Left Justified: The history of sprawl (urban, that is)

Left Justified: The history of sprawl (urban, that is)

By Stanley Campbell

The history of sprawl (urban, that is)

By Stanley Campbell

Hey, kids! Send the local Sierra Club (Blackhawk Group) your ideas of the worst unplanned sprawl in the area.

What is urban sprawl? We know it as that mass of concrete, blacktop and big box stores starting at Fairview and East State Street and proceeding past Interstate 90. That was planned, coordinated and built in a steady progression of streets, sewers and utility lines that started in the ’60s when the interstate bypassed downtown Rockford. Developers, Realtors and land barons (such as they are here in Illinois) know interstate exit ramps are gold mines of investment property. You could make a bundle of money by purchasing a few acres on an off ramp.

Anyone who touts the “free market enterprise system” should realize that an interstate exit is a political decision, and is often dictated by private interests (otherwise known as “the good ol’ boys”). We taxpayers pay to improve the general good of them that’s got connections. There ain’t nothin’ “free” about the marketplace of government-fostered development.

When government lays down a road, we taxpayers improve the property values of private owners. These people reap the benefits of society’s hard work, and I’m not just talking about a few extra thousand dollars. An acre of land that was worth $2,000 can now be worth $2 million.

Of course, they bellyache if and when they have to pay taxes, and most big developers have lots of loopholes so that they don’t have to pay their fair share. It’s unfair that property owners, friends of politicians and insiders on road development get to make tons of money at the public trough. This development is planned and executed in advance. The public should share in the profits of its own planned sprawl. What becomes uncontrolled sprawl is when the developers try to place housing projects and strip malls out in the middle of cornfields. Or when land that gets flooded every 100 years is turned into a Crestview or Riverview or Wetview housing project. The Blackhawk Sierra Club is looking for specific sprawl suggestions. They really want your ideas of the nine worst developments that epitomize sprawl in the region. What do you think of when we say “sprawl hurts us all”? Is it the garish gas station placed in the midst of a prairie, or is it the housing development on the shoreline of a flood plain? Maybe it’s the strip mall placed right across the street from a state park.

Whatever you conceive sprawl as, the Sierra Club would like your nomination for their “Nasty 9” of the worst developments in the Winnebago-Boone County area.

Not to be a “negative Nancy,” the Sierra Club would also like you to nominate up to five good developments for the “Fab 5” list. These could include any development or project that preserves historic structures, neighborhoods, farmland or wildlife. Maybe there’s some good natural landscaping or buildings that save energy or use recycled materials or fit into the streetscape, neighborhoods or landscape that you know about. The Sierra Club would like to hear about them. Even developments that are compact and contiguous to sewer and water are fine for the “Fab 5” list.

You can mail them in to the Sierra Club Blackhawk Group, P.O. Box 8976, Rockford, IL 61126, or you can go online at http://illinois.sierraclub.org/blackhawk/ The top Nasty 9 in the area will be announced on Earth Day, Monday, April 22. No wagering, please.

Stanley Campbell is executive director of Rockford Urban Minsitries and spokesman for Rockford Peace & Justice.

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