Choice or Chance?

June 22, 2001

By Michael Jessen

West Kootenay communities will inevitably grow; increases in population signify an unavoidable demand for residential, commercial, and industrial development.

The only question is will that growth occur by choice or by chance? Will it be smart growth or dumb growth?

Smart growth does not seek to stop or limit growth, but rather to accommodate it in a way that enhances the economy, protects the environment, and preserves or improves a community's quality of life.

Roads clogged with traffic, increasing taxes, huge parking lots, poorly planned commercial developments, crowded schools, and the relentless march of subdivisions over the landscape are the characteristics of dumb growth. It is the alias of out-of-control sprawl and it is THE hot topic in communities throughout North America, eclipsing even jobs and education according to a Pew Center poll.

The subject was debated earlier this month in Vancouver at the first Smart Growth BC conference that was attended by more than 250 people, including five from Nelson. Smart Growth BC ( is a province-wide non-profit organization with a mission of "creating more livable communities" by promoting growth management strategies and reducing wasteful sprawl.

The organization has just published "The BC Sprawl Report 2001" and gave it and "The Smart Growth Toolkit" to every conference registrant.

According to the Nelson and Area Economic Development Corporation (, Nelson is anticipating over $75,000,000 worth of development in the near future, including a Wal-Mart expansion, Nelson Health Campus, and a Westfair Foods store.

Nelson resident Jack Anderson contemplates the proposed new developments and sees a wonderful opportunity.

"All these projects need to be looked at together," says Anderson, who organized the popular Designing Community lecture series last fall. "This is the opportune time to do some good planning." Anderson, who recently attended the Congress for the New Urbanism ( conference in New York City, sees these new developments as a "community-building challenge."

"New smart growth is more town-centered, is transit and pedestrian oriented, and has a greater mix of housing, commercial and retail uses," says Mia Gardiner of the Nelson-based group Earth Matters. "It also preserves open space and many other environmental amenities."

Gardiner says she learned a lot at the Smart Growth BC conference, including the important fact that dumb growth can only hope to be avoided by an inclusive, public participation process. "Smart growth means choice, not leaving development up to chance."

Nelson's Official Community Plan ( states the need for "on-going public consultation" and specifically says the development review process for the waterfront "will provide intermittent opportunity for public input, in order to monitor shifts in community attitudes or needs over time."

Yet the proposed sale of BC Buildings Corporation-owned waterfront land has sparked a "Save Our Waterfront" petition and campaign "to make City Council aware of the strength of feeling in the community on this issue," according to organizer Laura Carter.

"We've been waiting a long time for this land to become available," says former councilor Dave Elliott, who also attended the Vancouver conference. "It's world-class real estate and we'd have to be mad to sacrifice it to a big box store or more parking."

In the early 1990s, when the 10 hectare old Selkirk sawmill site on the Victoria waterfront came up for sale, residents were faced with the prospect of a big box retail development. According to the BC Sprawl Report, considerable citizen involvement, as well as cooperation between the City Council and an architectural firm resulted in a diverse development that includes industrial, commercial, office, residential, and institutional uses.

The physical surroundings and the sense of identity they derive from the places in which they live and work profoundly impact humans. The ultimate standard for the buildings we create should be the health and durability of human and natural communities say smart growth advocates. When development comes to your town, they only hope you'll be wise enough to ask: What will this do to our community?

ONE SMALL STEP - When Wal-Mart built its prototype "Eco-Mart" in Lawrence, Kansas with environmentally friendly materials and used energy and water-saving devices, the chain store discovered the half of the store daylighted with skylights produced significantly higher sales and worker satisfaction than the half without skylights. The Wal-Mart store in City of Industry, California, uses half the energy of a typical new California store, thanks to advanced lighting and efficient, downsized climate control system.

