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					 Our utopias are the blueprints of our future
civilization, and as such, airy structures though they
are, they really play a bigger part in the progress of
man than our more material structures of brick and
                           Vice President Henry A. Wallace

Change will not come if we wait for some other
person or some other time. We are the ones we've
been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.
                                  President Barack Obama

Heroes are not statues framed against a red sky.
They are people who say, “This is my community
and it’s my responsibility to make it better.”
                                    Governor Tom McCall

  Activists are hell to live with, but they make great
                                        An Oregon activist

                                 Author’s Acknowledgements

Many people helped with this project, and they have my sincere thanks.

I thank Scott Denman Senior Program Officer at the Wallace Global Fund for his foundation‟s
and his own guidance and support for the project.

Geoff Anderson, Executive Director of Smart Growth America took the time to thoughtfully
review various draft reports, to recommend people I should consult, and to discuss and critique
my ideas.

The following people generously donated their time in reading and commenting on all, or major
parts of the background report and the sprawl-curtailment policy packages: Dr. Gerrit-Jan Knaap,
Director of the National Center for Smart Growth Research and Education at the University of
Maryland, Dr. Arthur C. Nelson of the University of Utah, Professor Bob Johnston of the
University of California at Davis (retired), Dr. Alvin Sokolow of the University of California at
Davis (retired) Dr. Dave Theobald of Colorado State University, Professor Stuart Meck of
Rutgers University, Dru Schmidt Perkins of 1000 Friends of Maryland, Terry Moore, at
ECONorthwest of Eugene, Oregon, Joe Molinaro, Director, Smart Growth and Housing
Opportunity,National Association of REALTORS® Managing.

Several people helped me with particular research inquiries, including Renee Kuhlman at the
National Trust for Historic Preservation, Tim Torma, at the United States Environmental
Protection Agency, Henry Richmond at the American Land Institute, Michael Beyard, Senior
Resident Fellow at the Urban Land Institute and Jim Murley, Director of the Center for Urban
and Environmental Solutions at Florida Atlantic University in Fort Lauderdale.

I thank the scores of state legislators, nonprofit organization staff and planners who took the time
to answer questions about prospects for anti-sprawl action in their state and localities. In
particular I thank Beth Humstone for special help in preparing the report for Vermont. .

Dr. Stephen Frenkel of Portland State University completed the bulk of the research on European
sprawl and efforts to control.

Becky Steckler, AICP, wrote and edited several of them and organized and supervised the
research by the research assistants.

Research assistants Christina Arlt, Kate Rube, Lauren Swisston and Chris Witt conducted
research on state programs and administered most of the surveys of anti-sprawl leaders and
experts. Kai Tohinaka assembled research materials for some of the Rocky Mountain states.

Armando Carbonell of the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy allowed me access to very important
unpublished research on state Smart Growth programs.

Martha Gannett designed the covers, operating on both a tiny budget and very short notice.

Tom McTighe stepped in at the last minute to help with technical editing and document assembly.

And for all those people I should have mentioned, and who deserve my thanks in this
acknowledgment, you have both my thanks and my apologies.

                                                     Table of Contents

Introduction ......................................................................................................................... 5
What Has Worked ............................................................................................................... 7
Programs That Show Weak Results or No Results ........................................................... 13
Programs Without Sufficient Documentation of Results.................................................. 18
Lessons from Europe ........................................................................................................ 20
A Brief Note on the Canadian Experience ........................................................................ 26
Conclusions: Where (and When) Progress Can Be Made Next ....................................... 26

        A. The Current Context: The Severe Recession Will Temporarily
           Halt Both Sprawl and Efforts to Reform Sprawl………………………………26

        B. Some General Opportunities to Advance Anti-Sprawl Policies
           and Programs………………………………………………………………… 27

C.         Particular Opportunities for Adoption of New Sprawl Curtailment
           Programs at the State Level ……………………………………………………34

The Subject and Scope of the Project

Smart Growth America, with the support of the Wallace Global Fund, commissioned an
analysis of how to stop sprawl in all fifty of the United States.

Stopping sprawl achieves many Smart Growth objectives.

First, it saves the farm, ranch and forestlands that provide food and fiber. Second, it
protects natural resources, including wildlife and places that provide or recharge surface
and ground water. Third, reducing sprawl can be realized in part by increasing the range
of housing choices in our communities. Fourth, compact mixed-use urban development
reduces how farm we must travel to work, or shopping or school and increases the
effectiveness and reduces the user cost of providing transit. Fifth, it benefits taxpayers
because compact growth reduces the cost per taxpayer of providing roads, sewers, water
lines and emergency services.1 It is all of these connections between stopping sprawl and
the achievement of Smart Growth objectives that made this project an appropriate
undertaking for Smart Growth America.

The scope of this project is very broad indeed; an analysis of the effectiveness of
programs to curb sprawl in the United States and Europe, and based on that review, a
determination of the prospects for adoption of effective new laws and programs to curb or
stop sprawl in each of the 50 states.

The Project Reports

This Summary Report is one of a related set of reports. The other reports are a) the
Background Report, b) State Reports (in multiple volumes), and c) a collection of some
of the various reports, studies and articles used in preparing these reports. Each of those
documents are briefly described below.

The Background Report outlines the idea of sprawl as part of a hierarchy of development
patterns, and defines sprawl curtailment as any progress in shifting development up the
hierarchy. The Background Report describes different approaches to curtailing sprawl, in
the U.S. and Europe, and examines the evidence regarding what has worked.

The State Reports describe the programs that have been adopted in each state to curb
sprawl and promote more compact growth (if any), review the available evidence about
their performance and assess the prospects for improvements to existing programs and for
adopting new, more effective sprawl curtailment measures. Interviews with legislators,

  While stopping sprawl advances many Smart Growth objectives, the reverse is not necessarily true. For
example, extending mass transit into the countryside is more likely to accelerate than curb sprawl. A
walkable mixed use community reflects Smart Growth concepts but if it is built on a geenfield miles from
the edge of any urban area, it is still a form of sprawl.

leaders in nonprofit organizations opposing sprawl and professional planners used to
prepare the reports are appended to each state report.

The last report is a digital collection of materials that have been used in the preparation of
the Background Report and the States Report. These include academic research papers,
abstracts of those papers, newspaper articles or excerpts of those materials, evaluations
produced by state agencies or nonprofit groups, excerpts of planning documents and
other information.

This Summary Report is more than a distillation of the other reports. It contains analysis
and recommendations based on the other two reports, that do not appear in those
documents. For the sake of simplicity and clarity it omits references to sources. Those
citations and a bibliography can be found in the Background Report and State Reports.
Some of the referenced papers are included in the digital collection (described below.)

The Summary Report presents several important conclusions regarding effective and
ineffective sprawl curtailment programs, based on the review presented in the
Background Report. The analysis of the effectiveness of sprawl-curtailment programs
presented in the Background Report is based not only on the expert opinions of
practitioners but on available research and information about actual development patterns
on the ground.

The Summary offers recommendations about which investments of resources would
deliver the best results in stopping or slowing future sprawl. Some of these
recommendations refer to opportunities in particular states, regions and localities. Other
recommendations are strategic and generalized.

However, because survey responses were not received from policy makers and experts in
many states, it is premature to make a comprehensive high quality assessment of exactly
which of the effective sprawl curtailment laws and programs could be adopted, if any, by
each one of the fifty states.

Alternatively, Smart Growth America and the Wallace Global Fund may decide to focus
the remainder of the project on next steps to increase the number of places and people
protected from sprawl through the adoption, improvement and better enforcement of
effective anti-sprawl programs.

What Has Worked

Urban Growth Boundaries Combined with Intensification of Urban Development
Inside of Them and Rural Conservation through Regulation and/or Acquisitions and
Easements Outside the Boundaries2

Leading Examples at State Level:                      Oregon, Washington
Leading Regional & Local Examples:                    Lexington-Fayette County, KY, Baltimore
                                                      County, MD, Lancaster County, PA,
                                                      Ventura County, CA, Boulder, CO

Research conducted for this project shows that several places in the United States have
stopped or sharply curtailed sprawl in all its forms.

These programs have stopped sprawl in the form of leapfrogging subdivisions in the

They have stopped the building of malls and commercial strip development on the
farmland, rangelands and forestlands that provide our food and fiber, and in the natural
areas needed for water and wildlife.

They have succeeded in increasing, instead of decreasing, residential densities in cities
and suburbs, by methods that increase choices in housing, including increased
opportunities for families of modest means.

This increased density also makes the provision of public transit more feasible, by
increasing the number of transit riders living near transit. More compact growth patterns
also reduce driving per capita because housing, shopping and jobs are closer together. It
also means lower burdens for taxpayers because less money must be spent for new roads,
new pipes and new school buses if development is more compact.

These programs have significantly increased the share of growth that is accommodated
by restoring and redeveloping instead of abandoning downtowns and neighborhoods,
which is good news for residents of those neighborhoods.

