is the state and local policy director of the National Trust for Historic Preservation in Washington, D.C. Ms. Beaumont is the author of several important books on community design, land use policy, and growth management. These include “How Superstore Sprawl Can Harm Communities (And What Cities Can Do About It),” “Smart States, Better Communities,” and her most recent book, “Challenging Sprawl.” In her work Ms. Beaumont lays out a range of options for state policy makers to consider as they seek to give communities the tools needed to curb sprawl and revitalize older cities, towns, and suburbs. Before joining the National Trust, Ms. Beaumont published The Urban Conservation Report, a national newsletter.

Patty Cantrell is a journalist, economist, and manages the New Entrepreneurial Agriculture project at the Michigan Land Use Institute. Raised on a farm in the Missouri Ozarks, Ms. Cantrell began her career as an economic research associate at the Rocky Mountain Institute, an environmental policy think tank in Colorado. She later joined the Springfield (Mo.) News-Leader as a senior business reporter and columnist and won the Exceptional Merit Media Award from the National Women’s Political Caucus and Radcliffe College. After leaving the newspaper she embarked on a successful freelance journalism career that included publishing articles in U.S. News & World Report and Ms. Magazine. Ms. Cantrell graduated summa cum laude from the University of Missouri earning B.A. degrees in economics and political science. She was awarded a Fulbright Scholarship to study economic policy in Cologne, Germany, and earned a Master in Business Administration from Drury College.

Clark Williams-Derry, who writes about land use policy and environmental trends, is the  research director of Northwest Environment Watch, one of the nation’s top regional environmental think tanks and advocacy organization. Mr. Williams-Derry joined the Seattle group in 2001 to direct research on the NEW Index, a project to develop a small set of indicators that measure true progress in the Pacific Northwest. The first book in the series is NEW's latest publication, This Place on Earth 2002: Measuring What Matters. Previously, Mr. Williams-Derry served as a senior analyst with the Environmental Working Group (EWG) in Washington DC, where he coauthored more than a dozen reports and led the development of EWG's farm subsidies database, a project that is credited with reframing the national debate on farm policy. He has also spoken widely on environmental and economic issues. Mr. Williams-Derry graduated summa cum laude from Yale University in 1989 with a joint degree in mathematics and philosophy. He lives in the Seattle neighborhood of Ravenna with his wife Amy and infant daughter Madeline, and he moonlights as a professional punster at www.gristmagazine.com, where he writes headlines for the daily news digest. 

Alan Durning is founder and executive director of Northwest Environment Watch, a private, nonprofit research organization in Seattle that seeks to foster a sustainable economy and way of life in the Pacific Northwest. Previously Mr. Durning was a senior researcher at the Worldwatch Institute in Washington, D.C., where he studied the relationships between social and environmental issues. He is the author of “Green-Collar Jobs: Working in the New Northwest,” “This Place on Earth” — winner of the 1997 Governors Writers Award, “How Much is Enough?” and “The Car and the City.” Mr. Durning’s articles have been published in The Washington Post, The Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, The Christian Science Monitor, The International Herald Tribune, Foreign Policy, World Watch, Sierra, Utne Reader, Technology Review, and more than 100 other newspapers and periodicals. Mr. Durning graduated in 1986 with high honors from Oberlin College. He lives with his wife Amy and three children — Gary, Kathryn, and Peter — in Seattle, where he grew up.

David A. Goldberg, who has a national reputation for penetrating reporting and commentary on sprawl, growth management, transportation, and urban design, is the communications director for Smart Growth America, a nationwide coalition, based in Washington, D.C., that advocates for land use policy reform. Prior to joining Smart Growth America in 2002, Mr. Goldberg spent nine years writing about the transportation, environmental, and land use issues associated with metropolitan growth for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. In 1997 he helped conceive and then was lead writer for the newspaper's Horizon section, an award-winning weekly examination of regional growth and development issues. He was promoted to the editorial board in July, 1999 and wrote commentary on those issues for the Atlanta newspaper and other publications. His national guidebook for journalists covering urban sprawl, "Rethinking the American Dream," was published by the Radio and Television News Directors Foundation in September, 1999. Prior to that he helped produce a five-part series on sprawl for Georgia Public Television. A graduate of Dartmouth College and Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism, he has been an adjunct member of the journalism faculty at Emory University in Atlanta since January, 1999. In 2002 he was awarded a Loeb Fellowship at Harvard University, where he is studying urban policy. He and his family of six live the new American Dream maximum community and minimum driving in Decatur, Georgia.