NEWS FLASH - On June 13th, as reported on the web site, Wal-Mart was removed from the Domini 400 Social Index citing research by the National Labor Committee documenting that Wal-Mart's "Kathie Lee" goods were made by 13 year olds in Honduras, forced to work 13 hours a day under armed guard; Wal-Mart goods were made by workers in China held under conditions of indentured servitude, beaten and paid 3 cents an hour; Wal-Mart Canada purchased clothing from factories operated as joint ventures with brutal military and drug lords, where workers were paid 7 cents an hour and would be tortured if they tried to defend their most basic rights; Attempts by shareholders including the Interfaith Center for Corporate Responsibility to work with Wal-Mart to clean up its contractors' factories in Central America by opening those plants to independent verification by local, respected human rights and religious organizations have been rejected by Wal-Mart. Given Wal-Mart's lack of responsiveness on these issues, Domini felt it had no other option but to drop Wal-Mart from its socially responsible index fund. This makes Wal-Mart only the second company to be removed from the index fund for disregard for human and worker rights and payment of fair wages.

RESOURCES - The resources available about smart growth are so numerous it makes one wonder why we have so much trouble doing it. Here is a partial list of books on the subject:

Community By Design: New Urbanism for Suburbs and Small Communities by Kenneth Hall and Gerald Porterfield. Paperback - 320 pages (March 12, 2001) McGraw-Hill Professional Publishing; ISBN: 007134523X

The Regional City: Planning for the End of Sprawl by Peter Calthorpe, William Fulton, and Robert Fishman. Paperback - 260 pages (January 2001) Island Press; ISBN: 1559637846

A Better Place to Live: Reshaping the American Suburb by Philip Langdon. Paperback - 288 pages Reprint edition (September 1997) Univ. of Massachusetts Press; ISBN: 1558491066

Once There Were Greenfields: How Urban Sprawl Is Undermining America's Environment, Economy, and Social Fabric by F. Kaid Benfield, Donald Chen, and Matthew Raimi. Paperback - 215 pages (March 1999) Natural Resource Defense; ISBN: 1893340171

Better Not Bigger: How to Take Control of Urban Growth and Improve Your Community by Eben V. Fodor. Paperback - 176 pages (January 1999) New Society Publishers; ISBN: 0865713863

Changing Places: Rebuilding Community in the Age of Sprawl by Richard Moe and Carter Wilkie. Paperback - 288 pages (April 1999) Henry Holt & Company, Inc.; ISBN: 0805061843

Suburban Nation: The Rise of Sprawl and the Decline of the American Dream by Andres Duany, Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk, and Jeff Speck. Paperback - 304 pages (April 2001) North Point Press; ISBN: 0865476063

Some other resources: Worldwatch Paper 156 June 2001 entitled "City Limits Putting the Brakes on Sprawl" by Molly O'Meara Sheehan. The July 2001 issue of National Geographic contains the article "Urban Sprawl" by John Mitchell. Some of the article can be accessed online at including related links to organizations battling sprawl. On July 25, 2001 the National Governors' Association Center for Best Practices released "New Community Design to the Rescue: Fulfilling Another American Dream" which offers alternatives to determine the shape of future growth. The report can be downloaded from the NGA web site at,1188,C_ISSUE_BRIEF^D_2344,00.html. The NGA released an issue brief in May entitled " How Smart Growth Can Address Environmental Justice Issues" downloadable from,1188,C_ISSUE_BRIEF^D_2071,00.html.

Other web sites: The Sprawl Watch Clearinghouse at The Smart Growth Network at The Sustainable Communities Network at The Center For Livable Communities at The Transportation for Liveable Communities Network at The Colorado Sustainability Project Inc. at Smart Growth America at Sprawl City at The Sierra Club 1999 Sprawl Report at The Friends of the Earth "The Road to Sprawl" report at The Island Press site at contains a great list of resources and links as does the 'resources' section of the Congress for the New Urbanism site at The report "Smart Growth: Myth and Fact" is downloadable from the Urban Land Institute at as is the report "Ten Principles for Reinventing America's Suburban Strips." Terrain: A Journal of the Built & Natural Environments contained the UnSprawl Case Study in Issue No. 9, Spring 2001. In January 2001, Redefining Progress issued the report "Market-Based Policies For Reducing Sprawl: A Critical Overview." To help policymakers achieve a growing public mandate to curb sprawl, this report presents three recent market-based policy innovations. These policies-location-efficient mortgages (LEMs), space-based impact fees, and split-rate property taxes-harness the market's power to encourage denser development close to existing infrastructure. The report is available online at

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