In addition, many of these programs have sharply slowed the amount of rural sprawl that
takes the form of country estates and ranchettes on 10, 40 or 160 acres (which is
sometimes referred to as “exurban sprawl.”). That has benefits for farmers, ranchers and
people and companies who grow trees, by keeping land available and affordable for their
businesses. It is also a benefit for wildlife and water quality and quantity.

None of these programs have completely stopped all forms of sprawl.

 The references for the data presented here and the research supporting the conclusions are included in the
Background Report and the individual state reports.

None of them have stopped all rural homesite development. None of them have
succeeded in transforming all greenfield development into compact, mixed use
development. And certainly, none of them have met all the demand for additional homes
and jobs entirely by redevelopment and infill.

But several of these programs have very significantly curbed these forms of sprawl and
increased the density of new urban development and the rate of redevelopment. If these
programs were adopted and applied across all of America, our future would be
dramatically better.

Furthermore, contrary to a common belief in planning policy circles, these urban
containment/urban densification and redevelopment/rural conservation programs are not
confined to liberal states. Anti-sprawl programs have been adopted at the state, regional
and local levels in Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Hawai‟i, Kentucky, Maryland,
Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota and Washington.

Here are some examples of efforts of this type that have been successful in stopping

   Seattle Metropolitan Area and Central Puget Sound Region, Washington

King County, Washington, has a population of 1.8 million (about the same as Nebraska)
and is 2,134 square miles in size, larger than the state of Delaware. Between 2001 and
2006, about 63,000 new homes were approved in the county. Over 95% of them were
located within the 460 square miles designated as urban growth areas.

In the high growth counties of central Puget Sound, including King County, the densities
for built single family residential developments in the five counties increased from a
range in 2002 of 3.8 to 5.0 units per acre, to 5.4 to 7.2 units per acre in 2007, roughly a
40% increase in density in five years. Multifamily densities increased from a range of
3.4 to 22.0 units per acre in 2002, to 14.2 to 37.9 units per acre in 2007 that is, roughly
doubling in density.

Between 2000 and 2008, every one of Washington State‟s six largest cities (five central
cities, one suburban) all experienced population growth attributable to infill,
redevelopment and resettlement (not annexation), ranging from 3.7% to 11.9%.

   Baltimore County, Maryland

Baltimore County, (which does not include the city of Baltimore) comprises 598.59
square miles. In 2006 the county was home to an estimated 787,384 people (more people
than live in Wyoming), an increase of 33,000 since 2000. It established an Urban Rural
Demarcation Line in 1967, which has changed very little. Today the URDL encompasses
one third of the County‟s land area and is home to 89% of its population. About one-half
of the County (roughly 300 square miles) is zoned for Resource Conservation, most of it

with lot sizes of 50 acres. Within this area, 57,000 acres is permanently protected
through conservation easements and other means.

   Lexington & Fayette County, Kentucky

Lexington (2006 estimated population 270,789) is part of a consolidated urban
government with Fayette County, created by merger in 1974. The city-county comprises
285 square miles. The city and county jointly adopted an urban growth boundary in
1958; today 85 square miles is inside the boundary (30% of the county land area), with
200 square miles (705) outside the boundary. The horse and former tobacco farms
outside the urban growth boundary have been protected by 50-acre minimum lot size
zoning and more than 10,000 acres has been preserved by easements. Inside the urban
growth boundary, which has been only reluctantly expanded, the downtown has
revitalized, including the construction of mid-rise and high-rise condominium

   Boulder Colorado

The “blue line” limiting development to the west was adopted in 1959 and the boundary
around the eastern part of the city was added shortly thereafter. Several years later the
residents voted to enact a sales tax to buy open space around the city. Today there are
40,000 acres of protected lands around the city. Boulder has experienced substantial
downtown redevelopment, in part because the planning program requires one-third of
new housing to be located downtown.

   Portland, Oregon Metropolitan Area

The Oregon portion of the Portland metropolitan region is made up of three counties with
combined populations of about 1.6 million – more populous than New Hampshire. The
region has a land area of slightly more than 3,000 square miles (one-third the size of New
Jersey.) About 400 square miles (13% of the total area) are located inside the Portland
urban growth boundary (UGB) and another, roughly 50 square miles, are inside the
UGBs of other small cities in the counties. Another 130 square miles or so are rural
residential zoned areas. The remainder, roughly 2,600 square miles, are in farm, forest or
mixed farm-forest zones.

During the 10.75 years beginning on January 1, 1998, 96% of the residential development
permits were located inside urban growth boundaries in the county, 90% in the Portland
metropolitan urban growth boundary. Two percent of the homes were built in rural
residential zones (generally 1 to 10 acre lots) and 2% were built in sites in farm or forest

The average undeveloped lot size for a single-family home in the Portland metropolitan
urban growth boundary has fallen from almost 13,000 square feet in 1978 to about 5,000
square feet in 2001. Much of the central city of Portland has experienced revitalization in

the last twenty years. In the last decade, about 6,000 new housing units were built on less
than 100 acres that make up the Pearl District, in a former warehouse district.

   Oregon Statewide Farm and Forest Zoning

About 16.4 million acres of private land in Oregon are in the Exclusive Farm Use zones
contained in statute and mandated by the state planning program. EFU zoning prohibits
urban uses like residential subdivision, shopping malls or office parks. That acreage is
about 25,600 square miles, an area five times the size of Connecticut and three times the
size of Maryland. In the eleven years from 1997 to 2007 (inclusive) local governments
approved 6,485 new homes on the 16.4 million acres in Exclusive Farm Use zones, about
one home for every four square miles.

About 8.7 million acres of private land in Oregon are in exclusive forest zoning, which
has similar restrictions on development to EFU zoning. That acreage is about 13,600
square miles, roughly the land area of Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island
combined. In the eleven years from 1997 through 2007, 5,016 dwellings were approved
in forest zones, about one every 2.7 square miles.

During this period, Oregon‟s population grew by 431,239 people. That population
increase required about 172,500 new homes (assuming 2.5 residents per home.). Of the
estimated 172,500 new homes that were built, 6.6% were built in farm and forest zones.

During those years 44,563 acres were added to various urban growth boundaries around
the state to accommodate the vast majority3 of the 431,239 new residents of Oregon. Out
of the total acreage added to UGBs, 14,480 acres (33%) were added from exclusive farm
use zones and 3,390 acres (9%)from forest zones.

   Lancaster County, Pennsylvania

Lancaster County, Pennsylvania is 949 square miles in size (about the size of Rhode
Island). It experienced a 5.1% growth rate in the 2000-2006 period, and in 2006 it had an
estimated population of 494,486. During 1994–2002, 76% of all residential units were
developed inside its urban growth boundaries (13 Urban Growth Areas and 26 Village
Growth Areas.) The county protected about 36% of its total land area through regulation
and the purchase of title and easements, and a higher proportion of its rural lands.

   Ventura County, California, 1996

In 2006, Ventura County, California had an estimated population of 799,796 – more than
Vermont and four other states. Its population increased by about 46,000 (6.2%) between

  As noted in the prior section, 96% of the new homes in the Portlland metropolitan area in a slightly
different 10.75 year period, were for locations inside urban growth boundaries. That kind of data is not
available for the entire state. The calculation of the share of total dwellings in farm and forest zones
statewide, shows that areas outside the Portland metropolitan area, had more of their growth outside UGBs.
But overall it is safe to say that the vast majority of growth was inside UGBs.

2000 and 2006. The County is 1,845 square miles in area, about the size of Delaware.
Twenty-six percent (230 square miles) of the county‟s non-federal lands are within the
County‟s nine growth boundaries (plus the city limits of the Port of Hueneme and the
Ojai area.) Those growth boundaries absorbed 89% of the population growth from 1986
to 2000. During that period, the densities of new developments inside the growth
boundaries rose steadily until they reached an average of 10.4 people per square mile in
the 1996-2000 period, a 39% increase from the 7.54 people per square mile average in
urban areas in 1986.

Today, more than 12 million Americans live inside urban growth boundaries, in states
and regions that are working to stop sprawl using a multi-faceted approach that has the
following components:

      A boundary to mark the limits to urban development, adopted and implemented
       through binding comprehensive plans and consistent land use regulations and
       maps that are unambiguous. The boundary is also used to limit the extension of
       urban services and facilities, (urban highways, sewers, and water lines).

      Land use regulations (zoning), or the purchase of land or development rights, or a
       combination of the two methods, are used to conserve the farmlands, forests,
       rangelands and natural areas outside the urban boundary.

      Strong efforts to increase the density of new development inside the urban
       boundary, especially residential development, and to promote infill and
       redevelopment through changes to zoning to allow more dense development,
       targeted infrastructure investments and private sector incentives such as tax
       breaks or subsidies.

      A government body that has the legal authority to take and compel action,
       exercises that authority and has the funds to pay for the work and defray the costs
       of compliance by local governments. In some cases, the courts or a specialized
       land use review tribunal play an important role in the proper implementation of
       the program.

      A strong civic infrastructure of nonprofit groups and civic institutions that
       monitor, enforce and defend the program during the frequent periods when
       political will falters or political attention is focused elsewhere.

