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Sierra Club Names UW Tacoma Campus Among America's Best Development Projects

The Sierra Club, America's oldest and largest environmental organization, named the University of Washington Tacoma campus as one of America's Best New Development projects, according to a report the group released today. The Sierra Club, usually known for its effort to combat sprawling construction, is making the point that there is a better way to build and produce healthy and livable communities.

"Too often local governments accept poorly planned development, and the traffic that goes with it, because they believe they have no other choice," said the Sierra Club's Carl Pope. "Our hope is that Americans will be inspired by the Tacoma campus and demand better projects in their own communities." A profile of the Tacoma campus and the other winning projects can be viewed at: www.sierraclub.org/sprawl/report05

Establishing a new campus in downtown Tacoma was an example of local leaders—primarily businesspeople—getting fed up with an eyesore at the city’s gateway, and taking initiative to create a vision, put their own resources into that idea, and then working relentlessly to sell the idea to state and local officials and university administrators. The partnership between businesses, local and state government, and the University of Washington has created a better Tacoma, reduced crime, increased economic activity, protected historically significant buildings, and created an area where it is easy to walk and use public transportation.

Bliss Moore, Chair of the Sierra Club’s Tacoma area (Tatoosh) Group explained: “The revitalization of downtown Tacoma over the last 15 years shows how a city can turn itself around. The visionary leadership from public officials, the business community and community at-large have made the proverbial silk purse out of a sow’s ear."

In addition to the University of Washington, Sierra Club applauded a diverse set of other projects, from cities large and small, to suburbs, to small towns in each corner of the nation. They involve economically challenged areas like Fruitvale in Oakland and Highland Park in Milwaukee, as well as well-off areas like Manchester-by-the-Sea, Massachusetts. They also included massive projects like Atlantic Station in Atlanta, which encompasses 138 acres and includes 12 million square feet of retail, office, residential and hotel, and by contrast, smaller scale projects like 66 residential homes and an industrial building in Hopkins, Minnesota.

To merit consideration for the Sierra Club's top development honors, projects had to:

  • Offer a range of transportation choices, including walking, biking, and public transportation;
  • Redevelop existing areas, rather than developing natural areas, working farmland, or wetlands;
  • Locate homes, retail shops, and offices close to each other;
  • Preserve existing community assets, by re-using older buildings and protecting rivers, woodlands, and farms;
  • Minimize stormwater pollution and handle runoff in an environmentally responsible manner; and,
  • Be the product of meaningful input by local citizens and reflect a broad set of local values.

The Sierra Club also considered the use of “green building” design and housing affordability in compiling our list of the best new development.

"The single, most important factor in all of these projects is that neighborhood residents actually had a say in how they were built," explained Pope. "And when you ask people what they want, they ask for ways to get to and from work without sitting in traffic, and they want walkable neighborhoods, clean water, and green space."

Much of the development in Washington and the United States today is sprawling, low density, car-dependent “big box” or “strip-mall” construction, which produces more and more traffic and harms our land, air, and water. While the Sierra Club opposes poorly planned, sprawling development, built on natural areas and farmland, it actively supports quality investment in areas that already have a history of development to enhance communities and the environment. By reinvesting in existing neighborhoods and creating more walkable, transit accessible places to live and work, a select subset of the nation’s development leaders are raising the bar for neighborhood design.

To view the report online, see:

www.sierraclub.org/sprawl/report05