Organized sprawl

BY THE MICHIGAN DAILY

Published April 28, 2003

Glistening blue freshwater lakes, rolling hills and dense, green forests cover and surround the two peninsulas comprising the state of Michigan. Ours is a state of immense natural beauty and valuable natural treasures. This natural beauty is a resource that draws tourists and tourist dollars and is a great boon to the state economy.

These picturesque landscapes, however, are being destroyed as a result of what is commonly referred to as "urban sprawl." Not only does it damage the environment, but urban sprawl poses a serious threat to the economy, the state budget and urban communities as citizens migrate to more rural and suburban areas.

In order to address this issue, Gov. Jennifer Granholm initiated plans on February 5 to establish the Michigan Land Use Leadership Council, a 24-member group charged with the task of overseeing statewide development. The council is jointly led by former Gov. William Milliken, a Republican, and former Attorney General Frank Kelley, a Democrat, in the hopes of forming a well-respected, bipartisan coalition to meet this challenge. Members of the council include representatives from environmental groups, building industries, elected officials, the business community and local government officials. The mission of this council is to investigate the possible benefits and consequences of development, then advise the governor and the community.

One of the issues being considered by the council is urban flight. A state such as Michigan with so much natural, undeveloped land attracts many people seeking to flee congested inner-city areas such as Detroit and Grand Rapids. This flight encourages further expansion and development of rural areas, which in turn become congested and encourage further flight and expansion. The council is investigating means of revitalizing these inner-city urban zones in the hopes of preventing further flight. It is important that the state begin to rein in on this problem so that future generations will not be faced with an even more daunting task.

According to state Rep. Chris Kolb (D-Ann Arbor), a member of the council, the rate of development is increasing at a rate that is five times faster than population growth. He has described this inefficient land use by saying that Michigan residents will use as much land to house the next one million people in Michigan as the first nine million.

Kolb also points out that the cost of building infrastructure in order to maintain sprawl amounts to 40 percent more funds than the additional development generates in tax revenues. It seems apparent that curbing sprawl is both sound economic and fiscal policy. It is also good policy for the state's cities, as funds spent on sprawl are not invested in urban areas.

Urban, rural and suburban leaders must work together if this problem is to be tackled in a meaningful way. The bickering that so often characterizes the discussion on this issue does not serve the state's economy or environment well.

That is why it is encouraging that the governor has decided to include representatives from a variety of communities and constituencies that can work together to take some positive steps. This inclusive approach will give citizens confidence that their views are being represented within the council.

Hopefully this council will begin to set the state on a path of more efficient and practical land use.