However, other states and localities that have adopted the same program, or what appears
to be the same program, have achieved only modest success in stopping sprawl.

Examples of urban boundaries and densification coupled with rural conservation efforts
that have not performed very well at stopping sprawl include some urban and rural areas
in Oregon and Washington and regional efforts in Miami-Dade County and Orlando,
Florida. (The land conservation aspect of the effort in the Orlando region has, by contrast,
had some measurable success.)

There are five explanations for poor performance.

First, programs that seem superficially the same, are in fact far different in their legal
content and administrative details: A mandatory requirement for one state or locality is
drafted in advisory language in another; strong, formal, state oversight in one state is only
a weak administrative review process in another; “conservation zoning” in one place
means 160-acre land division standards and farm income tests for dwellings in one state,
and is 5-acre lots somewhere else (Miami-Dade County).

But the variation between places using similar approaches cannot be explained solely by
the differences in the legal framework for the program, because even when this system is
applied at the state level, there is wide variation in the quality of outcomes at the local
level (e.g., the difference in performance between neighboring King and Pierce Counties
in Washington.) The same is true for national anti-sprawl programs in Europe.

The answer is simple: Weak laws will not stop sprawl, but strong laws will not stop
sprawl either, unless they are conscientiously implemented and administered in the face
of indifference or opposition. This simple point is often acknowledged in passing but is
rarely treated with the seriousness it deserves when designing or supporting sprawl
curtailment programs. This is the second reason for poor performance.

The third reason is the absence of groups outside government that monitor and enforce
the anti-sprawl program. The endless and detailed work of staff in nonprofit
organizations who review and critique local plans and proposals, who attend hearings,
who challenge state and local government decisions in court and who rally around the
programs when they are threatened by elected officials or ballot measures makes a
tremendous difference in the quality of outcomes.

There is a fourth problem with performance for anti-sprawl efforts of this type that are
limited to areas so small that they displace some development and sprawl to new
locations. However, allegations that such programs have no net effect because they stop
growth in one place and replace it with sprawl elsewhere do not bear examination. As
the statistics on population growth presented in the summary of programs above showed,
many of the areas with these programs have continued to grow at the same pace as they
did before the program.

Finally, it is very important to recognize that these programs are not static, they evolve.
Sometimes that evolution is a weakening of the program, but in many other cases it is a
strengthening. Notable examples of the evolution toward stronger sprawl curtailment and
urban densification efforts include the city of Charleston, South Carolina, Lexington-
Fayette, Kentucky and Lancaster County, Pennsylvania.

Natural Resource and Land Conservation Programs that Block Sprawl into Rural
Areas at a Landscape Scale

Some other approaches to curtailing sprawl have had some landscape-level (versus
strictly local) impact. These approaches are:

       Sprawl curtailment efforts using the purchase and transfer of development rights
        in New Jersey‟s Pinelands, Highlands and Meadowlands (which contain almost a
        third of that state‟s lands).4

       A few land conservation programs using purchase and conservation easement
        programs (including those paid for through tax credits) that have, or may in the
        future, preserve a significant share of a state or large area. These include
        Vermont (which has about 20% of its lands protected) and the seven-county
        Orlando metropolitan area (about 35% of the lands protected). In Virginia there
        may be enough concentrated investment in conservation (combined with some
        local land use regulation) in areas susceptible to sprawl to constitute an effective
        landscape-level anti-sprawl program.

       Local rural land protections through zoning, in parts of California and Montana.

Programs That Show Weak Results or No Results

Experience in the United States has shown that most statewide efforts adopted with the
aim (or at least the hope) of stopping sprawl (in its various forms) have had weak results.
In some cases they seem to have had no impact at all.

This harsh assessment is difficult to present given that many dedicated individuals in
government and the nonprofit sector have worked hard for decades trying to stop or slow
sprawl by working to adopt, implement and improve these programs.

The results do not reflect upon their hard work, but rather upon the strong political forces
that have thwarted their efforts. In some instances, it is these anti-sprawl crusaders who
have offered the harshest critiques of their state‟s performance and sharpest diagnosis of
the reasons for failure.

States with effective programs to control sprawl (e.g., Oregon, Washington, parts of New
Jersey and Vermont) are sometimes also listed as examples of states that have adopted

  Other state efforts to protect and preserve from sprawl areas of special natural resource value or beauty
have had very little or no apparent effect. One example of such a failure are efforts to protect Chesapeake
Bay shorelands in Virginia. Another notable failure can be found in Oregon. The state legislation provides
for the designation of areas of “critical statewide concern” but none have ever been designated despite the
legislation‟s drafters clear intention that the Oregon Coast and Columbia Gorge would be considered for
such designations.

ineffective programs. They are listed because even in states with effective programs,
there are aspects of their sprawl-curtailment effort that are ineffective. These programs
are ineffective in those states for the same reason they are ineffective elsewhere.

State-Authorized and State -Mandated Comprehensive Land Use Planning for Local
Governments (Without Substantive Anti-Sprawl Elements)

Leading Examples:      Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Minnesota, New Jersey, Rhode Island,
Other Examples:        California, Vermont

There has been, and there remains, a widespread belief that if local governments are
invited, or directed, to adopt comprehensive land use plans the result will be less sprawl.
In many states, state legislation mandating comprehensive planning also specifies the
topics to be addressed, for example, a “housing element” or a “land use element” and a
“conservation element.” (The states with effective sprawl curtailment programs also
mandate comprehensive planning and land use regulation but carry it much farther by
establishing strict objectives, and support it with a strong state oversight role.)

National Resources Inventory information and more specialized research on development
patterns in some of these states show no diminution in the rate of sprawl (unless there is
some other state or local program in effect.)

Authorizing, encouraging and mandating the adoption of comprehensive plans – without
any further requirements – has not (and will never) stop sprawl, for a number of reasons.

First, “planning” is content neutral; unless the goal is to stop sprawl and regulations are in
place, then planning in itself will not accomplish that objective. In those states where
plans are purely advisory and not integrated with implementing zoning (and other
regulations), the requirement of drafting and adopting plans is a waste of public

Secondly, in many of these states, the state‟s authority to review and require changes to
local plans and the regulations to carry out state goals is either weak (e.g., New Jersey) or
non-existent (e.g., Minnesota.) In other cases, where the state has much more authority
in statute, it has failed to exercise that authority consistently and vigorously, either in
reviewing the plans at the time of adoption or in monitoring amendments that may
weaken the plan (e.g., Florida, Vermont.)

Third, even when the state has the authority and uses it, the degree of rigor in the
oversight and in quality control over the local plans, especially those proposed by local
governments opposed to the planning goals, can be inadequate. For example, failure to
require changes to even one or two words in a key provision (governing variances or
nonconforming uses) can have landscape-wide consequences.

Efforts to Curb Sprawl through State Plans and/or Coordination and Direction of State
Agency Programs

Leading Examples:      Arizona, Maryland, New Jersey, Rhode Island
Other Examples:        Massachusetts, Oregon, Vermont

Some states have passed legislation requiring the adoption of a state land-use plan. The
plan is adopted by and structured around the work of state agencies. This approach
typically targets state infrastructure funds (described below), but is intended to have
broader impact by including the full range of regulatory, taxation, investment and
incentives efforts by every department from agricultural to water resources and
everything in between: education, environment, housing, revenue, transportation, and so
forth. Statewide land-use plans are drawn made up of policy statements and
implementation actions assigned to each agency.

A weaker version of this approach is often called state agency coordination. In those
states, state legislation requires state agency actions to be reviewed and revised to
conform to state policies on land development patterns, without the existence of a state
plan. In some instances (e.g., Oregon and Vermont) the agency plans are also supposed
to be consistent with local comprehensive plans.

A still weaker form is the creation of a “Smart Growth Cabinet” in which informal inter-
agency cooperation intended to deliver Smart Growth outcomes is promoted by the

There are many examples of particular development projects that have been facilitated by
state agency planning and coordination efforts. In Vermont detailed evaluations have
been made of a spectrum of agency decisions and the results are mixed at best. A state-
to-state comparison of development patterns at the state level in Florida, Maryland and
New Jersey with comparable states finds no evidence that these state land-use plans and
state agency coordination have resulted in more compact urban development or slowed
the wave of suburban and exurban development.

Some reasons for this failure are:

(1) The state plan was never adopted (e.g., Maryland, to date);

(2) The state plan is advisory only;

(3) The state agencies conformance to state policies was thwarted by state agency
resistance, which turned compliance into a paper exercise focused on process (e.g.,
Oregon and Vermont);

(4) Even if all state agency actions were coordinated and made to execute state anti-
sprawl policies, their combined effect would still be far weaker than the impact of the
decisions made by local governments.

Targeting state infrastructure investments away from sprawl and toward existing
urban areas and new Smart Growth projects by legislative and executive action

Leading Examples:         Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Virginia
Other Examples:           Arizona, Florida, New Jersey, Utah, Vermont

A common approach to curbing sprawl is for the governor or the state legislature to adopt
state policy or state laws to focus its investments in infrastructure (roads, transit lines,
sewer and water lines, treatment facilities, etc.) in ways intended to stimulate the
redevelopment of existing, decayed urban areas and to promote more compact forms of
new development.

