Robert D. Bullard, Ph.D.
Glenn S. Johnson, Ph.D.
Angel O. Torres, M.C.P.


Urban sprawl is random unplanned growth characterized by inadequate accessibility to essential land uses such as housing, jobs, and public services that include schools, parks, green space, and public transportation. Sprawl has social and economic consequences (i.e., exacerbates school crowding, heightens urban-suburban schools disparities, accelerates urban infrastructure decline, concentrates poverty, creates spatial mismatch between urban workers and suburban job centers, heightens racial disparities, and negatively impacts public health). Sprawl has environmental consequences (i.e., increases traffic, pollutes the air, destroys forests and greens space, worsens flooding, and wastes energy). It is doubtful that a vision of a sustainable America can be achieved without addressing race and social equity, especially in the nation's central cities and metropolitan regions. Race still underlies and interpenetrates with the other factors in explaining the socio-spatial layout of most of our metropolitan regions, including quality of schools, location of job centers, housing patterns, streets and highway configuration, and commercial development. Some people of color communities and grassroots organizations are taking action on their own to address affordable housing, predatory lending, community economic development, poverty, access to jobs, redlining, gentrification, schools, transportation, land use, brownfields, and related concerns. However, a national equity and smart growth strategy is needed among African Americans and other people of color environmental justice organizations and networks, educational institutions, churches, civil rights groups, professional associations, legal groups, community development corporations, business associations, bankers, and health care providers.

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How We Define Sprawl


Why Smart Growth is Important to People of Color
African American Concentrations
Hispanic Concentrations
Still Separate and Unequal: Public Schools
Moving Up and Out: Equity Implications of Uneven Growth
Widening Income Gap
Buying the American Dream
Gentrification and Displacement: Neighborhoods under Siege
Fair Housing Barriers: The Discrimination "Tax"
Predatory Lending: Targeting the Most Vulnerable
Insurance Redlining: Paying More for Less


Environmental Justice and Smart Growth
Energy Consumption
Transportation Equity
Public Transportation
Automobile Dependency
Urban Air Pollution
The Asthma Epidemic
Walking Can Be Hazardous to Your Health
Getting the Lead Out
Toxic Waste and Race


Call for A People of Color Smart Growth Agenda
Addressing Race and Social Equity
Education and Schools
Fair Housing and Community Development
Environmental Reform
Transportation Equity and Land-Use Planning
Access to Jobs and Economic Opportunity
Air Quality and Public Health
Public Participation



The President's Council on Sustainable Development, in Sustainable America, outlined a vision statement that emphasizes three major pillars: economic prosperity, environmental protection, and social equity. The vision statement reads as follows:

Our vision is of a life-sustaining Earth. We are committed to the achievement of a dignified, peaceful, and equitable existence. A sustainable United States will have a growing economy that provides equitable opportunities for satisfying livelihoods and a safe, healthy, high quality of life for current and future generations. Our nation will protect its environment, its natural resource base, and the functions and viability of natural systems on which all life depends (President's Council on Sustainable Development, 1996).

It is doubtful that this vision of a sustainable America can be achieved without addressing race and social equity, especially in the nation's central cities and metropolitan regions. Social equity has not received much attention in the sustainable development or smart growth dialogue. More important, much of the smart growth dialogue, meetings, and action agendas have only marginally involved people of color, working class, and low-income persons. In short, the emerging smart growth movement is missing the rich ethnic and economic diversity that characterizes many central cities, metropolitan regions, and the nation.

How We Define Sprawl

Sprawl means different things to different people. Sprawl is random unplanned growth characterized by inadequate accessibility to essential land uses such as housing, jobs, and public services that include schools, parks, green space, and public transportation. Suburban sprawl is not new. It is an extension of long-established patterns of suburbanization, decentralization, and low-density development (Bullard, Johnson, and Torres, 2000). Sprawl-driven development has "literally sucked population, jobs, investment capital and tax base from the urban core" (Anthony, 1998).

Typically, strip centers, low-density residential housing, and other isolated, scattered developments leapfrog over the landscape without any rhyme or reason. However, it is clear that in order to access these new suburban developments one must have access to an automobile since public transit is usually inadequate or nonexistent. Sprawl creates a car-dependent citizenry. Urban sprawl is consuming land faster than population is growing in many cities across the country.

Growth and sprawl are not synonymous. Nevertheless, suburban sprawl has been the dominant growth pattern for nearly all metropolitan regions in the United States for the past five decades (Orfield, 1997). Historically, the decentralization of employment centers has had a major role in shaping metropolitan growth patterns and the location of people, housing, and jobs.

Government policies buttressed and tax dollars subsidized suburban sprawl through new roads and highways at the expense of public transit (Bullard and Johnson, 1997; Conservation Law Foundation, 1998). Tax subsidies made it possible for new suburban employment centers to become dominant outside of cities, and to pull middle-income workers and homeowners from the urban core (Schmidt, 1998).

From New York to California and a host of cities in between, smart growth advocates are gradually moving their plans into action. Unfortunately, social equity issues are often marginalized or are left out altogether. Even in Atlanta, tagged the "sprawl poster child, "Sprawlanta," and megasprawl," race and equity issues are largely skirted in the emerging smart growth partnerships (Bullard, Johnson and Torres 1999). Atlanta's African American community, (i.e., the city is 68 percent black) and other people of color communities are "invisible" in the local smart growth initiative. The players in the Atlanta Smart Growth Partnership include the Georgia Conservancy, Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce, Georgia Institute of Technology, and the Urban Land Institute District Council (Urban Land Institute, 1999).

