Listen to the SMART GROWTHERS |


We are not born NIMBYS (Not In My Back Yard) or NO-GROWTHERS, or even BANANAS (Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anyone). It takes time to develop those characteristics of paranoia. Years and years of watching neighborhoods spread, strip malls planted, charm turned to trash. And one day we wake up and shout, “That’s it! Pack the van! We’re moving to Oregon!” Where it starts all over again.

In a book titled, “Suburban Nation: The Rise of Sprawl and the Decline of the American Dream,” the authors describe the metamorphosis from AVERAGE JOE to NIMBY.

“It is not just sentimental attachment to an old sledding hill that has you upset,” reads the self-help book. “It is the expectation, based upon decades of experience, that what will be built here you will detest. It will be sprawl: cookie-cutter houses, wide, treeless, sidewalk-free roadways, mindlessly-curving cul-de-sacs, a streetscape of garage doors Ð a beige vinyl parody of ‘Leave It To Beaver.’ Or, worse yet, a pretentious slew of McMansions, complete with the obligatory gatehouse. You will not be welcome there. Meanwhile, more cars will worsen your congested commute. The future residents will come in search of their American Dream, and in doing so will compromise yours.

“You are against growth because you believe that it will make your life worse. And you are correct in that belief because, for the past 50 years, we Americans have been building a national landscape that is largely devoid of places worth caring about. Soulless subdivisions, residential ‘communities’ utterly lacking in communal life; strip shopping centers, ‘big box’ chain stores, and artificially festive malls set within barren seas of parking; antiseptic office parks … this is growth, and you can find little reason to support it.”

Welcome to Roseville. Row after row of residential rooftops in “Planned Communities” lining a highway artery that pumps to and from an empty heart.

The book reminds us that once upon a time things were better because our communities were planned with human beings in mind. Social animals starving for interaction and a true sense of community. And we need look no further than historic Nevada City and Grass Valley to see evidence of that.

“Few would dispute that man has proved himself capable of producing wonderful places,” continues the book, “environments that people cherish no less than the untouched wilderness. They, too, are examples of growth, but they grew in a different way than the sprawl that threatens you now.”

The problem is, according to the book, we can’t easily build another historic Nevada City or Grass Valley because it is against the law today. “(These) well-known places, which have become tourist destinations, exist in direct violation of current zoning ordinances,” reads the book. “Even the classic American Main Street, with its mixed-use buildings right up against the sidewalk, is now illegal in most municipalities. Somewhere along the way, through a series of small and well-intentioned steps, traditional towns became a crime in America.”

“What we have is a screwed up system that is very arduous and costly,” Phil Carville told me a couple of weeks ago. Carville loaned me a copy of “Suburban Nation” and a draft of one of the most comprehensive development plans I have ever seen. That’s probably because it’s got a purpose with a passion behind it.

Carville is president of Carville Sierra Inc. and the man directly responsible for the proposed Loma Rica Ranch project he hopes will one day be part of Grass Valley.

Carville really is on a mission to break what he calls “the pattern of growth followed by sprawl.” He says Loma Rica Ranch “introduces a group of small neighborhoods where people will live in a compact and efficient manner, affording more land for open space.”

The plan calls for an, “interconnected network of streets that are designed to encourage walking, reduce the number and length of automobile trips and conserve energy. The streets are safe, comfortable and interesting to the pedestrian and encourage neighbors to know each other and protect their community.”

The 452-acre Loma Rica Ranch property, east of Grass Valley and south of the Glenbrook Basin, is one of four major annexations proposed for the city.

More than 300 of the 452 acres within the project will remain open space. “We’re trying to meld everything,” said Carville, who has been working on the project for nearly two years now. The five communities within a community each have a center, or soul, to them. There are sidewalks lined with mixed-use and mixed-priced homes ranging from the affordable to the not so affordable. There are services and jobs within walking distance. You know … kind of like historic Nevada City or Grass Valley.

There have been several public meetings on the project so far. I encourage anyone interested in the future to take some time to learn more about this and the other three proposed annexations.

One way or another, we will grow. In fact, the population of Grass Valley and its immediate environs is projected to almost double from 12,000 to 24,000 residents by the year 2020.

How we do that is up to us. There is an alternative to NIMBYS and SPRAWLERS. They’re called SMART GROWTHERS. Fortunately for us, we have some pretty smart people in these parts, and it’s time we started paying a little closer attention to their voices.

And if you get the chance, pick up a copy of the book by Andres Duany, Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk and Jeff Speck. It’s a good read, and if you’re open to new ideas, it’s got some wonderful ones.


Jeff Ackerman is the publisher of The Union. His column appears each Tuesday.

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