In several states, including Maryland, Massachusetts and New Jersey, the areas to receive
priority for state funding are mapped. (In Maryland they are called Priority Funding
Areas, “PFAs”.) In Vermont, the targets for state infrastructure funding are downtowns,
village centers and a recently added category, “urban growth centers.”5

The most limited version of this approach is when governors issue executive orders
directing that new state facilities be built in downtown locations.

By and large these efforts may have helped revitalize some urban areas,6 but their
impacts on sprawling suburban and exurban development appear to have been very

The reasons for this failure to deliver strong results include:

(1) The pre-existence of scattered development, an adequate road network and on-site
water supplies and septic systems allows substantial new development to proceed without
major infrastructure investments, a common situation in much of the Northeast;

(2) In many states, the state‟s role in providing infrastructure, compared to local
governments‟ role, is modest;

(3) The exemption or grandfathering-in of certain infrastructure investments, particularly

(4) Weak legal authority and administrative structure and finance for the program;

(5) Lax or absent enforcement of the requirements by government;

  The mapping of these urban growth centers may have created some confusion about the nature of that
mapping. The map in Bennington Vermont‟s comprehensive plan shows an “Urban Growth Center
Boundary.” This is a map of one of the three types of urban development areas, downtown, village and
urban growth centers; it is not a map of an urban growth boundary for the whole urban area.
  See the discussion of urban revitalization programs below.

(6) No legal opportunity for interest groups outside government to enforce the program,
or a decision not to spend resources on this effort;

(7) The program was initiated through executive action by a particular governor, and it is
not sustained by the governor‟s successor(s). This is evident in Maryland and
Massachusetts and may come about in Arizona.

State Permitting Oversight

Leading Examples:         California (partial), Florida, Vermont

Although local governments have the most authority over development permits, in many
states, certain kinds of permits require state review.

Often these permits must be reviewed under a state Environmental Protection Act.
Following the adoption of the federal National Environmental Protection Act many states
adopted state versions, State Environmental Protection Acts.

Other states, like Florida and Vermont, created a new state level of review of big projects,
outside of their SEPA. The types of projects which are subject to this review are
sometimes referred to as “Developments of Regional Impact.”

Vermont‟s Act 250 included state and regional review of developments of regional
impact as part of that state‟s planning efforts. While it has been useful in stopping
particular projects, experts from that state agree that it has not, and could not, work to
stop sprawl, since so many developments fall below the threshold for review.

Almost from the beginning, critics of NEPA and the SEPAs recognized that the focus on
particular sites and projects did not lend itself to a long-term and landscape-scale focus.
(In fact, some critics of sprawl agree with development interests that SEPA‟s permitting
requirements are being used to stymie more compact urban development patterns.)

This project did not find any research that demonstrated that review of permits for DRIs
had curbed sprawl.7

State-Level Land Conservation by Public and Private Purchase of Land or
Development Rights (including through Tax Credits)

Leading Examples:         Colorado, Florida, New Jersey, Maryland
Other Examples:           California, Rhode Island

 A possible exception to the failure of state permitting oversight may be the work done by the California
Coastal Conservation Commission, as part of California‟s Coastal Zone Management Act implementation.

The prior section described the success of New Jersey‟s efforts to protect almost one third
of the state from sprawl, through the Pinelands and Highlands conservation management
programs. Vermont‟s achievement in protecting about one-fifth of its land was also
noted. But for most states, even very substantial amounts of public investment in
conservation are not succeeding in stoping sprawl.

Florida has been spending $300 million per year to buy land for conservation purposes.
Between 1990 and 2000 it protected about one million acres and since 2001 it has
protected about 650,000 acres.

After 20 years of both public and private investment in conservation easements and
acquisitions in Vermont, about 430,000 acres of farm and forestlands and natural areas
have been protected.

In Colorado, increasing the maximum allowable tax credits for conservation easements,
and the authorizing third-party transfers of the credits had increased the rate of easement
protections to as much as 50,000 to 100,000 acres per year in recent years. (There was a
similar acceleration in conservation easements in Virginia at the same time for the same
reasons.) But the sites are scattered and many appear to be in areas not threatened by

Public funds and tax credits will never be able to protect more than a modest percentage
of rural areas in the vast majority of states. For example, after spending $2.5 billion
($300 million per year) Florida‟s Florida Forever campaign has protected about 2% of the
state‟s rural land area. At that rate it will take a century to protect one-quarter of
Florida‟s remaining rural lands.

As for tax credits, even if 100,000 acres were protected every year for the next 50 years,
the end result would be the protection of less than 8,000 square miles: That is about 8%
of the land area of Colorado and 20% of Virginia. In addition, it appears that very few of
these investments in conservation have been used strategically to shape growth patterns.8

Programs Without Sufficient Documentation of Results

Hawai’i Statewide Program

Hawai‟i adopted its statewide Land Use Law in 1961. The four-part zoning of the islands
(urban, rural residential, agriculture and natural resources) remained remarkably stable
over the first quarter-century of the program (1964-1987). The amount of land in the
conservation zones dropped only about 1%, from 97% to 96% during a period of rapid
growth. Today observers of development in the state regard the Land Use Law as

 One example of where that has been done is Swanton, Vermont where the conserved lands have
effectively created an urban growth boundary.

ineffective in the face of powerful development pressures. Certainly there has been
massive resort development along coastal areas in Maui. But as of the date of this report,
the author has not found a comprehensive evaluation of the program.

Urban Revitalization Programs

There are many states and probably hundreds of cities that have adopted programs to
promote the revitalization and redevelopment of downtowns or declining neighborhoods,
or entire cities.

The techniques for accomplishing these results include historic preservation and
affordable housing tax credit programs; property tax relief or abatements; regulatory
relaxation of restraints on development; targeted investments in public amenities, schools
or transit; special enterprise zones; increased law enforcement; brownfield clean-up
programs; cleaning up waterways; community development corporations; and marketing.

So far, the author has found no studies that document an impact on the rate or volume of
redevelopment (or any corresponding reduction in sprawl) caused by these government
interventions. Part of the reason for this lack of evidence is that urban development and
redevelopment is powerfully affected by other forces, including the changes in household
wealth, age and composition, changing attitudes toward race and national shifts in
preferences for housing types and locations.

Conversations with experts and visits to various communities suggest that that the range
of government interventions – tax incentives, building public amenities, increasing public
safety, testing markets – has shaped the pace and location of urban redevelopment in
many communities where the market was ready. How much this revitalization has
resulted in a reduction in different types of sprawl must be left for speculation.

Coastal Zone Management Act implementation in California

The California Coastal Zone Management Act appears to be the most active and
aggressively managed of the Coastal Zone Management Program. This report was
prepared before there was time to examine studies of its performance.

Climate Change & Greenhouse Gas Reduction Targets and Strategies

Leading Example:      California (AB 32, SB 375)

In 2006 the California legislature passed the California Global Warming Solutions Act,
Assembly Bill 32. AB 32 established goals and deadlines for reducing its emissions of
greenhouse gases. Since then, many other states have adopted similar goals for
greenhouse gas reductions.

In 2008, California followed up on AB 32 with Senate Bill 375, which created a process
and created additional authority for achieving the targets in AB 32.

Several states can be expected to adopt some kind of greenhouse gas reduction program,
laws or plans in the next few years and will undoubtedly look to the California model.

Obviously no analysis of the impact on SB 375 on sprawl is possible yet. However,
elements of the legislation and expert opinion suggest that its impact on sprawl will be
primarily determined by Metropolitan Planning Organizations and local governments‟
discretion in developing Sustainable Community Plans or Alternative Plans, rather than
the state law itself.


First, SB 375 expressly exempts local government land-use plans from complying with
the Sustainable Communities Plans or the Alternative Plans. Second, certain
transportation projects programmed for funding on or before December 31, 2011, are
exempted from compliance. Third, the California Air Resources Board‟s review of the
MPOs‟ Sustainable Community Plans and Alternative Plans is very narrow. The CARB
can only accept or reject the MPOs‟ determinations that the plans will achieve the
greenhouse gas reduction goals; the CARB does not approve the Sustainable Community
Plans or the Alternate Plans. By the terms of SB 375, the California Air Resource Boardt
may not require, or even suggest, that the MPO make changes to those plans.

There are two reasons why SB 375 might help to reduce sprawl.

This legislation will build on the Blueprint program to integrate land use and
transportation planning. Advocacy groups will pressure local governments to do what
the SB 375 does not require them to do: modify their comprehensive plans and
regulations to achieve the greenhouse gas reduction targets that require more dense
development and more redevelopment.

