Modeling Program Maps Urban Growth

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has recognized a computer model that might help cities better plan for growth. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester Graham reports:

Transcript

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has recognized a computer model that might
help cities better plan for growth. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester Graham
reports:


Attempts to predict urban growth are notorious because they’re often very inaccurate.
The EPA recently gave one of its national awards for ‘Smart Growth’ to the Massachusetts
Executive Office of Environmental Affairs for a statewide Smart Growth computer
program. The EPA says that program helps city leaders to understand the potential
effects of future growth. A town can use it to determine the impact of a proposed
development. It maps out growth patterns and predicts the cost for things such as
additional schools, police, and fire protection. Priscilla Geigis is with the Massachusetts
office. She says it can be used elsewhere.


“We have had some interest from states who are just looking at that as a model. With
some adaptations it could be changed to accommodate some other states.”


One official was quoted as saying the program is like the popular computer game “Sim
City” except this one is for real life.


For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, this is Lester Graham.

Land Trusts Save Local Land

Winston Churchill once said, “Americans will always do the right thing – after they’ve exhausted all the alternatives.” For Great Lakes Radio Consortium commentator Tom Springer, Churchill’s wisdom could also apply to land trusts. After decades of rampant sprawl, more Americans are joining land trusts to protect what’s left of the natural areas around them:

Transcript

Winston Churchill once said, “Americans will always do the right thing — after they’ve exhausted
all the alternatives.” For Great Lakes Radio Consortium commentator Tom Springer, Churchill’s
wisdom could also apply to land trusts. After decades of rampant sprawl, more Americans are
joining land trusts to protect what’s left of the natural areas around them:

Like many people who love nature, it’s always been my dream to save wild land from development. When I was younger, it seemed like an easy thing to do. I planned to graduate from college, earn serious money, and spend most of my income buying rural real estate. Unfortunately, the big salary never materialized. After five years, I had bought just one piece of property: a three-acre parcel of woods that can only be reached by canoe.

Since going solo didn’t work, I decided to join a national organization that’s famous for saving wild land. With my annual dues, I got a static window sticker and a gorgeous magazine that featured the group’s newest preserves. But after a few years, the vicarious thrill of sending money to save far-off places started to fade. I really wanted to protect land that was close to home. Yet for this organization, my corner of southern Michigan wasn’t even on the map.

At long last, I have found a better way to stave off the bulldozers. Along with 1,000 local citizens, I’m an active member of a land trust. Land trusts are nonprofit organizations that work with private property owners to save natural areas from development. Sometimes they buy land to create preserves. They also accept donated land, and establish conservation easements to prevent future development.

In the past decade, the land trust movement has seen phenomenal growth. There are 1,300 land trusts nationwide, a number that’s more than doubled since 1990. Together, they protect 6.4 million acres — up 220 percent since 1990.

So why are land truth trusts so successful? I believe it’s because their mission is unabashedly local. They’re not preoccupied with Chinese panda bears, or holes in the Arctic ozone layer. They’d rather rescue the 100-acre woods down the road. Or protect a suburban stream that’s the last neighborhood refuge for tadpoles and snapping turtles.

In our capitalistic system, land is a commodity. Yet land trusts use the free-market to their advantage by purchasing land to prevent development. So this business-like approach also appeals to conservatives and moderates who may not otherwise support environmental causes.

Yet another appeal of land trusts is their hands-on, dirty-fingernails approach to conservation. There’s always much more for members to do than just stick a check in the mail. Land trusts rely almost solely on volunteers to maintain trails, conduct field surveys, or stuff envelopes around the office.

A few weeks ago, my land trust hosted a workday at a five-acre preserve that’s a mile from my home. For three hours, I joined a happy band of retirees, college kids, and recovering yuppies as they uprooted Japanese honeysuckle that threatens to crowd out native wildflowers.

This preserve is too small for any government agency to bother with. Yet we know it as a pocket wilderness, where cardinal flowers and bluebells bloom in the rich soil of a floodplain forest. Maybe it’s not one of the world’s last great places. But it’s our place — and it’s our land trust. And if we want to save the natural world, our own neighborhood is always a good place to start.

Host Tag: Tom Springer is a freelance writer
from Three Rivers, Michigan.

An International Wildlife Refuge?

An effort to create North America’s first international wildlife refuge is gathering speed. The refuge will be a partnership between Canada and the U.S. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Mark Brush has more:

Transcript

An effort to create North America’s first international wildlife refuge is gathering speed. The refuge will be a partnership between Canada and the U-S. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Mark Brush has details:


The Detroit River was once home to a thriving set of coastal wetlands and marshes. It was an area teeming with wildlife. But after more than a century of development – most of that habitat has been lost. The proposed international wildlife refuge hopes to turn back the pressures for more development.


The refuge would include the Canadian and U-S sides of the lower Detroit River – lands from the coal-choked Zug Island to the mouth of Lake Erie.


If established, the refuge will be a patchwork federal, state, and privately owned land. And so far, they’ve had some success. Several small islands have been donated or are being bought for inclusion into the refuge.


The first step will be to set up the boundaries of the refuge. Once established, funds may be appropriated for things like buying more land, establishing conservation agreements, and re-creating wildlife habitat.


For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium I’m Mark Brush.

