Connecticut is a beautiful and wealthy state, at least for the moment. Suburban sprawl, stagnant job growth, highway gridlock and high energy costs are eating away the state's vaunted quality of life, the basis of its prosperity.
In the global economy, the flat world, states compete by being healthy, attractive and stimulating places to live. Southern New England, with its scenic countryside, historic cities and village centers, and charming coastline, can compete with anyone. But if the traditional countryside continues to be overrun by subdivisions and strip malls connected by ever-widening highways, if the farms die off and the cities are half-used, we compromise our own prosperity.
Residents in many towns know this; anti-sprawl groups have formed across the state. Now there is a statewide coalition of business, government, education, labor and religious leaders pushing for sensibly managed growth in the state.
The group, 1000 Friends of Connecticut, has been formed over the past two years, and is based on a model developed in Oregon and other states. The group's coming-out party was a recent press conference at the Capitol, where members distributed a 35-page briefing book titled "The Leaders' Guide to Growing Connecticut Smart."
The guide is intended for the governor and gubernatorial candidates as well as legislative leaders. It contains numerous recommendations - possibly too many - but the thrust is spot on.
Noting that the state "suffers from years of directionless drifting and inattention to pressing crises," 1000 Friends charges the governor with leading the fight for smart growth. In every state that has mounted a meaningful challenge to sprawl, the governor has been the leader.
What the governor must do is develop a coordinated plan that encourages growth in town centers, employment sites and transit corridors. To do this, the group recommends, among other things, that the governor appoint a "Smart Growth Coordinator" who will head a planning office in the state Office of Policy and Management.
Much low-density, poorly planned development is driven by the need for property tax revenue to fund local schools. Though the school-funding system is a disaster, it will be politically difficult to change it. By insisting that it be revamped and modernized, 1000 Friends keeps a critical issue in the public eye.
Changing the state's growth patterns is not an overnight proposition. Change will come not by telling people where to live, but by patiently making a case that what we're doing can be done more efficiently and economically. A simple coordination such as putting affordable housing along transit lines means that land will be used economically, young workers will have a place to live and some highway traffic will be abated. Officials of 1000 Friends are confident they can make a case for measures such as this. As one of the speakers at the press conference said, "Connecticut is too smart to grow dumb."
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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