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Partners for Smart Growth Conference

Carol M. Browner, Administrator
Environmental Protection Agency
Remarks Prepared for Delivery
Partners for Smart Growth Conference

                           Austin, TX
                       December 15, 1998

     Thank you Mayor Watson. Thank you very much for that introduction, and for hosting this conference. I applaud you, and the city of Austin, for your vision and pioneering work on growing Austin in ways that will preserve its character, its natural heritage, its high quality of life, its clean air and water for today's and tomorrow's generations.

     I would also like to thank Jim and all the people at Urban Land Institute who helped make this important conference happen, as well as my colleagues from EPA, including Harriett Tregoning and the staff of EPA's Smart Growth Network. You all have worked many long, hard hours and your work is greatly appreciated.

     Jim, not only do we appreciate all of your good work, we also appreciate our partnership with ULI. To change our patterns of growth -- to make them work for everyone over the long term -- is something that no one agency, no one developer, no single group can do alone.   It requires partnerships.

     And in many ways that is what this conference is all about.   Developers and homebuilders -- the people we rely on to actually build our communities and neighborhoods -- working in partnership with community leaders. Planners working with transportation experts, city officials, neighborhood organizations. Government officials working with all. Partnerships.

     To truly change our patterns of growth, people must come together and create a new vision for our future -- a vision that goes beyond the growth vs. no-growth debate, a vision premised not on whether we should grow, but on how we should grow.  

     We have no choice. This past election, the American people delivered an imperative: Change the way we are building our cities and suburbs. Protect our quality of life, our green spaces -- and in doing so, protect our air, water, and health. Help us preserve our communities.

    This past election, more than 150 state and local "green" initiatives were adopted by the voters, generating more than $7 billion for new growth strategies. The American people are calling for more open space, forests and prairies. More protections for streams, rivers, lakes -- the sources of our drinking water. More parks, bike paths, trails. More development that renews and revitalizes our nation's great cities.

     In short, the American people are calling for a better quality of life.

     I know that many of you in this room worked hard to pass these initiatives -- and I congratulate your successes.

     In many instances these initiatives were a reaction to the march of hasty, uncoordinated patterns of development -- what some people call "urban sprawl" -- and a growing sense among many that there are smarter ways to grow our cities and suburbs. That we can grow in ways that contribute to our quality of life -- with less time in our cars, less time in traffic, more trees, less concrete.

     I dare say, the term urban sprawl is one of those phrases that means something different to each of us.

     It's something we know when we see it: ring after ring of development, each one newer and farther out than the next; countryside and farms bulldozed to make way for housing divisions and strip malls; a wetlands drained and paved for a parking lot.
     It's something we know when we feel it: that frustration when surveyor flags appear one day in that country meadow behind your home -- an even newer subdivision is on the way; the anger mounting in a traffic jam; the regret when, stuck in traffic, you arrive home too late to eat dinner with your family.

     Today, too many of us lead far too complicated lives. Groceries on the run. Two working parents. Who picks up the kids? Long commutes. American motorists now spend 1.6 billion hours per year stuck in traffic. In the nation's capital, drivers spend an average of two full work weeks per year idling behind the wheel.

     America's suburbs have, for decades, been our national escape hatch. They have been an important part of our landscape -- offering that dream of a better place to live and work and play, to raise our children. Our suburbs have provided affordable housing, clean air, fresh water, elbow room, a yard bigger than a postage stamp, perhaps even woods and meadows.

    But at some point -- as we have built farther and farther and farther out -- we have come face to face with the law of diminishing returns. And we have had to ask ourselves a troubling
question: "How do we continue our progress and the important growth of our cities and suburbs -- and still protect our health, environment, the quality of life in our neighborhoods and communities?"

     In the 1960s, when I was growing up in Miami, Florida, I lived on 71st Street SW -- right on the edge of the historic Everglades.  Today, you can go west another 150 blocks. Long block after long block of development.  Ever-widening patterns of development that have eaten away at the natural areas, sucking the water from the heart of the Everglades, and destroying the wetlands, nature's own system for protecting Florida's liquid gold, its water.  Fresh, clean water is absolutely critical to south Florida -- its six million residents, its many thousands of businesses, its huge, productive agriculture industry and 13 billion-dollar-a-year tourism economy.  Yet, as of today the state has lost 46 percent of its wetlands, and half the historic Everglades.  As the aquifer is drained down, the salt water seeps into the once fresh water supplies.  Near Tampa, salt water is intruding on fresh water at the rate of five inches a day.

