Urban sprawl is the next great civil rights fight, said Conan
Smith, Michigan Environmental Council land programs director. Smith
was one of five panelists discussing the growing problem in the
state at the Michigan Union last night.
Students for Public Interest Research Group in Michigan hosted
the discussion, titled “Sprawled Out: The Fight to Stop
Sprawl in Michigan and Ann Arbor”. The event was a part of
the University’s Earth Week events.
Four of the panelists gave brief speeches addressing their own
involvement in the fight against urban sprawl — the decline
in urban density and loss of open space due to people moving
farther and farther outside of urban areas. They also fielded
questions from the audience.
The panelists mentioned the damaging effects of urban sprawl on
the environment and concentrated on encouraging students and other
Ann Arbor residents to become politically active in improving the
Each of the panelists pushed increased density in urban housing
as a means of curbing sprawl.
“If we don’t keep our cities strong, we’re
going to keep spreading out into the country,” Smith
“We recommend that the city increase density by 50
percent,” history Prof. Matthew Lassiter said.
Ann Arbor Mayor John Heiftje said increasing density is a goal
for the city.
“We plan to build 1,000 new housing units in Ann Arbor in
the next decade and 2,500 more by 2020,” said Heiftje.
“We’re going to build twice as much as we have in the
The mayor stressed that promoting density would be in the
interest of preserving rural land.
“It’s our duty now to create more dense
communities,” said Heiftje. “We’re not trying to
block growth, we’re not trying to stop it — we’re
trying to direct it.”
Smith spent a good portion of his speech encouraging city
residents to get involved in the issue of sprawl.
“It’s an obligation of living here that you have to
get involved,” Smith said.
The types of policy necessary to prevent urban sprawl are
specific zoning codes inside and outside of the city, said
Lassiter. Participation in local government is key in shaping this
type of policy he said.
“Take part not just in the presidential elections but
state and local elections as well,” he said. “Places
that have done the best job of addressing sprawl have strong state
Students for PIRGIM chairwoman Carolyn Hwang said students can
improve the urban sprawl problem.
“Something we learned from the Green Belt campaign is that
students can really make a difference locally,” said Hwang,
an LSA junior. “It’s easy to go to city council
meetings and get involved there.”
Hwang also encouraged writing to members of Congress, getting
involved with the Michigan Student Assembly Environmental Issues
Commission and joining Students for PIRGIM as ways to get
The evening’s other panelists included law Prof. Rick
Hills and Ann Arbor Councilwoman Jean Carlberg.
Co-sponsoring the forum were the MSA Environmental Issues
Commission, the Urban Issues Collaborative and the Urban Planning