Uprise Over Urban Sprawl

"Pave paradise and put up a parking lot, with a pink hotel, a boutique and swingin hot spot."

Its been almost 30 years since Joni Mitchell released her anti-development anthem, but the parking lots and the shopping malls just keep coming.

Approximately 400,000 acres of American land are being swallowed up every year, fueling the battle over the environment.

This kind of development is called "urban sprawl," and as CBS News Sunday Morning Correspondent Rita Braver reports, some Americans on the outskirts of Durham, N.C., are fighting to keep it from expanding into their small piece of paradise.


A proposed megamall in the Durham area could potentially span 93 previously untouched acres. With the development's five huge anchor stores, more than 100 smaller shops and restaurants, and a movie theater, the area's two-lane road would become a six-lane highway.

In an effort to block the malls construction, Steve and Pat Bocckino founded Citizens Against Urban Sprawl Everywhere, or C.A.U.S.E.

The group is composed of longtime Durham residents and relative newcomers like the Bocckinos, who wanted to reside near the Research Triangle, the high-tech development area bordered by Durham, Raleigh and Chapel Hill.

The Bocckinos, who moved to the community in 1991, live a half mile away from the proposed mall. Shes a retired schoolteacher; he works for a pharmaceutical company.

"North Carolina really seemed to have a lot of beauty as well as the jobs," says Steve Bocckino. "Its really an inappropriate level of growth and the wrong kind of growth for this area, so certainly it is [in] our back yard."

But the mall would be in Reverend James Scotts back yard, too, and he likes the city services it would bring.

"Water, sewer, lights, streets - which we need - better streets; we dont have no lights," he says.

City Councilman-At-Large Floyd McKissick Jr. says if Durham doesnt accept the mall, another nearby community will, gaining the tax dollars as well as the prestige.

"Theres opportunities to provide a higher quality of service for people in the city of Durham, and I think thats what the new mall would do," says McKissick.

"Durham has a wonderful quality of life. But were going to grow. Were going to develop and we need to prosper," says McKissick.

"Theres no need for there to be a mall five miles away on our periphery thats not within our boundaries when we can have it within Durham, if we can accommodate it in an environmentally sound manner," he says.

The fight over these woods is just one of the many sprawl brawls raging across the country. In 1998, voters passed some 200 anti-sprawl initiatives in local elections. Sprawl is shaping up as a major issue for the year 2000.

Vice President Al Gore has made "livability" one of his top concerns, courting those all-important suburban voters. He has annouced administration plans for new funds for public transit and protecting green space.

"How many of you here believe that we do not have to accept two-hour traffic jams as a condition for living where we want to live?" he asked a Detroit audience recently. "People move out to the suburbs to make their lives, only to often...find that congestion follows them."

Cooper-Union University Professor Fred Siegel, who studies urban issues, says that sprawl is a direct result of the booming economy.

"If the population keeps growing, if we keep getting wealthier, more and more people with smaller and smaller families will live in larger and larger houses on more and more land," Siegel explains. "Thats just unavoidable."

Siegel warns that anti-sprawl movements can be elitist.

"One of our primary beneficiaries of sprawl are upwardly mobile nonwhite ethnic groups that are moving to the suburbs in record numbers, and thats part of whats producing sprawl," he says.

Portland, Ore., is considered the anti-sprawl mecca of America. In 1979 the region passed one of the toughest zoning regulations in U.S. history. It created an imaginary line that circles the metropolitan area. All new construction must take place on the 367 square miles inside the circle. Outside the line, there can be no development for miles.

Robert Liberty, of the group 1,000 Friends of Oregon, says cities can grow and thrive without creating new suburbs.

"The effort was to stop sprawl, not population growth," says Liberty. "What did the suburbs promise? Safe streets, good schools, green spaces. All Americans should have those things. We need them in the central city and the older suburbs as well as the developing suburbs."

Don Morissette, home builder and former member of Portlands Metro Council, says, however, that controlled growth has led to skyrocketing real estate prices. He predicts the anti-sprawl laws will drive native Portlanders away.

"Were rapidly, in Portland, diminishing our ability to provide housing for people, and thats a problem," Morissette explains.

"Im finding a very prevalent bias against future growth, and the problem with that bias is, a third of that growth is our own children. And I want to see that my children have an opportunity to stay here," he says.

But Portland voters seem to think the benefits of their tough zoning laws outweigh the problems - benefits like a revitalized downtown and broad green spaces on the outskirts. And Liberty says other cities can learn from Portlands example.

"Whether youre stuck in traffic in the suburbs, or in a decaying inner city, or watching farm and forest land and our natural resources be plowed under, we have to say, This is not good enough for us," says Liberty.

Siegel warns against too much control. "If youre a society that prizes choice and freedom as much as we do, and a society thats constantly innovating in erms of technology, curbing sprawls an impossibility," Siegel explains.

"What we can do is we can manage it better," he says. "We can see to it that it does less environmental damage. We can preserve open space. We can revive our older cities. But trying to curb sprawl per se is like saying were gonna curb the modern economy; it cant be done."

In Durham, the Bocckinos have not halted Southpoint Mall. When the City Council met to decide, there was great disagreement within the community. In the end, the mall proposition passed 11 to 2.

Their group, C.A.U.S.E., is now suing to stop the mall. And all around the country, Americans continue to debate how to live on the land.

  • CBSNews.com staff CBSNews.com staff

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