Various elements in SB 375 are intended to make it easier to build more dense housing,
including requiring minimum density standards and revisions to the permitting standards
under the California Environmental Quality Act. This may result in increased residential

Lessons from Europe

Sprawl Arrives in Europe

Until the last few decades, sprawl was considered largely a North American
phenomenon. Europe provided many shining examples of affluent nations without
sprawl. Even today, when Americans think of Europe, they think of “tourist” Europe –
dense, quaint, walkable cities, great mass transit, and a populous that eschews cars for

In the last half century sprawl has afflicted large areas of Western Europe. Despite slow
growth the cities have expanded outward. Fueled by affluence, increasing rates of car
ownership, decreasing transit ridership, rising city center land costs, deindustrialization,
and a growing number of second homes, it is no wonder Europe‟s urban areas have

European sprawl takes different forms. In Tuscany, clusters of new red-tile roofed homes
and even malls at highway interchanges can be observed outside Perugia. On the
Mediterranean coast of Spain, formerly poor areas are being blanketed with resort
development serving affluent Europeans. In the exurbs of Stockholm, thousands of
summer homes have been transformed into permanent residences creating daily traffic
headaches on old country roads. In the Netherlands, new towns have sprouted up along
canals. In Switzerland and Germany, big box retail can be found at many freeway
interchanges. As Ireland (finally) moved from poverty to affluence, its countryside was
overrun with rural estates.9

There are regional as well as national differences. As a number of studies point out, in
the north and west (Denmark, Sweden, Germany, Netherlands, the U.K.) cities are more
sprawling to begin with, and the strong anti-urban bias mean that when “faced with a
choice between the country and a compact city, people will overwhelmingly choose the
country. It‟s an almost elemental phenomenon – like wind flowing from a high-pressure
to a low-pressure area” (English Green Cities, 2003).

A study of twenty-four urban areas from all parts of Europe, from Dublin to Istanbul, and
Palermo to Helsinki, showed that in twelve of those areas, 90% or more of new housing
built since the mid-1950s was in low-density areas; the five cities that had more than half
of their new housing in dense areas were all in southern or central Europe..10

By contrast, in Southern and Eastern Europe there has been a significant urban culture.
While cities in Italy or Spain have grown rapidly, they have maintained greater levels of
urban density and, while sprawling, the sprawl is more contiguous than in Northern
Europe. Whether or not this cultural explanation is correct, the data show that Northern
European versions of sprawl are more similar to the U.S. than that of Southern Europe.

Despite regional differences, the overall trend is unmistakable: In 50 years, while the
population of Europe has increased 33 %, the average urban footprint has increased by
78%, a ratio of urban development to population growth that is comparable to many US
regions. In the last decade, an area the size of Luxembourg has been developed.

   In Italy, I believe the falling population is actually a cause of sprawl; less money to be spent on children
frees up more money to be spent on land and buildings.
   European Environmental Agency, Urban Sprawl in Europe 2006 page 11. The source for the data is
from MOLAND (Monitoring Land Use Dynamics Database)

Although European sprawl may, in some cases, be higher density and more mixed use
than in the US, it increasingly resembles US sprawl; auto-oriented retail and commercial
landscapes combined with new housing encroaching on formerly rural agricultural areas
and quintessential small towns. This new pattern of sprawling development has led to a
general outcry and has caught the attention of European Union parliamentarians.

The EU, while lacking the legal basis to regulate sprawl (by law the EU does not make
decisions normally the responsibility of national, regional or local governments), has
been instrumental in bringing the issue to the attention of national and regional policy
makers throughout Europe. Through regular reports, study commissions and planning
funding promoting compact cities, the EU actively encourages local governments to take

European Strategies for Countering Sprawl

On the surface, Northern and Western European countries have taken a number of very
similar steps: some version of an integrated approach to planning involving three primary
components. Southern and Eastern Europe have used these approaches in a more
haphazard manner.

Development Plans: Taking advantage of a tradition of planning, most countries have
attempted to control sprawl through the long-term use of sub-regional scale plans that
limit development and are strictly adhered to over a long period of time. Such plans are
quite widespread particularly where national or regional governments are able to impose
guidelines on local authorities. This is the case via planning guidance in the U.K.,
planning policy documents in the Netherlands and strategic development policies in

Limiting Urban Development with Greenbelts and No-Go Areas: Another key factor in
policy is to define “no-go areas,” which represent the outward limit of development. The
classic measure to achieve this objective is the green belt. The creation of regional parks
or urban fringe forests can achieve the same effect.

Densification: Densification of built-up areas is a third key element in many anti-sprawl
programs. It is part of a strategy to create compact cities and revitalize city centers. On
paper at least, this approach is common in Germany, the U.K. and Austria.

The Dutch government has encouraged compact cities for more than 30 years. Over the
past 10 years it has subsidized 250,000 new homes in already urbanized and brownfield
locations. However, it has also subsidized 250,000 in greenfield locations as well,
although these new developments feature compact development.

In England, compact city efforts have focused on reclaiming brownfields in the
economically depressed North, as a way to add to density and enhance the local
economy. And even when urban areas failed to meet plan-defined density targets (and

most failed), there has been an appreciable increase in the “compactness” of cities
throughout Europe.

Performance of European Anti-Sprawl Strategies

Most countries and regions in Europe have strong and well-written plans, to promote
densification and compact cites, and limit growth in sensitive zones.

There is also no question that many of these plans and policies have been successful.
Without them sprawl undoubtedly would have been worse – a contention borne out by a
handful of studies funded by the EU. These studies indicate that anti-sprawl efforts have
been relatively effective in Western and Northern Europe, and to a lesser degree in
Eastern Europe (less effective because central planning during the socialist era was
focused on industrialization above all).

However the devil is in the details. Variation between places‟ success using similar
approaches (the three-part strategy described above) cannot be explained by the
differences in the legal framework. Even when planning and programs are applied at the
state level, there is wide variation in the quality of outcomes at the local level. It turns
out success is less a matter of having the right plan, and more of managing the contextual

The most successful anti-sprawl efforts have a number of common elements.

Regional Urban Planning: The most successful plans are ones that encompass more
than a single city, but instead focus on functional regions. They must be sufficiently
large and encompass the whole of an urban region and be able to resolve conflicting
demands for development.

Integrated Plans: Despite having the greatest population pressure of any place in
Europe, the Netherlands has been relatively successful because its compact city plans
were integrated into larger regional plans aimed at protecting the “green heart” of the
country. This integration allowed for there to be a unified set of anti-sprawl efforts.

Policy Coherence: While many plans are regional, national planning units are essential
for dealing with internal contradictions and creating policy coherence. The most
successful plans are the ones coordinated by a single agency.

Consensus: A number of commentators point to the success of Dutch planning and
attributed some of this to a consensus approach. Even when there is less than full
agreement, success only comes when the opposition is comparatively muted.

This is consistent with the American experience in which strong (and successful)
opposition to the implementation anti-sprawl program is reflected in sprawling patterns
of development. But in America most effective anti-sprawl programs are characterized
by conflict over their adoption and implementation, not consensus. In fact, the ideal of

consensus has been used to block the adoption of effective anti-sprawl plans and

Regional or Federal Financial Support: Local governments are most supportive of
national and regional planning when it is in their financial self-interest. Likewise,
selective housing subsidies such as in the Netherlands lead to widespread support. In
other words, money talks.

Responsiveness to Local and Regional Conditions: Despite relatively small distances,
internal national differences can be great. Successful plans are the ones that recognize
the realities of political fragmentation, ethnic diversity and different urban histories. For
example, planning in the north of England (in cities such as Liverpool) works because
there is recognition of the major economic differences from well-off London and its

Using the Market: A number of European countries have recently adopted more free-
market (neo-liberal) approaches to governance. Plans have had to adapt to realities of
public-private partnerships. The successful ones (the Netherlands and Sweden
especially) have worked hard to take into account market forces.

Factors Compromising Performance of Anti-Sprawl Measures in Europe

Although there have been successes, anti-sprawl policies stumble on a number of issues.
Most of these issues are ones that require an understanding of the individual

Fragmented Political Units: The nested governmental structure (European Union,
multiple nations each with their own relation to regional planning units and multiple
municipalities) makes certain large-scale planning efforts difficult. Even differences
within nations lead to political challenges (East Germany and West Germany, Urban SE
England and Deindustrializing Northern England).

Boundary Issues: In a number of urban regions, national boundaries offer escape valves
for excess population and consequently defeat attempts at true anti-sprawl efforts. For
example, thousands of Copenhagen‟s workers commute daily to lower-cost housing in
nearby Sweden, effectively displacing sprawl to another country.

Competing Tax Policies: When a locality derives much of its revenue from local
development-related taxes, their will to enforce regional plans may be at odds with their
own success. This is true in both Sweden and Germany where local governments derive
much of their funding from local property taxes and fees.

By contrast, it is easier for national planners to gain support of Dutch local governments
that receive 70 to 80% of their funding directly from the national government. As one
author puts it, “the „golden strings‟ give central government an overwhelming power over

local government. Provinces and municipalities tend to act as loyal agents of central
government” (van der Valk 205, 2002, The Dutch Planning Experience).

Local Factors: Given the deep history associated with place, local factors are extremely
important. In the Sweden for example, and especially in the Stockholm area, more than
20% of families own second homes, and have for a long time. As a result, Swedes may
be both residents of compact cities and contributors to sprawling suburbs.

