Now that Washington has turned its attention from scandal and to the problems faced by "real people," suburban sprawl has gained prominence on the national agenda.
Environmental organizations, community groups and politicians, including Vice President Al Gore, are supporting smart-growth policies to combat sprawl.
Anti-environmental reactionaries have launched an attack. It seems these conservatives believe broad ribbons of highway, long commutes, unrestrained development, strip malls and Wal-Marts are not merely our birthright as Americans, but they are the much-desired fruits of the exalted "American dream."
In fact, in their eagerness to attack, these reactionaries have turned their venom on people working to accomplish goals conservatives usually hold dear: reducing misguided governmental intrusion in community life, cutting taxes, protecting small-business owners and resurrecting the family-based neighborhoods we remember fondly from our childhood.
For most Americans, home ownership is at the heart of their American dream. In this dream, the homes are in cozy neighborhoods, with quiet, intimate streets that are not always clogged with traffic. Around the corner is a grocery for milk and bread. The children walk to school on safe sidewalks every morning, and families swim and fish in nearby lakes. That is the dream we want to protect in our fight against sprawl.
Unfortunately, that dream is not the day-to-day reality most people live. Across the nation, sprawl is destroying our parks and our farms, crowding our streets with more cars, and polluting our air and water.
On the surface of suburban development, people seem to just want their own piece of peace and quiet, but with sprawl comes insidious problems. Scattered sprawl gives people no choice but to drive farther to get from home to work.
In Washington, D.C., the time commuters spent stuck in traffic climbed 69 percent between 1982 and 1994 and you can bet they did not make up for that increased time by working fewer hours. Longer commutes lead to parents who are more tired and have less time for their children.
Sprawling suburbs burden local communities by demanding higher taxes for new water and sewer lines, extra school buses, expanded police and fire protection. In Minneapolis-St. Paul alone, planners estimate that it will cost $3.1 billion for just the new water and sewage services needed to accommodate projected growth between now and 2020.
Who pays for the big sewer line out to the middle of nowhere? Residents in the existing parts of town. Sprawling growth costs our cities and counties lots of money, and those costs are not offset by the taxes paid by the new users. Instead, sprawl forces higher taxes on existing residents. What conservative would support pricing a senior citizen out of the home she has owned for decades?
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