Roberta Brandes Gratz is an author, urban critic, and well-regarded international lecturer on urban development. Her books, "The Living City: Thinking Small in a Big Way" and "Cities Back from the Edge: New Life for Downtown," have earned Ms. Gratz a national reputation as a scholar and astute observer of urban design. A former award-winning reporter for the New York Post, Ms. Gratz’ articles have been published in the Wall Street Journal, New York Times Magazine, The Nation, Tikkun, Planning Magazine, New York Newsday, the Daily News, Planning Commissioners Journal, and others. Ms. Gratz travels extensively in the United States and Europe to lecture and consult on urban revitalization issues and her work has been translated into Japanese, Russian, Czech, German, and Polish. She is a recipient of fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, and New York State Council on the Arts and has won writing awards from the American Institute of Architects, American Planning Association, Municipal Art Society, the New York Press Club, and the City Club of New York. Ms. Gratz was born in New York City's Greenwich Village, spent her teenage years in Westport — a Connecticut suburb — and attended both Skidmore College and New York University, where she graduated with a B.A. in political science. She has two married daughters, four grandchildren, and lives in Manhattan with her husband, Donald Gratz.

Thomas Hylton, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, is author of the richly-illustrated book "Save Our Land, Save Our Towns: A Plan for Pennsylvania" which he wrote in partnership with Preservation Pennsylvania. The book makes a persuasive case for comprehensive planning to save our cities, towns, and countryside. It received a 1997 honor award from the National Trust for Historic Preservation and was distributed to every Pennsylvania legislator and 500 other state and local officials. Mr. Hylton also is an organizing member of 10,000 Friends of Pennsylvania, a coalition of civic groups dedicated to land use reforms and community building. A native of Wyomissing, Pennsylvania, Mr. Hylton has lived all his life in the state. Since 1973 he has lived in Pottstown with his wife Frances, an elementary teacher in the local school district. For 22 years he wrote for Pottstown’s daily newspaper, The Mercury. His editorials in 1990 advocating the preservation of farmland and open space in southeastern Pennsylvania won a Pulitzer Prize.

Jane Holtz Kay is the architecture and planning critic for The Nation and the author of three books, including "Asphalt Nation: How the Automobile Took Over America and How We Can Take it Back" and "Lost Boston." A nationally-renowned expert on design and land use, Ms. Kay’s articles regularly appear in the Boston Globe, Architecture magazine, Planning, the New York Times, and Landscape Architecture. She is a former art and architecture critic for the Christian Science Monitor and has written for Preservation magazine, Orion Afield, In These Times, Sierra magazine, and Technology Review, as well as online for Gristmagazine.com and Tompaine.org. Her work on cities, sprawl, transportation, and the environment have helped her earn regular appearances on National Public Radio’s Living on Earth, CNN, and C-Span. She has taught journalism, and environmental and architectural studies, at Boston University and Harvard University’s Graduate School of Design. Ms. Kay also has lectured, among other places, at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, Columbia University, and the National Building Museum. Ms. Kay was educated at Harvard where she graduated magna cum laude with a B.A. in history. The mother of two daughters, Ms. Kay lives in Boston, where she has spent all of her life.

Peter Katz is a marketing consultant and author of “The New Urbanism: Toward an Architecture of Community,” a seminal book on the subject published in 1994. The founding executive director of the Congress for New Urbanism, Mr. Katz played a key role in shaping the movement that The New York Times called “the most important phenomenon to emerge in American architecture in the post-Cold War era.” In 1997 Mr. Katz founded Urban Advantage to promote the benefits of urban places. Urban Advantage produces educational and promotional materials for clients, including developers, investors, city agencies, and community groups. Mr. Katz received his degree from The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art in New York, where he studied architecture and graphic design.

James Howard Kunstler is the author of “The Geography of Nowhere” and “Home From Nowhere.” Mr. Kunstler says he wrote “The Geography of Nowhere” because “I believe a lot of people share my feelings about the tragic landscape of highway strips, parking lots, housing tracts, megamalls, junked cities, and ravaged countryside that make up the everyday environment where most Americans live and work.” “Home From Nowhere” continues that discussion, with an emphasis on the remedies. A portion of the book appeared as the cover story in the September 1996 Atlantic Monthly. Mr. Kunstler is a contributor to The New York Times Magazine and op-ed page, where he has written on environmental and economic issues. Born in New York City he graduated from the State University of New York and worked as a reporter and feature writer for a number of newspapers and Rolling Stone magazine. He lives in Saratoga Springs, New York.