Anti-Urban Bias: Much as in the United States, the dream of a rural lifestyle is common,
whether it be in the English countryside or on the Swedish farm. For that reason,
arguments for compact cities consistently tilt against public opinion. And, as Dutch
planners have found, creating new towns in rural settings, albeit on transit routes, is an
easier sell than getting people to live in urban centers.

Affluence: Western Europe is now the wealthiest region in the world. Although
affluence can be expressed in many different ways in both Europe and the United States
it has been expressed in the form of using more land per person – bigger homes on bigger
lots, more second homes or recreational housing and development. Of course using more
land per capita also imposes more costs in time, money and natural resources, as well.
There are other ways of enjoying affluence, such as increased leisure, rather than
increased consumption, that yield more happiness.

Europe’s Lessons for the United States

Forty years ago American critics of U.S. sprawl looked to the United Kingdom and
Europe for answers. There was a certain naiveté and romanticism in their belief that
urban planning traditions, centralized governments or cultural values around urbanism,
farms and forests – things they assumed could not be replicated in the U.S. – would
explain both the absence of sprawl in Europe and Americans‟ failure to stop it.

The new European sprawl provides confirmation for the belief that sprawl is a result of
policy and market preferences, not some kind of deeper cultural differences. Some of the
romantic myths have dissipated and the picture is clearer and the differences seem much
smaller. Both the U.S. and Europe have been afflicted with sprawl, spurred by affluence,
enabled by automobiles and expressways, and in some places, grounded in anti-urban
bias. Both places find the same simple solutions: define limits to urban growth, promote
densification inside the line and protect the lands and resources outside the line.

Europe makes more of an effort to stop sprawl, does a better job and has less sprawl to
correct. But today, at least parts of the United States have discovered the same formula
for success.

A Brief Note on the Canadian Experience

Recent European sprawl has provided one challenge to the cultural explanation of
American sprawl. Another challenge to that explanation is found in the development
patterns in Canada. Canada has very similar economic arrangements, shares English
legal and constitutional traditions, absorbs a great deal of American culture and has ten
times as much land per person. But Canada‟s urban development patterns are very
different from US patterns.

One particularly striking example is metropolitan Vancouver, British Columbia. The
Vancouver metro area population is about 2.1 million, almost the same as the 2.0 million
in the Portland, Oregon metropolitan area.

Yet the density of metropolitan Vancouver is double that of metropolitan Portland and
higher than metropolitan Los Angeles (the highest density metro area in the U.S.) Even
suburban cities at the edge of the metro area, like affluent Port Moody and working class
Richmond, are home to clusters of 20- and 30-story condo towers.

The Vancouver approach has all the same elements as the successful sprawl control
efforts in the U.S.: A metropolitan urban growth boundary is bordered by a large
agricultural reserve, forest preserves and various provincial parks and preserves. Both
the central city of Vancouver and most of the suburbs, from affluent Port Moody to blue
collar Richmond, authorize far higher densities than is common in most U.S. metro areas.
The high demand to live in the region has driven up land prices, making high rises
economically attractive to developers.

However, many Canadian cities without this regional policy framework are also far more
compact than their American counterparts. For example, Victoria, British Columbia,
with a metropolitan area population of less than 400,000 has significantly higher
residential densities than most US metropolitan areas that are substantially larger. A few
high-rise towers also rise out of the Canadian prairies in tiny Saskatoon, with a
metropolitan population of 234,000. Saskatoon has no urban growth boundary and no
agricultural or forest reserves around it.

How can this pattern of urban densities in Canada be explained?

There are substantial policy differences and planning practices between the nations. Part
of the Canadian difference is attributable to the absence of federal government funding
for highways in urban areas. (The Trans-Canada highway was a nationally funded
investment.) Another part of the explanation is a stronger tradition of deference to
government and government regulation.

This is not to say that Canada is immune from sprawl. Sprawl can be found around many
Canadian cities, from metropolitan Montreal11 and Toronto to tiny Williams Lake in
British Columbia. The beautiful Okanagan region in south central BC displays extensive
exurban sprawl. Nonetheless, the amount of sprawl around many Canadian cities is less
and the density of those cities is higher than their American counterparts.

Conclusions: Where (and When) Progress Can Be Made Next

This section of the report a) outlines the current political and economic context for sprawl
reform efforts at the state level; b) describes some general opportunities and strategies for
advancing sprawl curtailment policies at the state, regional and local levels; and c)
identifies some specific opportunities for action at the state level as well as needs to
defend existing policies and programs.

A.       The Current Context: The Severe Recession Will Temporarily Halt Both
         Sprawl and Efforts to Reform Sprawl

History shows that the essential pre-condition for the adoption of effective (and
ineffective) anti-sprawl programs is a rapid12 pace of development on greenfields. This
creates a mobilized, or at least sympathetic, electorate.

A mobilized or sympathetic electorate either forces elected officials to take action or lose
the next election or gives a license to sympathetic officials to take political leadership on
the issue. In many cases, at both the state or local levels, citizens have taken direct action
against sprawl through the initiative and referendum process.

The current economic crisis eliminates the prime motivation for action. That does not
mean that there is no opportunit to take action to reduce sprawl during the recession;
there are many such opportunities described below. However, it does mean that the
general context is unfavorable to major reforms at the state level and will remain
unfavorable until the economy …and sprawl…revive.

Not everyone may agree with this diagnosis. The arguments has been made, that the
economic crisis has demonstrated that sprawlingdevelopment patterns are no longer
sustainable for homeowners, for the governments that finance infrastructure, the planet
and possibly the banks. Therefore, (as the argument is advanced) government action is
needed to reshape growth into more sustainable, Smart Growth, patterns.That argument
has a great deal of logic but does not seem to having any impact on plicy. If anything,
the national recession has, so far, tended to reinforce the traditional thinking and practices
that promote sprawl,. The best example has been the prominent place given to new road

    In fact the cover illustration incorporates a photo of suburban sprawl outside of Montreal. The bucolic
scene of a hayfield and forest was taken in central British Columbia.
   “Rapid” depends on the frame of residence of the local population. What seems “rapid” in Vermont is
very different from what seems rapid in Arizona .

construction as part of an economic stimulus program13, even though much recent
research shows investments of this kind have a very limited return on investment.

The prominent role played by trades unions in Democrat politics provides one
explanation of this phenomenon.14 Another part of the explanation is that all the projects
sitting on the shelf that can be rapidly executed reflect traditional thinking. Similarly, in
the private sector, the retreat from irresponsible lending will be associated with a return
to traditionalism in the review of development pro formas.

I ancitipate that any effort to impose new regulations on development will be regarded as
counterproductive in many quarters, given the faltering condition of the housing market
and commercial construction. In Vermont and Florida the economic crisis is being used
as a justification for rolling-back anti-sprawl legislation as an obstacle to ecomonmic

The best that can be said about the current severe recession (and possible depression) is
that it can be a very good time to quietly lay the groundwork for future action to adopt
sprawl curtailment programs, once growth and development return.

During the recession state and local government budget shortfalls are an opportunity to
discuss less costly, more-efficient ways of providing opportunities for jobs, shopping and
housing. Those shortfalls should sharpen the debate over whether spend limited public
funds on reinvesting in existing communities rather than spending money to build new
communities at the edge of the urban area.

Whether or not this opportunity will be seized probably depends on the mobilization of
anti-sprawl reform organizations.

B.       Some General Opportunities to Advance Anti-Sprawl Policies and Programs

         1. Shortfalls in State Department of Transportation Funding Are Important
            Opportunities to Curb Sprawl

Many state departments of transportation are experiencing a shortfall in funding for new
infrastructure, especially for roads and highways. The systemic shortfalls in funding for
state DOTs will inevitably curtail sprawl-inducing capacity increases.

Slowly (though not surely) the shortfall in money for infrastructure is going to force
debates over why money should be invested in infrastructure for new communities at the
expense of maintaining infrastructure in existing communities. Public opinion polling
   To illustrate the investments to be made with the stimulus legislation, the President joined Virginia Tim
Kain in a press conference at the site of surbuban beltway extension that would be funded by the
legislation. Fortunately, the stimulus package also includes funding for investments in transit.
  Good Jobs First has done yeoman‟s work in education union officials and rank and file about the logic of
supporting Smart Growth rather than suburban sprawl, but a small organization can have only a limited
impact on an entire nation.

shows overwhelming support for investing public money in the places where people live
now, rather than building new roads and highways to serve new communities.

Opponents of sprawl should oppose gas tax increases to replenish DOT coffers, if they
have the stomach for that strategy. In many states, it will require only a few votes from
urban liberals to defeat gas tax increase. A more constructive approach would be for
anti-sprawl forces to use their leverage with urban liberal state legislators to tie new
revenues to new policies. The most important of those policies is “fix it first.”