STATE REVAMPS PLANNING LAWS (Shorter Version)

A survey reveals most states are working from development planning
statutes put together in the 1920’s. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s
Lester Graham reports… one group is urging states to update their laws
to help prevent urban sprawl:

Transcript

A survey reveals most states are working from development planning statutes
put together in the 1920’s. One group is urging states to update their laws to help

prevent urban sprawl. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester Graham reports:


The American Planning Association says when Herbert Hoover was Secretary of
Commerce, the Department adopted some model planning acts. Today, many state
planning laws are still based on them. Stuart Meck is a senior researcher
with the American planning association. He says local governments control
much of zoning and planning. But the state is often the most powerful
influence on development.


“Every time a state department of transportation programs a highway
widening, or puts in a new interchange, or authorizes some type of loan to
local government to build or expand a treatment plant, that has some sort of
an impact on development.”


Meck says some states are tinkering around the edges of their planning laws.
But he argues if states are going to control urban sprawl, they need to
completely overhaul their planning statutes.


For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, this is Lester Graham.

State Revamps Planning Laws


In the Great Lakes region states have been slow to put together
legislation to address urban sprawl. Only one state in the region,
Wisconsin, has passed comprehensive reforms of its planning statutes.
The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester Graham reports… now
developers, environmentalists, and political leaders in that state are
all reading from the same blue-print:

Transcript

In the Great Lakes region states have been slow to put together legislation
to address urban sprawl. Only one state in the region, Wisconsin, has passed
comprehensive reforms of its planning statutes. Now developers, environmentalists,

and
political leaders in that state are all reading from the same blueprint. The Great

Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester Graham reports:


At the American Planning Association’s office in Chicago, Stuart Meck says
there’s been a huge surge in interest in trying to curb out-of-control
growth.


“It was almost as if somebody had turned on a switch in communities
across the United States and in state legislatures and there was just this
whole different environment starting about three years ago and it was no
longer business as usual.”


Meck is a senior researcher with the American Planning Association. He’s
been working to compile updated models for planning and zoning legislation.
He says the group found most state planning statutes are based on model acts
adopted by the U.S. Commerce Department in the 1920’s.


After World War II, development in the suburbs boomed, but planning laws
didn’t keep pace. Meck says most communities reacted to growth by turning to
the state, and the state reacted by building roads. Meck says few places
actually followed any kind of plan.


“And we’ve tried all these fixes like, you know, expanding our
interstate system, and widening highways and stuff like that and it doesn’t
seem to be working. The cumulative effect of all of those things is they use
up a lot of farmland; they create suburban areas in which there’s no
activity after dark, and we think what’s going on right now is sort of a
revisiting of some of earlier types of development forums, and seeing
whether there’s some value to that.”


Stuart Meck says the American Planning Association is finding cities want to turn away from endless

tracts of suburban homes on meandering streets and instead look at building neighborhoods of homes,

stores, and schools.


But an urban area’s growth is affected by development outside a single community. Meck says that’s

why state governments need to establish a framework for planning, uniform laws that help individual

communities and larger areas manage growth.


In the Great Lakes region, only one state has passed legislation that over-hauls its planning

statutes: Wisconsin.


Tom Larson is the director of land use and environmental affairs with the Wisconsin Realtors

Association. He says in the past, Wisconsin’s debate was about whether growth should be stopped.

That argument pitted pro-growth developers against anti-growth environmentalists, and towns were

not thinking of anything beyond their own borders.


‘Communities were often planning very myopically, looking at only one particular issue without

looking at potential impacts on various… on other areas of their community.”


Larson says Wisconsin’s new comprehensive planning statues acknowledge there will be growth, and

tackles the question of how to grow better.


The new statutes require more public involvement. Public hearings must be held so that residents

and neighboring communities know what the state or local government is planning. Tom Larson says

communities now have to think about how development affects not just the prosperity of a community,

but how it affects things such as parks, transportation patterns, and schools. The statutes also

close loopholes that allowed communities to ignore their own plans whenever it suited them.


Brian Ohm is an assistant professor at the University of Wisconsin – Madison. He’s credited with

bringing together environmentalists, realtors, homebuilders, and government planners to draft the

legislation. Ohm says Wisconsin’s planning law reforms are broad. They’re not just about preserving

land.


“It goes way beyond just saving an acre of farmland here or there. There’s a lot of issue that are

involved and hopefully through good local comprehensive planning as a base, we can begin to address

the broader and more complex issues of sprawl.”


Ohm says reforming Wisconsin’s planning statutes won’t necessarily stop sprawl. But the

comprehensive planning process adopted by the state will make communities aware of what they’re

doing.


‘You know, communities, through their plans, will still be able to be as pro or anti sprawl as they

want. The state’s not going to dictate the outcome of that, but again it’s going to have to be—

those decisions as made
my local governments are going to be made on a more informed set of factors
through the comprehensive planning process.”


Ohm says the new planning statutes will mean local communities, counties,
and the state will all be aware of each other’s plans and how their plans
affect overall growth in an area.

Tom Larson at the Wisconsin Realtors Association says following the
comprehensive planning process will mean some changes and some
inconveniences for realtors and developers. But he says it will also mean
everyone will understand what a community’s goals are and how every sector
fits into the plan.


“What our end goal was, was to be able to plan through consensus, to
bring all the interest groups together at the local level as well as at the
state level and say, ‘How do we want our communities to grow; how do we open
up communication, make everybody part of this process, and how do we build
through consensus?’ I think that’s what… hopefully that’s what our message
is and hopefully what the legislation will encourage communities to do.”


All the parties involved say changing Wisconsin’s planning statutes was not
easy. Not every issue was resolved. They also say Wisconsin never could have
managed its growth without over-hauling the law. The American Planning
Association says states that try to tinker around the edges of their 1920’s-style

planning laws will find little success.


For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, this is Lester Graham.

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