People of color, race, and social equity issues routinely get left out of smart growth dialogue and initiatives. That is one reason why we wrote Sprawl City: Race, Politics, and Planning in Atlanta (Bullard, Johnson, and Torres, 2000). Sprawl City, clearly demonstrates that urban sprawl not only has social and economic consequences (i.e., exacerbates school crowding, heightens urban-suburban schools disparities, accelerates urban infrastructure decline, concentrates poverty, creates spatial mismatch between urban workers and suburban job centers, heightens racial disparities, and negatively impacts public health), but it also has environmental consequences (i.e., increases traffic, pollutes the air, destroys forests and green space, worsens flooding, and wastes energy).



Why Smart Growth is Important to People of Color

Urban sprawl impacts the daily lives of people of color. The smart growth movement also influences what happens in and around communities of color. The politics of metropolitan and regional development, suburbanization, and urban sprawl are intertwined. Both race and class are implicated in white flight, residential segregation, and urban infrastructure decline. Smart Growth involves expanding opportunities and breaking down artificial barriers (i.e., housing, employment, education, transportation, land use and zoning, health and safety, public investments, etc.) that limit social and economic mobility of racial and ethnic groups (Bullard, Johnson, and Torres, 1999).

Much of the core smart growth movement involves choices, protection of the environment, using resources wisely, investing in and rebuilding our inner cities, regionalism, cooperation, families, neighborhoods, and communities (Bank of America, Greenbelt Alliance, California Resource Agency, and Low Income Housing Fund, 1995). Historically, people of color have had fewer housing and residential choices than whites. People of color communities have been redlined, abandoned, and targeted for locally unwanted land uses or LULUs. Many people of color urban core neighborhoods have also been "rediscovered," accelerating gentrification and displacement of incumbent residents.

People of color make up a sizable share of the population in sprawl threatened cities. For example, the percent people of color in the Sierra Club's (1998) "top fifteen" sprawled-threatened large cities include: Atlanta (68.9%), St. Louis (49.0%), Washington, DC (70.4%), Cincinnati (39.5%), Kansas City (33.1%), Denver (27.8%), Seattle (24.6%), Minneapolis (21.5%), St. Paul (17.6%), Ft. Lauderdale (30.4%), Chicago (54.5%), Detroit (78.4%), Baltimore (60.9%), Cleveland (50.4%), Tampa (29.0%), and Dallas (44.6%).

African American Concentrations

Generally, the African American population is located away from the new jobs, economic activity centers, and housing boom. Residential apartheid is the dominant housing pattern for most African Americans---the most racially segregated group in America (Bullard, Grigsby, and Lee, 1994). The African American population numbered 34.9 million in 1999 or 13 percent of the total population (U.S. Bureau of Census, 2000).

  • Over 55 percent of African Americans lived in the South in 1999. African Americans were more likely than non-Hispanic whites to live in metro areas, 86 percent versus 78 percent in 1999. More than half of African Americans live in central cities within metro areas (55.1 percent) versus one-quarter of non-Hispanic whites (22.5 percent). Over 55.8 percent of non-Hispanic whites live in metropolitan areas outside of central cities (U.S. Census, 1999).
  • The 10 states with the largest African American population in 1999 were New York (3.2 million), California (2.5 million), Texas (2.4 million), Georgia (2.2 million), Illinois (1.8 million), North Carolina (1.7 million), and Maryland, Louisiana, and Michigan (1.4 million each).
  • The counties with the largest African American population in 1999 included Cook County, Ill. (1.4 million), Los Angeles County, Calif. (1.0 million), King County (Brooklyn), N.Y. (933,120), Wayne County (Detroit), Mich. (898,891), Harris County (Houston), Texas (633,035), Philadelphia County, Pa. (622,399), Bronx, County, N.Y. (507,801), Queens County, N.Y. (462,128), Prince George's County, Md. (447,580), and Dade County (Miami), Fla. (438,928).

Hispanic Concentrations

Hispanics number around 31.3 million or 11.5 percent of the nation's population. Between 1990 and 1997, the Hispanic population accounted for 37.3 percent of the nation's population growth. It is projected that Hispanics will account for 44.2 percent of the nation's population growth between 2000 and 2020, when the Hispanic population is expected to reach 52.7 million (or 16.3 percent of the nation's population). By 2005, the Hispanic population is expected to outnumber non-Hispanic African Americans (U.S. Bureau of Census, 1999).

  • The Hispanic population is concentrated in seven states: California (10.1 million), Texas (5.9 million), New York (2.6 million), Florida (2.2 million), Illinois (1.2 million), Arizona (1.0 million) and New Jersey (1.0 million). Two states, California and Texas together, account for more than half of the nation's Hispanics.
  • The ten counties with the largest Hispanic population include Los Angeles, Calif. (4.0 million), Dade, Fla. (1.2 million), Cook, Ill. (900,000), Harris, Texas (880,000), Orange, Calif. (720,000), Bronx, N.Y. (580,000), Maricopa, Ariz. (550,000), and San Bernardino, Calif. (550,000).