Greg LeRoy, who writes on labor and the economy, is the director of Good Jobs First, a national resource center in Washington, D.C., that promotes corporate accountability in economic development. He is the author of No More Candy Store: States and Cities Making Job Subsidies Accountable, which won the 1998 Public Interest Pioneer Award. Mr. LeRoy created “Smart Growth, Good Jobs,” a curriculum and conference for the Chicago Federation of Labor, the first such event ever created for a central labor council. He is the author of “Talking to Union Leaders About Smart Growth,” a primer on labor’s self interest in Smart Growth, and “Smart Growth for Cities: It’s a Union Thing,” which was published in the Summer 2002 issue of Working USA. Mr. LeRoy, who has 25 years’ experience in organized labor and economic development, serves on advisory committees of Smart Growth America and the AFL-CIO Working for America Institute. His work is available on the Good Jobs First Web site at www.goodjobsfirst.org.

Richard Manning, one of the West's most accomplished environmental journalists, began his career in Michigan. Born in Flint and raised in Alpena — an industrial city along the Lake Huron coast — Mr. Manning attended the University of Michigan before starting his reporting career as the news director of WATZ-AM radio in his hometown. Later he held writing and editing positions at newspapers in Michigan, Idaho, and Montana. In 1989, after his penetrating reporting on the timber industry prompted his editors at Missoula (Mont.) Missoulian to pull him off the environmental beat, Mr. Manning left daily journalism to finish his B.A. degree in political science at the University of Montana and to write books. He studied conservation biology, computers, and the Internet as a John S. Knight Fellow at Stanford University. In 1997, Mr. Manning founded Tidepool.org, one of the nation's first, and best, Web-based environmental news services. He founded a similar service, Headwaters, the following year. He is the author of six books, including "Last Stand: Logging, Journalism and the Case for Humility," and the well-regarded "Inside Passage," an account of biodiversity and the economy of coastal temperate rainforests of the Pacific Northwest. Mr. Manning's articles and essays have been published by Harper's Magazine, the Los Angeles Times, the New York Times, Audubon magazine, Outside magazine, E Magazine, High Country News, and Northern Lights. He lives with his wife, Tracy Stone-Manning, in a home he built himself on 70 acres of Montana mountainside near Missoula. He has a grown son and Ms. Stone-Manning is director of the Clark Fork Coalition, a watershed protection group for Montana's largest river.

Keith Schneider, program director at the Michigan Land Use Institute, is a nationally known environmental writer and commentator. He co-founded the Institute and served as its first executive director from 1995 to 2000. Before that he was a national correspondent with The New York Times, specializing in environmental, agricultural, energy, and land use issues. Mr. Schneider is a regular contributor to The New York Times, The Detroit Free Press, Gristmagazine.com, and the Institute’s Great Lakes Bulletin and Web site, wwww.mlui.org.

Kathryn Schulz is a freelance writer and assistant editor of Gristmagazine.com, the nation's leading on-line environmental magazine. Before joining Grist, Ms. Schulz was the associate editor of The Santiago Times, Chile's English-language newspaper. Ms. Schulz was raised in Cleveland, received a B.A. in history from Brown University, and has lived, worked, and traveled in Central and South America. Her work focuses on the intersection of social justice and environmental issues, and the relationships between developed and developing nations. Ms. Schulz has been published in Rolling Stone, the New York Times Magazine, The Nation, SEJ Journal, Feed Magazine, and other publications. Ms. Schulz says she is partial to Portland, Oregon, but currently lives in Brooklyn, N.Y.

Jay Walljasper is the editor of the Utne Reader in Minneapolis. Mr. Walljasper works on book, magazine, and Web projects, including a column for Utne Reader Online. Under Mr. Walljasper’s direction the Utne Reader was nominated three times for National Magazine Awards for general excellence. Mr. Walljasper also is a contributing writer for The Nation, where he writes a regular feature on positive social initiatives, and is the American correspondent for the British magazine Resurgence. He writes widely about politics, ecology, and cities and is a columnist for Shambhala Sun and Conscious Choice magazines. His articles have appeared in The Chicago Tribune Magazine, The Philadelphia Inquirer Magazine, The Toronto Star, The Des Moines Register, Mother Jones, Preservation, Better Homes & Gardens, E Magazine, Social Policy, Yes!, and Tikkun.

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