     At times I can only wonder, will the fabulous quality of life that I knew growing up   the fresh water, clean air, open space, and economic opportunity   be there for my son? For the next generation.

     Clearly, more than a few parents were asking themselves the same question when they headed to the polls last month.

     Not only, as a mother, am I delighted by this tide of concern for our children's future but, also, as the head of the Environmental Protection Agency.  Protecting open space, rolling hills, forests, and the integrity of our cities also means protecting the air we breathe, the water we drink, the land we all must share.  Protecting green spaces, growing smart may well be one of the most common sense, cost effective environmental solutions ever.

     Consider this: Just a one acre parking lot generates 16 times more polluted runoff than a meadow.  Runoff that will carry more toxic chemicals and more phosphorus and nitrogen -- the pollution that leads to harmful algal blooms and contributes to pathogen outbreaks in our waters.

     Consider this: We are driving our cars almost 60 percent more than in 1980.  Farther and farther to work, play, shopping, and schools.

     EPA estimates that all this extra driving in America will in 10 to 12 years overtake all the gains we have made in reducing air pollution. It would seem that the more people drive, the more we just spin our wheels when it comes to cleaner air in this country.

    What does this mean for our health? Poor air quality causes millions of cases of respiratory illnesses in America, thousands of cases of cancer, and tens of thousands of premature deaths -- every year.  And while air pollution comes from many sources, cars and trucks on the highway contribute about a third of smog-forming emissions.

     Exhaust from our autos and trucks also contributes more than a third of the gases that cause global warming.

     And there are other, perhaps unintended, but very real, consequences of building farther and farther away from our city centers -- we lose our sense of community, of neighborhood.  The opportunity for civic participation most surely is diminished when we only know our neighbors as someone we pass in the car late for work. And what about the empty, desolate downtowns, riddled with decay and neglect, and magnets for crime. As the tax bases of our downtowns dwindle and disappear -- the money needed for maintenance and renewal -- the downward spiral of our urban cores continues.

     But from Michigan to Florida, from New Jersey to California, small towns and large cities, we're starting to think in different terms about how we grow our communities.

     People are returning to cities like Boston, with newly booming downtowns that offer a high quality of life. They're returning to Cleveland, Detroit, and Chicago -- cities coming back to life from the bust years of the steel industry. They're returning in droves to many of the nation's urban centers and riverfronts as they shed years of neglect.

     Today our cities are emerging renewed, vibrant, and teeming with people who want to experience the new good times in cities across the country. A new study by the Brookings Institution shows that 19 of the nation's largest cities expect growth booms -- some by as much as 300 percent.

     It all starts with a common vision. Visions of neighborhoods where work, home, school, and shopping are close enough together to spend more time where you want to be, than in your car; communities where you have a choice in how you can get to all these places -- sidewalks, bike lanes, public transportation, as well as your car.

     Towns with parks and community centers, where historic areas are restored and cared for -- downtowns, urban centers that are once again hopping places on Friday and Saturday night.

     Places with clean air, fresh water, and safe land.

    I'm fortunate enough to live in a place where I can take the metro to work and as I walk home in evening from the metro, stop pick up the gallon of milk, a prescription, and enjoy the company of my neighbors as we fall in together and finish our walk home.  I know every kid on my block.  I live in a neighborhood. While not everyone would choose this lifestyle, more and more people are demanding precisely this kind of life, this kind of community.

     These places are not only found in the old parts of town -- restored to vibrant neighborhoods full of character -- but they can also be a new development -- Mizner Park in Boca Raton, Kentlands outside Washington DC -- where developers carefully craft a whole new town built around neighborhoods with parks, town squares, shops, restaurants -- towns we can grow into, rather than grow out of.

     There's a movement afoot in America. And, as it should be, many decisions about growth are being made at the local level. But we, in the federal government, can help, too. And we are. We are encouraging that better balance between growth and quality of life.