Still Separate and Unequal: Public Schools

Urban America is polarized by both race and class. The drift toward racially segmented metropolitan areas is most pronounced in public education. Schools are a powerful perpetrator of metropolitan polarization (Orfield, 1998). Urban and suburban schools are not created equal. Huge disparities exist between the suburbs and inner-city schools. These disparities are buttressed by the archaic school property tax financing method.

  • Over $326 billion was collected for public elementary-secondary education for the year 1997-98 in the 50 states and the District of Columbia. An average of $6,189 was spent on each student-an increase of 4.5 percent from $5,923 in school year 1996-79 (U.S. Department of Education, 2000).
  • Huge disparities often separate the highest-spending and lowest-spending school districts in a given sate. In California, the gap ranges from $16,343 per pupil at Indian Springs Elementary to $2,713 at Pacific Union Elementary. In New Jersey, Union County Regional spends $18,116 per pupil while Prospect Park Borough spends $5,144 (Bollier, 1998).
  • The GAO reports that wealthy school districts had about 24 percent more total funding per weighted pupil than poor districts in the 1991-92 school year (Kunen, 1996).
  • Over a third of the nation's children attend schools where the enrollment is 90 percent to 100 percent minority (Kunen, 1996).

It would be foolish to talk about smart growth without talking about strategies to "fix" public schools and urban-suburban disparities. In many instances, race is at the center of the urban-suburban school debate. In most cases, suburban districts are mainly white, while students of color are concentrated in the central cities and close-in suburbs.

  • Students of color comprise a majority of the students enrolled in all of the fifteen "most sprawl-threatened" large cities. These cities include Atlanta (93.4%), St. Louis (82.2%), Washington, DC (96.0%), Cincinnati (71.0%), Kansas City (81.9%), Denver(74.7%), Seattle (59.0%), Minneapolis (67.9%), St. Paul (60.6%), Ft. Lauderdale (54.0%), Chicago (89.7%), Detroit (95.1%), Baltimore (87.2%), Cleveland (79.7%), Tampa (44.7%) and Dallas (89.9%). The people of color pupil enrollment ranges from a low of 44.7 percent in Tampa-Hillsborough schools to 96.0 percent in Washington, DC schools (U.S. Department of Education, 2000).
  • Students of color comprise 36 percent of students enrolled in public elementary and secondary schools in 1996, an increase of 12 percentage points from 1976.
  • Since 1970, black students have accounted for one out of every three students who lived in central cities and attended public schools. In 1996, 10 percent of the students who lived in a metropolitan area outside of a central city and who attended public schools were black, up from 6 percent in 1970.
  • In 1996, one out of every four students who lived in a central city and who attended public schools was Hispanic, up from approximately one out of every ten students in 1972 (U.S. Department of Education, 2000).

Moving Up and Out: Equity Implications of Uneven Growth

Racial segregation in housing, as well as schools and jobs, is fundamental to the geography of the modern American city (Bullard and Feagin, 1991). Spatial mobility and social mobility are interrelated. Sociologists Douglas Massey and Nancy Denton contend that "segregation constitute a powerful impediment to black socioeconomic progress" (Massey and Denton, 1993). Residential apartheid continues to be the dominant housing pattern among African Americans (Bullard, Grigsby and Lee, 1994).

Most growth in metropolitan regions is occurring outside of central cities-away from where people of color are concentrated. Over 80 percent of the country's future growth (if current trends hold) is expected to occur in "edge cities" and other suburbs (Diamond and Noonan, 1996). Nationally, 32 percent of Americans live in central urban areas, 32 percent live in urban fringe areas, 25 percent live in rural areas, 6 percent live in small towns, and 5 percent live in midsize towns.

New job growth is concentrated on the fringe of the metropolitan areas and beyond. The exodus of low- skilled jobs to the suburbs disproportionately affects central-city residents, particularly people of color, who often face more limited choice of housing location in growing areas. Between 1990 and 1997, jobs on the fringe of metropolitan areas grew by 19 percent versus 4 percent job growth in core areas.

While metropolitan regions expanded, many of America's central cities became forgotten places. Cities seem only to get attention after conditions reach some crisis state or when human frustration spills over into major uprisings or race riots. Americans who have the economic means continue to leave our central cities. Higher-income households are leading this flight.

  • Although affluent households (i.e., persons making $60,000 and over) make up only 24 percent of households in the nation's larger cities, they account for over 40 percent of the 1.2 million net outmigrants.
  • The Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University in it's The State of the Nation's Housing: 2000 reports that between 1990 and 1998, new construction added 25 percent or more to the housing stock of 21 metropolitan areas in the West and South (Joint Center for Housing Studies, 2000).
  • From 1990 and 1997, new construction in outlying counties in metropolitan areas grew by 15%, compared with only 5% housing growth in counties closer to central cities.

Widening Income Gap

In 1998, 12.7 percent of the United States population lived below the poverty line (U.S. Bureau of Census, 1999). Despite record employment figures over the past decade, the poverty rate for African Americans changed from 30.8 percent in 1989 to 26.1 percent in 1998, nearly three times the rate of poverty than for white Americans (10.5 percent). The poverty rate among Hispanics was 27.1 percent in 1997 (U.S. Bureau of Census, 1998). Sprawl development concentrates poverty in central core areas.

