Viewpoint: Runaway growth threatens our lifestyle

Poorly planned development, or a lack of planning, threatens our environment, our health, and our quality of life in many ways. The culprit is labeled “urban sprawl.”

We’re all familiar with this critter–endless strip malls, sterile suburbs and long lines of traffic. Sprawl pollutes the air and water and increases traffic. It destroys more than 2 million acres of parks, farms and open space each year.

Sprawl also wastes tax dollars by pulling economic resources away from existing communities and spreading them over developments some distance from the city’s core. Millions of dollars go to furnish services such as roads, sewer, water and police and fire protection to these newly developed areas. Meanwhile, the older portions of cities and towns are victims of benign neglect, leading to higher taxes.

In Rockford, we have less of this kind of thing simply because we are smaller than many other places. Political entities are more and more subservient to developers and their interests at the long-term expense of the public. One local government even allows a developer to participate directly in its budget-making process.

An example of that is the recently proposed mammoth road program, a developers’ welfare project. We saw how the Winnebago County Board moved to shut out the voters and taxpayers from any input. The project must go forward at all costs, and there will be substantial costs, both in dollars and in environmental impact.

We are seeing more and more subdivisions and more commercial developments, such as the huge WalMart super center planned for East State Street. Rockford has thousands of square feet of vacant retail space, but the local real estate industry likes to pretend it doesn’t exist. They blindly push: “Let’s build and sell more and more new development.”

Beyond the issue of profit, it is difficult to see the logic in that. I propose a moratorium on new development for an indefinite period. Along with that, we need to employ cost-benefit analysis on all new projects before we turn a spade of earth. Another valuable step is to bring in some professional resource management people to help in making these important decisions. They can point out pitfalls or foolish proposals sooner than anyone. This service could save a good deal of tax money and avoid future problems.

There was a proposal some time ago to abolish the election of the County Board chairman with a four-year term. Recent history, such as the Springfield-Harrison project, Perryville extension and the most recent road plan, shows the wisdom of doing so.

Let the members of the board choose a chairman to serve for one year with the office rotating among board members. It also would be helpful if we had an ombudsman attached to that board to make sure the public has a voice and rigged votes can’t be carried out without public protest.

This is our environment, it is not the exclusive property of politicians and bureaucrats. We have a right to make our wishes known, even if they don’t want to hear them.

Several years ago, we had a regional planning authority where not only local folks, but those in neighboring counties had a forum to examine proposed developments and determine what the ultimate environmental impact would be. That group was disbanded, maybe because such an entity gets in the way of special interests.

The Sierra Club has studied this issue at some length. They said this: “Runaway growth is not inevitable. We can have cleaner air and water, more choices in transportation modes and places to live, and better-protected parks, farms and open spaces. Hundreds of urban, suburban and rural neighborhoods are using smart growth solutions to address the problems caused by sprawl.”

One of the items mentioned is greater public involvement in transportation and land-use planning. Other bits and pieces of smart growth have been seen here recently such as requiring developers to pay impact fees to help offset the costs of more roads, schools, sewer and water lines and requiring property-tax impact studies.

As one research company points out: the life zone on this planet is very small. The diameter of Earth is about 7,000 miles, and we have only two miles of breathable atmosphere. We have only its surface on which to live, and that is fixed in size and fixed in resources. We have the potential to trash the place or to save and enhance it. The decision is ours.

This company, Eagle Research, proposes a global resource management system so when something is done in one part of the planet, its effects can be considered elsewhere. In addition, this research firm says the world needs free energy so all could enjoy a common standard of living. They don’t say what that energy is or how we get it. The firm says it is dedicated to solving this need.

The CEO of this company remarked: “It’s easy to think of all your needs being provided by your local utilities and grocery stores, but you must learn that those resources come from somewhere, and that somewhere is being depleted, polluted and destroyed.”

Amazingly, the City of Rockford has remained silent on Winnebago County’s huge road program that promotes exploiting these resources outside of the city limits. Is Rockford part of Winnebago County or not? Is our mayor concerned? Draw your own conclusion from his public silence.

Since the politicos are in the pockets of the developers and road builders, it’s our move. What say you?

Sources: Natural Resources Defense Council,

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