     We are helping to clean up and redevelop our cities' brownfields -- the abandoned industrial properties that riddle our inner cities with boarded up shells of buildings, and contaminated properties.

     Today, coast to coast, we have 226 cities working with us to redevelop brownfields -- to bring economic prosperity back to our cities, and spare greenfields from the bulldozers.

     All told, we have created 2,000 jobs with the brownfields program. As redevelopment begins, tens of thousands more are expected. And this year, we are providing new money to communities for low-interest brownfields cleanup loans.  

     Redeveloping brownfields is a significant action we take to breathe new life and new hope into our inner cities -- and we will continue to grow this effort.

     Second, we are continuing to examine all of the tools available to the federal government to encourage smart growth.  One study has estimated that the 1997 changes to the capital gains tax may result in up to 300,000 additional inward moves per year.  People leaving the suburbs moving back into the city.

     At EPA we're exploring whether, perhaps, states should receive air quality credits for better land use decisions -- more compact development, redevelopment of brownfields, office buildings located closer to residences to shorten commutes.

    Third, we must give communities local control over the kind of transportation they choose -- and resources for projects that reduce air pollution and traffic congestion.  So many of these efforts bring with them enhanced green space preservation. Included in the transportation bill is funding for a new pedestrian walkway in Cleveland, new bike racks in Chicago, a shuttle bus service in Seattle, and a host of other projects that give people a wide range of transportation options.

     And fourth, we must better engage the public in the decision making process.  At EPA we are continually expanding the public's right to know about the local condition of their air, land, and water -- so they can make informed decisions about how best to improve their neighborhoods.  So they can become an a knowledgeable participant in the decisions making forums.

     To break down barriers, to foster the kind of partnerships that solve problems and come up with durable solutions to the way we grow our cities, EPA's Smart Growth Network is bringing together people from all walks of life who can help find ways to encourage growth that is better for the economy and the environment. At this conference and over the months and years to come we are bringing together mayors, counties, cities, developers, architects, planners, lenders, community activists, environmentalists  -- so that we can start to listen to each other, and build partnerships that will get the job done

     You tell us -- what federal policies should we re-examine? What more can we do? We want to hear your ideas in the coming days.

     Recently, the Vice President announced three new initiatives to encourage a better balance between growth and clean, safe, healthy communities.

     We are working with Fannie Mae to launch a new $100 million pilot project that allows families that use mass transit to qualify for larger mortgages -- they can pay them because they save as much as hundreds of dollars a month using the subway or bus or other form of transit to get around.

     We're offering grants for communities to display federal information on computerized maps so that people can see parks, farmland, and buildings in the region -- and chart predictions of growth. An invaluable tool to help communities plan better patterns of growth.

     And, we're awarding states money for the purchase of easements across the country to protect farmland on more than 200 farms.

     All these actions will go far to build long-lasting, stable, and healthy communities.

    But to truly make progress, we must move beyond the polarized rhetoric. We must come together to move beyond the growth vs. no-growth debate. We must not talk about whether we should grow, but how we should grow so that we can build the kind of communities that provide clean air to breathe, fresh water to drink, safe land upon which to live, and an enduring and satisfying quality of life.

     Only then can we begin to preserve the health and integrity of all our great American communities -- our suburbs, our downtowns, our countrysides, our farms -- all the places we Americans call home.

     Thank you.

     And now I'd like to turn the floor over to Christine Todd Whitman -- governor of the great state of New Jersey. Governor Whitman has been a leader for protecting open space in her state -- committing millions of dollars for the purchase of forests, farms, and other greenspaces.

      She said in her inaugural address nearly a year ago, "Every part of New Jersey suffers when we plan haphazardly. Sprawl eats up our open space. It creates traffic jams that boggle the mind and pollute the air. Sprawl can make one feel downright claustrophobic about our future."

     Well today there's much less reason to feel claustrophobic about New Jersey's future because of  New Jersey's Question #1 -- which voters passed overwhelmingly this past November. This is one of the most far-sighted land conservation programs in the country -- a million acres preserved over the next 30 years -- 50 percent of New Jersey's remaining open space.

     This is a model for how states across the nation can preserve their countrysides and grow cities smarter. Governor Whitman...