       2. State Budget Crises Are Opportunities to Advance Fix It First Policies

Most states are experiencing severe drops in their revenues, only partially, and
temporarily, offset by the Federal stimulus package. This is an opportunity for opponents
of sprawl to explain why we can no longer afford to spend limited taxpayer funds to
expand infrastructure. Instead we need to dramatically refocus infrastructure spending on
maintaining and repairing the infrastructure we have, not expanding capacity. “Fix it
first” is a solid, anti-sprawl policy with broad popular appeal. To make it meaningful,
proponents should prepare implementing legislation.

In some states, the state plays only a modest role in funding infrastructure. In those state,
“fix it first” would have to be implemented locally.

       3. Defend, Improve and Replicate Existing, Effective Sprawl-Curtailment
          Programs at the State, Regional and Local Level

           Defend Existing Programs

As mentioned previously, the recession is being used in various states to attack existing
anti-sprawl programs. In particular there will be proposals to reduce funding for land
conservation programs in the face of budget shortfalls (e.g. Florida, Vermont). In other
states reducing regulations intended to discourage sprawling land development will be
promoted as economic development measures (e.g. Oregon.) Resistance to these efforts
should be supported.

           Better Implementation of Existing Programs

A cost-effective way of stopping sprawl is to support better implementation of the
existing effective state programs: natural resource and land conservation efforts in New
Jersey and Vermont and statewide urban containment, densification and rural zoning in
Oregon and Washington.

For example, enhanced nongovernmental organization monitoring and enforcement of the
Growth Management Act in Washington state‟s Pierce County is likely to yield quicker
results, at lower cost, over a larger land area, affecting more new development, than an
effort to transform Rhode Island‟s anti-sprawl effort (although that state effort is

Similarly, investments in improving the performance of existing local programs like the
ones in Ventura County, California; Lancaster, Pennsylvania; and Charleston and
Charleston County, South Carolina, have a higher likelihood of yielding good results.

            Replication of Local Integrated Programs of UGBs, Urban Densification
            and Rural Conservation

The existence of the package of urban growth boundary, urban densification and rural
conservation in so many different states suggests that such efforts could be seeded in
many other regions and localities in those same states, or in other states.

This project has not yet identified those other potential regions and communities, but a
modest amount of brainstorming with the experts and leaders identified in the project
could develop both a screen for evaluating prospective locations for adoption of the
program and some specific possibilities.

On that list might be small progressive cities and a surrounding county or counties like
Madison, Wisconsin; Couer D‟Alene, Idaho; Ames, Iowa; Bozeman, Montana; and
Athens, Georgia.

Some larger metropolitan areas might also be candidates for these programs, like Austin,
Texas; Providence, Rhode Island; the Salt Lake City/Wasatch Front region; the Denver
Regional Council of Governments; and San Diego County (where there have been two
credible but losing initiative campaigns to apply conservation zoning to 1,000 square
miles of the “back country.”

       4.    During the Recession Invest in the Capacity of Current and Potential
             Anti-Sprawl Leaders

The recession is a good time to invest in increasing the knowledge and political capacity
among elected officials and staff, nonprofits, business leadership organizations about
effective sprawl curtailment measures.

The focus should be on preparing the way for a new round of action at the state, regional
and local level, especially replicating successful local and regional efforts, in states that
are too conservative to enact reforms at the state level.

Below are two suggestions for ways on making these investments.

       National or Regional Conferences on Urban Growth Boundaries Coupled with
       Urban Densification and Rural Conservation

One method for educating and inspiring a significant number of policy makers, policy
advocates and re-development interests is a conference focused solely on effective
sprawl-curtilament programs that employ urban growth boundaries combined with

densification and redevelopment programs inside those lines and conservation regulations
and incentives outside those lines.

At most national planning conferences UGBs and their related policies are treated as
exotic outliers to mainstream planning. In many planning conferences these efforts are
the subject of a single panel discussion which might consist of little more than an
ideological debate over the desirability of this kind of “interference”with “local control”
or “the free market.” As a result, only a small number of specialists are aware of the
large number of these efforts at the state, regional and local level and nothing about their
mechanics and their performance.

What is needed is a national conference, or regional conferences, that take the merits of
this approach as a given, and instead focuses on how to improve performance and adapt
and integrate these programs to achieve additional objectives (climate change, equity,
avoid wasting capital investments).

Representatives from the different places that have such programs (elected officials,
government staff, nonprofit groups, planning consulting firms, academics) would make
presentations that begin with a capsule history of the origin of the program; shared
detailed performance evaluations and self-critiques; and then broadened out into
discussions of ideas for improvement.

Some of the conference attendees would be there to learn and share ideas. But others
would come from areas where such programs don‟t exist. They would learn not only the
substance of such programs (and benefit from the written conference materials), but
would be inspired to see that such efforts are widespread and politically feasible. They
would develop contacts that would help them promote these ideas back home.

A byproduct of this event would be a Web-based and paper handbook, compiling all of
the presentations as case studies (with a standard format), all of the reform
recommendations and supporting bibliography.

An alternative to a stand-alone conference would be to provide support for a special track
of sessions at the 2010 New Partners for Smart Growth Conference in Seattle.

       Connecting Sprawl Reform to Private Development Interests

In the last two decades, in most parts of the country, from Los Angeles to Lexington
Kentucky, developers have begun to make money by building to serve people who want
to buy high-density housing in urban locations with a convenient mixture of uses and
transit nearby. Other developers are exploiting the niche for retail and services to serve
the residents of these new developments. Bankers, realtors and designers have all
participated in exploiting this market.

The same market would be interested in New Urbanist, mixed-use, higher density
developments on infill and greenfield sites.

There is debate about how big these markets for non-suburban-sprawl housing and
communities really are, but there is no debate now that these markets exist and are of
substantial size.15

In many places, developers who want to serve these markets face serious regulatory
obstacles to their proposals. They are natural allies of the opponents of sprawl but have
rarely been organized to support reforming polices that favor sprawl and disfavor their
own businesses. In many places, these kinds of developers are members of the local
chapter of the Urban Land Institute.

To be effective, outreach to this group of interests needs to come from someone they
recognize as a peer, whether local or national. This outreach would explain how a
different approach to development benefits them, and would make sure their interests are
represented in any anti-sprawl legislation, in order to create a stake in it for them.

Nonprofit developers such as community development corporations, Habitat for
Humanity and similar organizations, are a politically and substantively important subset
of development interests.

These groups have a concern about the practical consequences of urban revitalization on
the families and neighborhoods they serve, which can lead them to question anti-sprawl
efforts. They have been used as voices of moral authority in campaigns to defeat anti-
sprawl measures (as happened in Colorado).

Like for-profit developers, these nonprofit developers can become important advocates
for anti-sprawl reform (properly done) if the reform can be designed to benefit the
constituencies they serve. This can be done via inclusionary zoning, TIF programs, joint-
development opportunities and other means.

Building trade unions are other important constituents. Greg LeRoy at Good Jobs First
has taken on this project with great intelligence and enthusiasm. He could be funded to
carry out his educational work in target areas.

         5. Targeted Research

High-quality research about the causes and consequences of sprawl can be valuable in
attracting attention, creating the arguments for reform and changing minds.

   The staff at Portland Metro‟s Research Center describes the market as being divided into thirds: One
third wants to buy housing in dense mixed-use neighborhoods; one-third wants to buy homes on large-lots
in traditional single-family, single-use suburbs; one third could choose either alternative, depending on how
it met their needs.

Different research is needed in different places. All research intended to influence policy
should be place-specific and undergo preliminary screening by sympathetic policy
makers and policy advocates to determine its potential impact on policy.

Research is wasted if there isn‟t enough time and money spent on sharing the results.
One rule of thumb is that for every dollar spent conducting the research, nine dollars
should be spent on disseminating the results.

Mobilizing public opinion: Research that makes projections about the future based on
current development patterns can be very powerful, especially if accompanied by an
alternative scenario that is more desirable.

Documenting effective and ineffective programs: In some places, or for some
organizations, curbing sprawl requires documenting and diagnosing the failures of
existing efforts. Evaluation research is also important for public officials, nonprofit and
professional organizations and funders so that they do not keep investing time, money
and political capital in efforts which will not produce results.

More focused research on costs to taxpayers: Research on fiscal impacts has attracted
attention among government officials and the press but has not had much impact on
public debate, so far. It may be that the defect in the research is that it presents
information in ways that interest to government officials (e.g., total capital and operating
costs for different development patterns) but not to average taxpayers (“Your tax bill will
go up by $115 per year to pay for new roads and sewers in new neighborhoods, but
funding available from your taxes to maintain the roads and sewers in your
neighborhoods will fall by about $7 per year.”)

How sprawling development has fared in a collapsing real estate market: There may be
some need right now for national research on how standard sprawl development has fared
in the economic downturn (decline in prices) relative to inner city neighborhoods and
new Smart Growth development and redevelopments. This analysis can be carried out
both at the project/product level, at the neighborhood or district level and then at the
regional level.

For example, how have prices fared in regions that boomed and sprawled the most
compared to places that also boomed but sprawled the least?

