For the first time in the Midwest, an old Superfund site has been declared ready for re-use. But funding questions continue to cloud the future of the toxic waste clean-up program. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Chuck Quirmbach reports:
For the first time in the Midwest, an old Superfund site has been declared ready for re-use. But
funding questions continue to cloud the future of the toxic waste clean-up program. The Great
Lakes Radio Consortium’s Chuck Quirmbach reports:
The Environmental Protection Agency says a former landfill in Antioch, Illinois is now clean
enough to be used as community athletic fields. The private sector paid most of the clean-up
cost. That’s a typical scenario, as nationally, private polluters pay 70-percent of the Superfund
But Congress refuses to bring back a corporate tax that paid the rest of the cost, meaning
the EPA has to set aside public dollars for restoration work. Tom Skinner is the EPA’s Midwest
Administrator. He says the Bush administration is still committed to clean-ups, but is dealing
with several large sites.
“The question is how much money can the country afford to devote to those clean-ups and how
quickly can we get them done as a result.”
But environmental groups say the job would be easier if the White House and GOP leaders on
Capitol Hill would bring back the Superfund tax.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Chuck Quirmbach.
In the mid-1960’s, the federal government started requiring metropolitan areas to come up with regional plans in order to get government grants for everything from highways to housing. That forced officials from large cities and from the suburbs to sit down at the same table (in many cases for the first time) and think about what was best for the entire region; not just their own town. From this effort, sprang the regional planning movement, but things aren’t always easy, and certainly don’t always go ‘according to plan.’ The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester Graham reports on one region’s attempt to plan for growth:
There are four major regional planning orgnizations in the Chicago metro area:
mid-1960’s, the federal government started requiring metropolitan areas to come up with regional plans in order to get government grants for everything from highways to housing. That forced officials from large cities and from the suburbs to sit down at the same table — in many cases for the first time — and think about what was best for the entire region, not just their own town. From this effort, sprang the regional planning movement. But things aren’t always easy and certainly don’t always go ‘according to plan.’ The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester Graham reports on one region’s attempt to plan for growth:
If you were to gather around the coffee pot in the morning at just about any place of business in just about any suburb of just about any big city, the topic of conversation would probably not be the weather, or last night’s big game, or even politics. Nope. More than likely it would be about how long it took to get to work. Lots of people drive an hour, ninety minutes, or even longer to make the commute. So, why not move closer, you might ask. The answer could very well be “Can’t afford it.”
Housing costs in many suburbs are so high that the people who teach the kids, fight the fires, and fix the cars in the nice suburbs have to live in other less affluent communities where housing is cheaper. That’s because city officials in many suburbs encourage the building of expensive houses on big lots because it means a better tax base. But that also means many workers need to hop in their cars to get to work in those fancy suburbs.
Of course, when thousands of cars line up bumper to bumper to make the commute, you get traffic congestion.
“If you think it’s bad now, just wait. It’s gonna get worse.”
That’s Frank Beale. He’s the Executive Director of a group named Chicago Metropolis 2020. Metropolis 2020 put together a plan that looked at the Chicago area’s growth patterns and came up with some pretty dire forecasts. According to the study, if the Chicago region conducts business as usual, by the year 2030 there will be a 75-percent increase in auto miles traveled for work, shopping, and normal everyday trips. The time it takes to drive to work will be up 27-percent. And only about seven-and-a-half percent of housing units will be within walking distance of mass transit.
Beale says there’s seems to be a disconnect between local governments’ decisions to encourage big, expensive houses and the resulting need for more roads and additional lanes of traffic to handle all the commuters.
distribution of affordable housing and the employment centers would diminish the demand on the transportation systems. We seem to always only talk about roads. But, we only need roads because of how we’ve configured the land in the region.” Beyond the travel concerns, business as usual — according to the Metropolis 2020 study — means another 383 square miles of farmland will become subdivisions and strip malls in less than 30 years.
Organizations such as Metropolis 2020 are working together to try to educate and persuade the Chicago region’s 275 suburban mayors that the decisions they make will have an effect on the whole region.
Larry Christmas was once one of those mayors. He’s also spent his career running or working for regional planning agencies. He says as a mayor, it’s hard to think about the larger region when you are working to bring good growth to your town. It’s especially hard when regional planners want you to give up local control of land-use for the betterment of the larger region.
“And that’s something the communities don’t want to give up lightly even if there’s a regional argument that the collective local decisions may add up to bad regional development patterns.”
So, those looking at the big picture have their work cut out for them. The regional planners spend a lot of time at meetings with local officials, putting together roundtables to explain plans and trying to schedule meetings between antagonists.
One of the partners of Metropolis 2020 is the Metropolitan Planning Council. Executive Director Mary Sue Barrett says sitting down with those different interests and getting them to consider the reasons for bending a little here and there to adhere to a regional plan can pay off.
“To put it in practical terms, if you can get an environmentalist and a homebuilder and a mayor to agree on something, you can probably go get it done. And that’s what we try to do.”
And the regional planners try to get the mayors to listen on topics ranging from fair and equitable housing, to public transportation, and even taxing systems that sometimes encourage bad development with tax breaks.
But given the kind of expansive sprawl that continues to plague the Chicago metropolitan area, there’s still one question you have to ask of people such as Frank Beale with Chicago Metropolis 2020. That is: who’s listening?
“Well, the general assembly, the legislators are listening, the Mayor, the 275 suburban mayors are listening. They don’t always agree, but they’re listening.”
And as long as they keep listening, the people looking for better regional planning will keep trying to persuade the cities in the suburbs there’s a better way.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, this is Lester Graham.
Sprawl affects urban and rural residents of every Great Lakes state. Rapid development continues to swallow farmland and leave impoverished urban cores in its wake. But one Great Lakes mayor believes there’s still time to preserve land and revive cities. Mayor John Logie shares this commentary:
Sprawl affects urban and rural residents of every Great Lakes state. Rapid development continues to swallow farmland and leave impoverished urban cores in its wake. But one Great Lakes mayor believes there’s still time to preserve land and revive cities. Mayor John Logie shares this commentary.
Urban sprawl is alive and well in Grand Rapids, my hometown. The term refers to the insidious way that webs of suburbs, manufacturing plants, etc., are expanding in unplanned, ever-widening circles around our city. Such sprawl results in longer commutes, pollution, and the loss of undeveloped land. The American Farmland Trust reports that 70% of the country’s prime farmland is now in the path of rapid development. On the list of 30 of the most sprawling cities in the entire United States, Grand Rapids, which has experienced a 48% increase in its urban area between 1990 and 1996, ranks right in the middle, behind such hyper-growth communities as Las Vegas, Austin, and Tucson, but well ahead of Cleveland, Chicago, and Portland in our rate of sprawl increase.
This Land-use change has rarely been done in a responsible fashion. Some sprawl apologists say what we’ve ended up with is that’s the American Dream, and any problems are easy to fix. They say there’s plenty of land left in America. They say congestion would go away if we just build more roads. But sprawl matters. Pollsters say it’s the most important issue in the Country.
Distress about urban sprawl arises from many factors: loss of open space, traffic congestion, economic segregation, a lack of affordable housing, and a lost sense of community. According to Harvard University political scientist Robert Putnam, the longer people spend in traffic, the less likely they are to be involved in their community and family.
To solve these problems, it takes a combination of land conservation and real free market economics, which can actually provide smaller lots for those who want them. However, many communities try to maintain what they believe are high property values by allowing only large-lot homes to be built. This effectively excludes several types of households, including singles, some empty nesters, single-parents, and the elderly, along with lower-income people. And the favored “middle-class family” with kids, today represents just 25% of new homebuyers. Only 11% of U.S. households are “traditional” families with children and just one wage earner. One size no longer fits us all.
Here’s what we need now.
We need smaller houses in walkable clusters, town homes in real “towns,” lofts in vital urban neighborhoods, and affordable housing just about anywhere. The development of compact communities that offer urban amenities and street life will show that the market actually supports more density and more housing diversity—not less. But we’re not building communities like those; communities that can help reduce many symptoms of sprawl, including traffic. Instead, we’re just building new roads. But for every 10% increase in new freeway miles, a 9% increase in traffic is generated within 5 years as sprawl continues. You just can’t build your way out of gridlock. More importantly, today we can no longer afford to keep building new freeways. The key is building more walkable communities. All this depends on promoting different land-use patterns, and not just building new roads.
Property rights advocates argue against regional planning, or any planning for that matter. They say that people should have a right to develop their properties as they please. As a historic preservationist, I have heard that for years. But what if one person’s development decision adversely impacts another’s property, or the whole neighborhood, or the whole region? What if certain choices require more public tax dollars to pay for infrastructure and services than others? At the regional level, it is public dollars that enable development on private property. Without highways, roads, sewers, water systems, and public services, development cannot occur. Therefore, we must use the tool of government spending appropriately – and seek out and implement the most cost-effective public investments which creatively and positively support growth, but discourage sprawl. My name is John Logie, I’m the Mayor of Grand Rapids, Michigan.