Buying the American Dream

Homeownership is an integral part of the American Dream. Between $50 to $90 billion dollars a year tax subsidies underwrite suburban homeowners. This middle-class entitlement is by far the "broadest and most expensive welfare program in the U.S.A" (Kelbaugh, 1997). All Americans have not benefited from expanding homeownership markets.

  • Over 66.8 percent of all Americans own their homes. Homeownership varies by race and ethnicity. More than 73 percent of whites owned their homes in 1999 compared with 46.3 percent of blacks, and 46.2 percent of Hispanics.
  • Income, poverty, and age do not explain the large homeownership gap. If blacks and Hispanics owned homes at the same rate as whites of similar age and income, their homeownership rates would have been 61 percent in 1998 versus 72 percent for whites.
  • Only about 59 percent of the nation's middle-class African Americans own their homes, compared with 74 percent of whites.

Gentrification and Displacement: Neighborhoods under Siege

Every decade or so people "rediscover" the city and close-in neighborhoods. They soon discover that living in the city has many advantages. Over the past five decades, government-subsidized initiatives have cleared "blighted" neighborhoods and slums under various urban renewal programs. Successive waves of urban revitalization programs all resulted in "urban removal" of large numbers of renters, poor, and black residents, resulting in gentrification. Gentrification refers to the tearing down of housing and buildings that accommodate the poor, usually blacks, and building of new, upscale housing and other amenities in its place that cater to a new group, usually white, middle class residents. Gentrification is a back-to-the-city movement of capital (Smith, 1996). Gentrification fuels a "growth machine" that defines place as a commodity (Logan and Molotch, 1988).

Representatives from government, media, small businesses, large corporations, utilities, transportation, unions, universities, and even some neighborhood associations are the chief constituents and boosters of the growth machine. Moreover, the causes and consequences of gentrification are closely linked with the processes of suburbanization, urban abandonment, disinvestments by corporations and government, declining schools, and race and class stratification.

Fair Housing Barriers: The Discrimination "Tax"

Discrimination persists in housing and real estate markets despite the passage of the Federal Fair Housing Act in 1968 and the Fair Housing Amendment in 1988. Real estate agents, brokers, and mortgage lenders cater to the racist attitudes of some of their clients---and in effect determine the racial mix of neighborhoods, cities, suburbs, and metropolitan regions. Housing discrimination denies a substantial segment of people of color communities a basic form of wealth accumulation and investment through home ownership (Bullard, Grigsby and Lee,1994).

Studies over the past three decades clearly document the relationship between redlining and disinvestment decisions and neighborhood decline (Dymski and Veitch, 1994; Squires, 1999). Redlining accelerates the flight of full-service banks, food stores, restaurants, and other shopping centers from inner-city neighborhoods. In their place, inner-city neighborhoods are left with check-cashing stations, pawn shops, storefront grocery stores, liquor stores, and fast-food operations---all well buttoned up with wire mesh and bullet-proof glass.

  • Over 33.9 percent of African American and 26.1 percent of Hispanic loan applicants were rejected compared with 18.5 percent of white loan applicants (HMDA, 1996).
  • Test audits conducted in two-dozen large metropolitan areas found that black testers seeking to rent apartments faced discrimination by landlords 53 percent of the time, while black testers seeking to buy a home faced discriminatory treatment by real estate persons 59 percent of the time (Turner, Struyk, and Yinger, 1996). A similar pattern occurred for Hispanic testers.
  • Black or Hispanic households, on average, must pay a discrimination "tax" of roughly $3,700. The total cost of current discrimination amounts to about $3 billion per year for all Black households, owners and renters, and to almost $2 billion per year for Hispanic households (Yinger, 1999).
  • Sociologists Melvin O. Oliver and Thomas M. Shapiro estimate that the current generation of blacks has lost $82 billion due to discrimination. Of this total, $58 billion was lost as a result of lack of housing appreciation, $10.5 billion from paying higher mortgage rates, and $13.5 billion from the denial of mortgages (Oliver and Shapiro, 1996).

Predatory Lending: Targeting the Most Vulnerable

The American Dream has turned into a nightmare for millions of Americans mainly because of predatory lending practices undertaken by creditors, brokers, home improvement contractors, and mortgage lenders. Predatory lending refers to engaging in deception or fraud, manipulating the borrowers through aggressive sales tactics, or taking unfair advantage of a borrower's lack of understanding about loan terms. Predatory lending practices are most heavily concentrated in lower-income and people of color neighborhoods - resulting in massive foreclosures in many inner-city communities (U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, 2000).

Predatory lending is confined primarily in the subprime mortgage lending market which jumped from $35 billion in 1994 to $160 billion in 1999. The subprime market share increased from less than 5 percent of all mortgage originations in 1994 to almost 13 percent in 1999. Black and Latino borrowers are hurt the most by subprime lending (Bradley and Skillern, 2000). Predatory lending increased at the same time conventional, prime lending decreased in black and Latino neighborhoods. Studies from Freddie Mac and Standard and Poor indicated that nearly two-thirds (63 percent) of subprime borrowers would have qualified for conventional "A" or "A-" quality loans.

Existing laws could address some of these unfair practices. For example, predatory lending is a Community Reinvestment Act (CRA) of 1976 issue since some banks covered by CRA own subsidiaries that target subprime markets. CRA allows community groups to hold banks accountable for lending in low-income and people of color communities. Predatory lending is covered under the Fair Housing Act of 1968 that requires equal treatment in terms and conditions of housing opportunities and credit regardless of race, color, national origin, religion, family status, or disability. The Equal Credit Opportunity Act of 1972 also protects African Americans, Latinos, and elderly households from being unfairly targeted for higher-priced and unequal loan products.