Good partners for this research would be the Urban Land Institute and Dr. Chris Nelson
at the University of Utah. Another way of approaching it would be to offer research
assistance to the Real Estate Research Corporation. The RERC issues annual reports on
Emerging Trends in Real Estate. These reports are based on annual in-depth interviews
of real estate experts in the larger urban areas in the U.S. For a decade these reports have
suggested that sprawling edge development is not a good investment. The RERC might
be delighted to include independent research on how different development products
have performed since the economic downturn (Christopher Leinberger might be an ally in
this project).

Retrospective and prospective density monitoring: For most places there is still a dearth
of good information on development and redevelopment trends.16 The decennial U.S.
Census results, examined at the finest grain of geographic resolution (blocks or block
groups) can provide a comprehensive assessment of residential development patterns.
Population and housing units can be arrayed into five to 10 density ranges. The amount
of land, people and homes in each of those ranges and the degree to which those
distributions shift from decade to decade could provide a simple, clear measure of our
progress or regress in stopping sprawl.

Dr. Nelson at the University of Utah has expressed interest in tackling this project in the
near term.

           6. Sprawl Reform and Culture Change

A very ambitious, long-term undertaking would be to make sprawling patterns of
personal consumption unpopular, like smoking.

We can see some glimmers of how this could be done, in the popularization of recycling,
the promotion of bikes as a substitute for cars and in the enthusiasm for green building.

But the challenges of this effort are also evident in the green building movement, in the
various architectural, design and green building journals that celebrate large “sustainable”
homes on greenfield locations.

Perhaps one way of doing this would be to extend the concept of “reduce, re-use and
recycle” to include our thinking about land, buildings, neighborhoods and cities.

There is a strong and sophisticated organization already working in this direction, the
National Trust for Historic Preservation.

C.       Particular Opportunities for Adoption of New Sprawl Curtailment Programs
         at the State Level

The research conducted for this project, including survey responses gathered in
preparation of the state reports have identified a few opportunities for new state-level
sprawl curtailment measures, described below.

           1. Gubernatorial Elections in 2010

Gubernatorial leadership usually has played an important role in the adoption of
statewide programs intended to curb sprawl. The 2010 elections could result in the

     The defects with many assessments of anti-sprawl programs are laid out in the Background Report.

election or re-election of knowledgeable governors interested in replacing sprawl with
Smart Growth.17

In California, Arnold Schwarzenegger is termed out in 2010. Possible candidates for
governor include Senator Dianne Feinstein, Mayors Tony Villaraigosa of Los Angeles
and Gavin Newsom of San Francisco, current Attorney General and former governor
Jerry Brown (also a former mayor of Oakland) and State Treasurer Phil Angelides. Two
of these candidates have excellent anti-sprawl credentials.

Brown has been promoting Smart Growth ideas for more than 30 years. In 2007 he took
the very unusual step of filing litigation under the California Environmental Quality Act
against San Bernardino County on the grounds its new comprehensive plan authorized
more sprawl, which would generate more air pollution, in violation of CEQA‟s
requirements. Clearly he would be a governor who would give curtailing sprawl more
than lip service. It is possible to imagine him becoming a champion for an Oregon- or
Washington-style statewide program (although it would undoubtedly need some very
distinctive California characteristics.)

State Treasurer Phil Angelides was the losing candidate against Arnold Schwarzenegger
in 2006. He had a very comprehensive and well thought-out Smart Growth policy plank
in his campaign. He might be a candidate for governor again.

In Rhode Island, Republican Governor Donald Carcieri is term-limited and will have to
leave office in 2011. Providence Mayor David Cicilline, a Democrat, has been
supportive of Smart Growth policies and organizations. The Democrats are heavily
favored for 2010.

In his executive actions and proposed budgets, Governor Jim Douglas in Vermont has
weakened or attempted to weaken important parts of that state‟s anti-sprawl efforts.
Almost any conceivable replacement would be an improvement. He was re-elected to
another two-year term in November 2008. In 2010 there will be an opportunity to use
Smart Growth policies (especially fix-it first) to differentiate between candidates,
especially if Douglas decides not to run for a fifth term. State Senator Doug Racine has
already announced that he is a candidate for governor in 2010 and State Treasurer Jeb
Spaulding has said he is considering a run. Both are Democrats.

Maryland‟s Governor Martin O‟Malley took office with campaign capital built on
affirming Governor Glendening‟s efforts to curb sprawl, in contrast to Governor
Ehrlich‟s abandonment of those policies. O‟Malley took advantage of the Smart Growth
Leadership Institute‟s Governor‟s Institute on Community Design. He required full
attendance by his cabinet. Partly as a result of that event he created a task force to

    Foundations and other nonprofit organizations cannot engage in campaigns for elective office.
However, public research and education and non-partisan candidate forums are permissible. These
activities can play an important role in educating the public, and the candidates, about policy options and
the public‟s receptivity to them.

consider implementing the long-dormant state law allowing for the creation of a state
plan. He created a special task force which undertook an in-depth evaluation of existing
Smart Growth and anti-sprawl programs and suggested many improvements. (The report
and recommendations, are described in Volume I of the State Reports.)

However, the reforms introduced as bills in the legislature as a result of that effort are
modest. Even if they are passed and fully implemented they are unlikely to have much
impact on development patterns in Maryland. In the meantime, the Governor is focused
on the state budget shortfall and his impending re-election campaign.

In all of these states, the following would be of great strategic value for future efforts:

(1) Public opinion polling on how “fix-it first” investment policies, and other parts of an
anti-sprawl agenda, could influence voters‟ decisions on who they will vote for.

(2) Public reports about how elements of current and proposed anti-sprawl programs are
reducing or could reduce household living costs (e.g., more production of lower-cost
housing, reduced travel costs because transit is more cost effective, lower per-capita
capital spending).

(3) High-profile evaluations of past efforts to achieve policy outcomes that are still
generally popular (despite the economy), such as saving important natural resources (e.g.,
Chesapeake Bay, Vermont farmland.) and directly linking any failures to unfettered
“local control.” Unless the legitimacy of local control is challenged, based on its failure
to achieve popular policy outcomes, the opportunities for state-level change will be
extremely limited.

       2. Urban Growth Boundaries, Densification and Rural Conservation
          Programs: Slight Possibility in California

The response to survey questions by legislators, nonprofit advocates and professional
planners made it clear that in almost every state surveyed, these experts regard the
adoption of an effective three-part program (requiring urban growth boundaries, urban
densification and rural conservation by regulation or acquisition) – at the state level - as
politically impossible, or at best, very unlikely.

The only exception was one respondent in California. This is not surprising given that
California does not have a statewide program of this type, but similar programs have
been adopted in several counties. The proponents for the legislation could be those
organizations who were most concerned various provisions in Senate Bill 375 that
believe will compromise its effectiveness (particularly the California Planning and
Conservation League).

       3. Comprehensive Transportation Reform: Possibilities in New Jersey and

Stuart Meck, former head of the American Planning Association‟s research program and
now a professor at Rutgers University, believes that comprehensive transportation reform
is the only anti-sprawl effort that can be enacted in New Jersey that is politically feasible,
effective on the ground and free of undesirable equity impacts. However, the opportunity
for progress will depend on the success of Governor Corzine‟s re-election this year,
which may be in doubt.

Dru Schmidt-Perkins of 1000 Friends of Maryland believes a transportation planning and
investment reform package could be adopted in Maryland, provided it was designed to
focus on the cost-savings or cost-effectiveness of this approach. The Secretary of
Transportation in Maryland is possibly the most progressive state Department of
Transportation executive in the nation and therefore might be interested in this kind of
reform, provided his effort had the strong support of his governor. (See discussion of
gubernatorial elections below.)

       4. Landscape-Level Land Conservation by Purchase of Land, Easements or
          Transferable Development Rights in Oregon

Transferable development rights legislation has been introduced in Oregon. The goal is
to reduce the number of dwellings in farm and forest zones allowed under both the state‟s
original farm and forest zoning laws and by Measure 49 (the compromise legislation that
replaced the property-rights initiative Measure 37). This legislation has a chance at
passing, but if it does, implementation will be challenging.

       5. Limiting the Extension of Urban Infrastructure in North Dakota

Steve Zimmer with the American Planning Association‟s chapter in North Dakota (where
population growth is stagnant but some sprawl is continuing) gave the anti-sprawl
program of “prohibiting, or strictly limiting, the expansion of transportation facilities and
other infrastructure beyond existing urban areas” a top ranking both for effectiveness and
political feasibility. (The other respondent from North Dakota did not comment on any
of the specific anti-sprawl packages.)

       6. Implementation of Greenhouse Gas Reduction Strategies: California

As noted in this report, there are serious structural programs with California‟s Senate Bill
375. (These are described in more detail in materials in the digital annex to the
California state report.)

Nonetheless, the combination of the preliminary success of the Blueprint regional
planning program in California; the many regional and local anti-sprawl programs at
curtailing sprawl; the national leadership role of California in this effort; and the

prospects for more sympathetic leadership at the state level starting in 2011 justify
devoting resources to the implementation of SB 375.