'Solving Sprawl'

Stories of Smart Growth Solutions Offer Blueprint for Energy Security and a Better America

NEW YORK (December 11, 2001) - The surest way for the United States to achieve greater energy independence is through adopting smart growth policies that reduce suburban sprawl and reduce our dependence on oil, according to a new book by a leading authority on the American urban landscape.

"Solving Sprawl: Models of Smart Growth from Communities Across America," published by NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council) in cooperation with Island Press, looks at real-world examples of smart growth across the country. Authors F. Kaid Benfield, Jutka Terris and Nancy Vorsanger lay bare a common myth about sprawl -- that the alternative is a halt to growth. As Maryland Gov. Parris N. Glendening writes in the foreword to the book, growth may be inevitable, but dumb growth is not.

Sprawl is all too familiar: megastores surrounded by acres of asphalt, cookie-cutter subdivisions, traffic-clogged highways, and farmland turned into strip malls. Poorly planned, land-hungry dumb growth eats up farms, meadows and forests. It turns the landscape into wasteful, sterile office "parks" and subdivisions that serve cars better than people. "Solving Sprawl" provides important lessons on how to reverse these trends.

"Solving Sprawl" tells the stories of communities that are growing and developing without ravaging open spaces and depleting precious natural resources. It offers a blueprint for concerned citizens, visionary architects, developers and planners, elected officials and local governments struggling with the problems caused by unrestrained growth.

The book looks at 35 communities -- in cities ranging from Baltimore, Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Denver and Kansas City to suburbs around the country -- that have followed the principles of smart growth to break the cycle of sprawl. They are planning better, concentrating development where schools, roads and sewer lines are already in place, and reinvesting in older communities instead of abandoning them. They are placing homes near major transit stations or within walking distance of shops, restaurants and offices. They are building communities that help preserve natural, open spaces and that are more livable and attractive than their sprawling counterparts.

"Solving Sprawl" celebrates smart-growth success stories like that of Dallas Uptown, where a public-private partnership is helping Dallas overcome its image of an overgrown Sunbelt city by building a community where residents can live, work and play in a safe and attractive atmosphere, and where driving is a choice, not an imperative.

The book also tells the inspiring story of the Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative and the amazing turnaround of a neighborhood that had been one of Boston's poorest, vulnerable to drug dealers and dumping and devoid of businesses. Residents successfully lobbied City Hall to clean up the hazardous waste dumped in their neighborhood, then went on to create affordable housing, turning vacant lots into green spaces.

And it tells about small, fragile Pearl Lake in Almira Township, Michigan. When the lake was threatened by development, citizens took action. They secured grants, raised money through bake sales and auctions, and worked with the state and a regional land conservancy to buy lakefront property back from the developer. Today, that property has been incorporated into a nearby state forest, and it will be permanently protected.

Kaid Benfield, the principal author of "Solving Sprawl," is the director of NRDC's Smart Growth and Transportation Program in Washington, D.C. He also is the author of many studies and publications, including the 1999 book, "Once There Were Greenfields: How Urban Sprawl Is Undermining America's Environment, Economy and Social Fabric." A member of the National Academy of Sciences public advisory board on transportation and the environment, he also serves on several other steering committees and boards related to smart growth. In addition, he is a founder and executive committee member of Smart Growth America, a nationwide coalition of organizations working together on smart growth strategies.

Jutka Terris, another author of "Solving Sprawl," is an urban planner in Alexandria, Virginia. She holds a joint masters degree in public policy and urban planning from the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University and B.A. in anthropology from Grinnell College.

Co-author Nancy Vorsanger is a writer and editor living in New York City. As a staff member and consultant for NRDC and other groups, she has produced magazine and Internet articles, books, and newsletters on environmental, educational and criminal justice topics.

Early Reviews of "Solving Sprawl"

"'Solving Sprawl' is the best summary of the real choices we have to build better communities today." - Peter Calthorpe, architect and author, "The Next American Metropolis"

"These successful examples prove that sprawl is not our only choice."
- Susan Handy, professor, University of Texas School of Architecture

"Too often, we waste our time lamenting the negative; here we can celebrate and learn from what has worked." - Ralph Grossi, president, American Farmland Trust

"'Solving Sprawl' offers exactly what developing communities need, exactly when they need it: an abundance of stories that show there's a better way to grow. This is storytelling at its finest. Readers will be richly informed and greatly inspired."
- Don Chen, director, Smart Growth America

"Finally, here is a book on the environment that confronts the American reality both pragmatically and comprehensively. This may be the first text of a New Environmentalism."
- Andres Duany, architect and author, "Suburban Nation"

The Natural Resources Defense Council is a national, non-profit organization of scientists, lawyers and environmental specialists dedicated to protecting public health and the environment. Founded in 1970, NRDC has more than 500,000 members nationwide, served from offices in New York, Washington, Los Angeles and San Francisco.

Related NRDC Pages

Excerpts from "Solving Sprawl"

NRDC's Smart Growth/Sprawl pages