  • Subprime loans accounted for one-half (51 percent) of refinance loans in predominately black neighborhoods (those census tracts where blacks comprise more than 75 percent of the population). Subprime loans accounted for only 9 percent of the refinance loans in predominately white neighborhoods (those tracts where whites comprise more than 85 percent of the population.
  • Subprime loans for refinancing were five times more likely in black neighborhoods than in white neighborhoods.
  • Almost two-fifths of refinance loans in upper-income black neighborhoods were subprime, compared with only five percent in upper-income white neighborhoods and twenty percent in low-income white areas.
  • Homeowners in upper-income black neighborhoods were twice a likely as homeowners in lower-income white areas to rely upon subprime loans for refinancing (U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, 2000).

Insurance Redlining: Paying More for Less

Insurance redlining also kills neighborhoods (Squires, 1998). Redlining "hits the poor where they live" (Feldstein, 1994). Insurance redlining practices hurt many inner-city home and business owners (Squires, 1997, 1998). Insurance companies routinely charge homeowners in mostly black urban neighborhoods higher premiums than they charge their suburban customers. This practice occurs even when loss ratios (the amount the company pays out per dollar collected) are higher in the suburbs. For example, a loss ratio of 75% means that an insurance company makes a hefty 25% return on its investment.

In one recent study, Black, Latino, and white testers presented themselves as homeowners to the offices of three major insurance companies in nine cities. Overall, the black and Latino testers were discriminated against 53 percent of the time in such areas as coverage and premium rates. The discrimination rate ranged from 32 percent in Memphis to 83 percent in Chicago (Feagin, 1998; Smith and Clous, 1997).


Environmental Justice and Smart Growth

Race and equity form the core of the environmental justice movement (Bullard, 1996). Grassroots environmental justice groups are working on an array of issues that fall under the smart growth umbrella. For years, people of color watched helplessly as their communities became the dumping grounds for garbage, toxic waste, incinerators, smelters, sewage treatment plants, chemical industries, highways, and a host of other polluting facilities. This practice is called "environmental racism" (Bullard, 1993).

Grassroots environmental justice groups have struggled against discriminatory industrial facility siting, exclusionary and expulsive zoning, transportation racism, unequal treatment, residential displacement, and gentrification. These same groups are fighting for equal enforcement and equal protection of laws and regulations, brownfields redevelopment, clean air and clean water, parks and green space, in-fill housing, energy conservation, public transit, clean fuels, transit-oriented development, clean production, sustainable development, and public involvement in environmental decision making (Bullard, 1996, 2000).



Even if invited, there is not likely to be a mass rush of people of color to join the existing smart growth groups. On the other hand, a smart growth race/equity initiative should be driven, led, and facilitated by the people of color and the environmental justice movement, where equity and justice form the core. This point is clearly illustrated by groups profiled in the People of Color Environmental Groups Directory 2000 (Bullard, 2000). The directory includes over 400 U.S. groups, located from Alaska to Puerto Rico-who are working on an assortment of issues.

The environmental justice movement emerged in part as a response to the minimal inclusion of people of color in the traditional environmental and conservation movements and their failure to address issues people of color deemed as priorities. Environmentalism across the board is better off today because of the questions, issues, and challenges raised and programs initiated by people of color two decades ago. The environmental justice movement and its diverse allies have much to offer in resolving many of the problems that have resulted from "Dumb Growth."

Energy Consumption

Energy consumption is greatly affected by population and economic growth. The single most important factor in increased energy demand is increased population, middle-and upper-income suburban neighborhood development trends of fewer people per household, and large homes on large lots that are spread out in isolated subdivisions. This development pattern fuels an even higher growth in total electrical and petroleum demand (Keys, 1997).

  • The average residential electricity consumption in the United States increased by 22 percent between 1972 and 1993 (Kozloff, 1997).
  • Low-income households consume fewer resources than any other socioeconomic group, but use 20% more energy per square foot of living space than the median income households (Sherk, 1997).
  • Power plants are responsible for generating 40 percent of carbon dioxide (CO2), 70 percent of sulfur dioxide (SO2), 30 percent of nitrogen oxides (NOx) and 40 percent of fine particulate matter (PM) that is released into the air each year (Creech and Brown, 2000).

Transportation Equity

For more than a century, people of color have struggled to end transportation discrimination, linking unequal treatment on buses and trains with violation of constitutionally-guaranteed civil rights (Bullard and Johnson, 1997). History has shown that the stakes are high. In 1896, in Plessy v. Ferguson, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld Louisiana's segregated "white" and "colored" seating on railroad cars, ushering in the infamous doctrine of "separate but equal." Plessy not only endorsed apartheid on transportation facilities, but served as the legal basis for segregation in education until it was overturned by the 1954 court case, Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka.

In 1953, nearly four decades after the Plessy decision relegated Blacks to the back of the bus, African-Americans in Baton Rouge, the capital of Louisiana, staged the nation's first successful bus boycott. Two years later, on December 1, 1955, Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat at the front of a Montgomery, Alabama, city bus to a white man, igniting the modern civil rights movement. By the early 1960s, young "Freedom Riders" were riding Greyhound buses into the Deep South, fighting segregation in interstate travel at risk of death.

Today, transportation is no less a civil rights, social justice, and equity issue. Groups only need to follow the transportation dollars to see clear racial and spatial allocation patterns. Federal tax dollars built or subsidized many of the roads, freeways, and rail transit systems that have divided, isolated, disrupted, and imposed different economic, environmental, and health burdens on low-income people and communities of color (Bullard and Johnson, 1997). For millions of inner city residents, public transportation is the primary means of travel, but recent cutbacks in mass transit subsidies along with fare hikes have reduced access to essential social services and economic activities. In many of the nation's job-rich suburbs, public transportation is either nonexistent or is inadequate.

From New York to California, grassroots groups are challenging local, metropolitan, state, and federal transportation agencies to strengthen intermodal options that sustain communities. These groups are demanding that planners and policy-makers think beyond cars, roads, and trains, and make transportation a bridge and not a barrier to opportunity.

Public Transportation

Public transit in many American cities is stigmatized as "poor people" transportation or "transportation for minorities." Nationally, only about 5.3 percent of all Americans use public transit to get to work (U.S. Bureau of Census, 1990).

  • People of color riders (Blacks, Latinos, Asians, Native Americans) account for nearly 60 percent of all transit passengers (Borger, 1990).
  • In areas with populations from one million and below, more than half of all transit passengers have incomes of less than $15,000 per year.
  • Public transit has received roughly $50 billion since the creation of the Urban Mass Transit Administration over thirty years ago. Roadway projects have received over $205 Billion since 1956 (Dittmar and Chen, 1995).
  • Public transit ridership in 1999 was 4.5 percent higher than in the previous year (American Public Transportation Association, 2000).

Automobile Dependency

Other than housing, Americans spend more on transportation than any other household expense. The average American household spends one-fifth of its income----or about $6,000 a year----for each car that it owns and operates (Bollier, 1998). Total vehicle miles traveled (VMT) in the United States increased by 59 percent from 1980 to 1995 (Schmidt, 1998). Heavy dependence on automobiles adds to the traffic and air pollution problems, threatens public health, and wastes money and energy.

  • American drivers waste $72 billion a year due to traffic jams.
  • Over 79.6 percent of commuters drive alone to work (Bowles, 1999).
  • Americans spend over 2 billion hours a year in their cars.
  • Over 115 million Americans commute by car daily (Public Agenda, 1999).
  • University of California at Berkeley researchers note that every 1 percent increase in highway capacity generates a 0.9 percent increase in traffic within five years.

Urban Air Pollution

Urban air quality is of major concern to people of color since they are disproportionately concentrated in the nation's nonattainment areas. According to National Argonne Laboratory researchers, 57 percent of whites, 65 percent of African Americans, and 80 percent of Hispanics live in 437 counties with substandard air quality (Wernett and Nieves, 1992). Sprawl-driven road programs add to this air-pollution quagmire.

  • Transportation sources account for 80 percent of carbon monoxide (CO), 45 percent of NOx, 36 percent of hydrocarbons (HC), 32 percent of CO2, 19 percent of PM, and 5 percent of SO2 emissions, nationally (White et al. 1994).
  • Motor vehicles emit one-third of the nation's carbon dioxide, one quarter of all chlorofluorocarbons, 40 percent of nitrogen oxides, and most of the carbon monoxide (Kay, 1997).
  • The American Public Transit Association reports that a five-mile commute in a car annually releases 110 pounds of carbon monoxide pollution into the air. The same commute on a train releases only 2/4 ounces of the same pollution per passenger.

The Asthma Epidemic

Ground level ozone is the primary ingredient of smog. Children are at special risk from ozone (Pribitkin, 1994). Air pollution from vehicle emissions causes significant amounts of illness, hospitalization and premature death. Although it is difficult to put a single price tag on this cost, estimates range from $10 billion to $200 billion a year (Bollier, 1998). Air pollution exacerbates asthma and other respiratory illnesses. Inner city children have the highest rates for asthma prevalence, hospitalization, and mortality (Centers for Disease Control, 1995). Asthma, not gunshot wounds or drive-by shootings, is the number one reason for childhood emergency room visits in most major cities in the country.

  • The annual age-adjusted death rate from asthma increased by 40 percent between 1982 and 1991, from 1.34 to 1.88 per100,000 population (Centers for Disease Control, 1995).
  • The hospitalization rate for African Americans is 3 to 4 times the rate for whites.
  • Asthma is the most common chronic disease of childhood and the fourth leading cause of disability among children less than 18 years old in the United States (Centers for Disease Control, 1995).
  • As of 1998, African Americans are almost three times more likely than whites to die from asthma (Centers for Disease Control, 2000).

Walking Can Be Hazardous to Your Health

The pedestrian fatality rate for people of color is higher than that of whites. The rate differences by race/ethnicity may be due in part to differences in walking patterns. For example, national studies show that blacks walk 82 percent more than whites, and Hispanics walk 58 percent more than non-Hispanic whites (U.S. Department of Transportation, 1997).

  • The Surface Transportation Policy Project (STPP) reports that walking is 36 times more dangerous than driving.
  • The most dangerous metro areas for pedestrians were Tampa, Atlanta, Miami, Orlando and Jacksonville (Surface Transportation Policy Project, 2000).
  • On average, states spend just 55 cents per person of their federal transportation funds on pedestrian projects, less than 1 percent of their total federal transportation dollars. Average spending on highways came to $72 per person.

Getting the Lead Out

Childhood lead poisoning is a preventable disease that disproportionately affects urban inner-city youth. The greatest threat is from peeling paint in older homes. Three decades of irrefutable lead studies and overwhelming scientific proof have not solved this multifaceted health, environmental, education, and housing problem. Barriers to solving this preventable disease does not rest in the science of toxicology or epidemiology but rest in the sociology and political science of whose children are poisoned and whose children are expendable (Bullard, 1993).

Figures reported in the July 1994 Journal of the American Medical Association on the Third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES III) revealed that 1.7 million children (8.9 percent of children aged 1 to 5) are lead poisoned, defined as blood lead levels equal to or above 10 micrograms/deciliter (Pirkle, et al., 1994).

  • The NHANES III data found African American children to be lead poisoned at more than twice the rate of white children at every income level. Over 28.4 percent of all low-income African American children were lead poisoned compared to 9.8 percent of low-income white children. During the time period between 1976 and 1991, the decrease in blood lead levels for African American and Mexican American children lagged far behind that of white children.
  • A 1997 CDC report, Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, indicates that the "risk for lead exposure in children is primarily determined by environmental conditions of the child's residence."

Toxic Waste and Race

Numerous studies document that people of color have borne greater health and environmental risks than the society at large when it comes to workplace hazards, location of freeways, municipal landfills, incinerators, abandoned toxic waste dumps, and lead smelters (Bullard, 2000). The widely-quoted United Church of Christ Commission for Racial Justice Toxic Waste and Race study documented that (1) three out of five African Americans live in communities with abandoned toxic waste sites; (2) sixty percent of African Americans (15 million) live in communities with one or more waste sites; and (3) three of the five largest commercial hazardous waste landfills were located in predominately African American or Latino communities, accounting for 40 percent of the nation's total hazardous waste landfill capacity in 1987 (Commission for Racial Justice, 1997).

Over 450,000 old industrial sites or brownfields sites are scattered across the nation (Twombly, 1997). Brownfields are abandoned, idle, or underused industrial and commercial facilities where expansion or redevelopment is confounded by real or perceived environmental contamination. Most of these sites are located in or near urban, low-income, and people of color communities.


Racial barriers still deprive a large segment of the population of major investments through home and business ownership. Federal mortgage subsidies facilitated middle-income homeowner flight out of the central city, near suburbs, and into outlying areas at the same time many central city neighborhoods were starving for investment capital. Race underlies and interpenetrates with the other factors in explaining the socio-spatial layout of metropolitan regions, including quality of schools, location of job centers, housing patterns, streets and highway configuration, and commercial development.

Call for A People of Color Smart Growth Agenda

People of color communities are not sitting back waiting for government, business, or mainstream environmental groups to come up with "silver-bullet" solutions to address race, equity, and urban sprawl problems that directly and indirectly impact them. Some communities are taking action on their own. Whether central city, suburb, or rural, it will take a coordinated effort among the divergent interests to fix the urban sprawl problem.

A national communication strategy is needed to disseminate the equity and smart growth message to the various people of color leaders, organizations, educational institutions, professional associations, fraternal orders, business associations, and other voluntary associations, i.e., church-based, civil rights, education, housing, community development, bankers, health care, legal, etc. For example, special efforts should be undertaken to get on the programs and agendas of the annual conferences, conventions, and meetings of such organizations as the Congressional Black Caucus, National Association of Black County Officials, Congressional Hispanic Caucus, NAACP, National Urban League, National Conference of Black Mayors, National Bar Association, National Association of Urban Bankers, National Association of Black Journalists, National Medical Association, Blacks in Government (BIG), National Association of Blacks for Equal Opportunity in Higher Education, Conference of Minority Transportation Officials, and similar Latino, Asian, and Native American organizations.

Addressing Race and Social Equity

Broad Coalitions and Alliances. The equity and smart growth issue has the potential for bringing together diverse community-based organizations, homeowners associations, civic clubs, academic institutions, activists, and government to form broad coalitions and alliances. The seamy side of sprawl may serve as a unifying theme to groups whose history has been characterized more as conflict rather than cooperation. Working together, neighborhood groups in central cities, suburbs, and surrounding rural areas can band together to arrest sprawl.

Proactive Race Relations Strategy. Race still matters in the United States. Addressing social equity and improving race relations needs to be an explicit priority in smart growth initiatives. Racial polarization is impeding community and economic development in almost every metropolitan area with large concentrations of people of color. Dismantling racial barriers would go a long way in boosting financial incentives and reinvestment in central city neighborhoods.

Outreach to Urban Core Stakeholders. It makes little sense to have only all-white men and women in suits talking to each other about solving regional air pollution, transportation, sprawl, and overall quality of life problems. One needs only turn on the television or turn to the local newspaper to see this one-race scenario play itself out in city after city. African Americans and other people of color organizations and institutions are not invisible.

Education and Schools

Plans to Narrow the Public Education Gap. Education is an investment in the future. The nation's public schools remain an integral part of our nation's future. All public schools are not created equal. Unfortunately, "separate and unequal" schools (though legally outlawed) still operate in the real world. Disparities exist with and between urban and suburban schools. Innovative approaches need to be taken to equalize inherent funding inequities resulting from an outdated taxing system.

A number of strategies are proposed that include working to assure equitable distribution of government resources; working with the business community; setting high expectations for all students; making recruitment of quality teachers a top priority; encouraging a culture of learning; providing a safe and secure learning environment; and adopting a philosophy that all children can learn. In addition, increased funding, better accountability, improved opportunities for adult learning and continuing education, better planning, master teacher recruitment, innovation, and improved technology are all means to providing quality education within metropolitan regions.

Fair Housing and Community Development

Urban Home Ownership Initiatives. Home ownership can act as a major stabilizing force in urban core neighborhoods. Infusion of capital through home loans offers new hope to once decaying urban neighborhoods.

Strategies to Combat Predatory Lending Practices. The HUD-Treasury Task Force on Predatory Lending (2000) proposes a four-point plan to address predatory lending practices:

  • Improve Consumer Literacy and Disclosures. Creditors should be required to recommend that high-cost loan applicants avail themselves of home mortgage counseling, disclose credit scores to all borrowers upon request and give borrowers more timely and more accurate information as to loan costs and terms.
  • Prohibit Harmful Sales Practices in the Mortgage Market. Practices such as loan "flipping" and lending to borrowers without regard to their ability to repay the loan should be banned. New requirements should be imposed on mortgage brokers to document the appropriateness of a loan for high-cost loan applicants, and lenders who report to credit bureaus should be required to provide "full-file" payment history for their mortgage customers.
  • Restrict Abusive Terms and Conditions on High-Cost Loans. We recommend that Congress increase the number of borrowers in the subprime market covered by legislative protections; further restrict balloon payments on high-cost loans; restrict prepayment penalties and the financing of points and fees; prohibit mandatory arbitration agreements on high-cost loans; and ban lump-sum credit life insurance and similar products.
  • Improve Market Structure. Award Community Reinvestment Act (CRA) credit to banks and thrifts that promote borrowers from the subprime to prime mortgage market, and to deny CRA credit to banks and thrifts for the origination or purchase of loans that violate applicable lending laws.

Urban Revitalization without Gentrification. Neighborhood revitalization initiatives that minimize "gentrification" pressures and displacement of incumbent residents should be undertaken. In-fill development should be encouraged in place of uncontrolled sprawl. In-fill and higher density development will improve infrastructure efficiency by taking advantage of existing capacity; save costs for roads and utilities; require less automobile dependence; reduce auto emissions; improve air quality; locate closer to stores, school, work and other activities; and provide access to pedestrian-friendly communities with sidewalks. Urban redevelopment should be based on use value instead of exchange value. Public space should be planned in the general welfare of all residents, regardless of race, income, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, etc.

Lower-income residents should be given opportunities to revitalize their own neighborhoods. Other strategies include: provide economic opportunities for wealth creation and community services for local residents, including jobs and housing linkage programs; develop, monitor, and enforce Fair Share Housing; institute Community Land Trusts and landbanking that could be used for developments from parks to housing; and design Community Equity Impact Reports to assess the benefits of projects to the community.

Regional Fair Housing Initiatives. Discrimination is still a major barrier to open housing in the region. Discrimination costs. A targeted regional fair housing strategy could maximize housing, employment, and educational opportunity options for low-income persons and people of color. Private fair housing efforts should be expanded and coordinated with state fair housing initiatives. Annual metropolitan (by county) fair housing "Report Card" could be issued as one tool for evaluating and reporting progress toward open housing.

Anti-Redlining Initiative. Special initiatives are needed to eliminate the "discrimination tax" that is levied on people of color homeowners. Similar efforts are also needed to protect small, disadvantaged, and minority businesses from this illegal tax.

Environmental Reform

Vegetation and Greenspace. The timberlands and forests are severely threatened by deforestation. Too many trees are flattened to make way for strip centers, outlet malls, and subdivisions. Trees need to be an integral part of all community planning since they increase the shade around buildings and parking lots, and lower air temperatures surrounding vegetation.

Energy Efficient Housing. Improving energy efficiency in housing is a money saver and could play a major role in improving air quality. Reduction in energy consumption benefits all households. It is especially pertinent for low-income residents since efficiency measures save money, improve human health, reduce air pollution, increase building durability, and enhance property values.

Urban Brownfields Redevelopment. Current land-use decision-making favors development in the suburbs or "greenfields" rather than inner city areas. Some policies even foster abandonment and infrastructure decline. Alternatively, existing policies, such as criteria for funding water/sewer infrastructure could be modified to favor existing, rather than new development. In addition, "brownfields," or abandoned or underutilized property or buildings, need to be reclaimed and brought back into production. Residents in neighborhoods with brownfields sites must be an integral part of the redevelopment process.

Transportation Equity and Land-Use Planning

Promote Transit-Oriented Development. Transit stations can become more than a place where commuters pass through on their way to somewhere else. Planners can shape land uses and development that are amenable to walking, bicycling, and transit use. One measure to combat sprawl is transit-oriented development that promotes more dense, mixed land uses combined with location efficient mortgages. The idea is that money saved from lower transportation costs (and thus boosting ones disposable income) could be used to qualify a greater number of lower and moderate income households for home mortgages. The spillover effect is increased home ownership in inner-city neighborhoods.

Streets for Walking, