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Projects Across Michigan Take On Sprawl

Sprawl in the U.P.

December 1, 1997 | By Keith Schneider
Great Lakes Bulletin News Service

Most Michigan residents would think that the sparsely-populated Keewanaw Peninsula is immune from sprawl. That, however, is not the case. West of Marquette, strip malls and one-story big box retailers dominate the landscape.

The city of Houghton even awarded Wal-Mart, the world's largest retailer with $93.6 Billion in annual sales, a 15-year property tax abatement to build a superstore outside the central business district. The result is that Houghton's existing merchants now are at a serious competitive disadvantage.

In response, the Upper Peninsula Environmental Coalition and the League of Women Voters of the Copper Country organized a workshop and five public meetings to develop a better approach. Leading the project are Kristine Bradof, a groundwater specialist at MichiganTechnological University, and Jim Boyce, a Houghton County Commissioner who ran for office on a platform stressing the need for better land use management.

"I worry about how growth will affect this area's future," said Mr. Boyce, who never before had held elective office. "I thought I'd have more influence if I were a commissioner instead of a private citizen."u

Jim Boyce, 1284 Hickory Lane, Houghton, MI 49930, Tel. 906-482-5537.

A New Progressive Movement

One measure of an idea's political prominence is the attention it is receiving in Washington, D.C. Clearly, sprawl's time has come. A new progressive movement is developing around land use:

* Earl Blumenauer, a former Commissioner of Public Works in Portland, Oregon, was elected to Congress in 1996 by stressing environmental protection, curtailing sprawl, strengthening neighborhoods, and encouraging alternative forms of transportation. He thus became the first federal lawmaker to run and win on a land use platform.

Mr. Blumenauer is organizing a Congressional Caucus on Liveable Communities, in which legislators will study land use issues and make suggestions for improvements in public policy.

A number of activist groups also are becoming more prominent in the nation's capitol. Among the most effective:

* The Surface Transportation Policy Project, a national coalition to end America's 50-year-old policy of building new roads. Instead, the group advocates directing resources to repairing old roads and encouraging cheaper, less damaging alternatives, like railways and other forms of mass transit.

* Taxpayers For Common Sense, which works to eliminate federal subsidies and pork barrel projects that not only waste billions of dollars, but also encourage over-development of the countryside and sensitive ecosystems.

* The American Farm Land Trust, which works with farmers to save prime crop land from being engulfed by suburban sprawl. It is the fastest growing national environmental group, with membership doubling in the past three years to 30,000.

What ties these groups together? Three big ideas:

1). The budget deficit, which has become a powerful tool for activists to argue for an end to wasteful tax policies and destructive subsidies.

2). The environment. The right to clean air and water has now become a core value for a majority of the American people.

3). A longing for real communities. Across the political spectrum, Americans are calling for new policies that make neighborhoods and cities worth living in again.u

Institute Joins Land Stewardship Initiative

The Institute is working on a project sponsored by the state's largest environmental organization, the Michigan Environmental Council, to jointly conduct research and promote methods for improving land use management.

The project is part of MEC's Land Stewardship Initiative, a program to curtail sprawl and promote more environmentally sensitive and economically sustainable development patterns in Michigan.

The Institute will keep key leaders in Northwest Michigan informed about new land use policies under discussion in government agencies and in the Legislature. The Institute also will prepare articles, develop a more effective public education plan, and act as regional land use advisors for MEC.

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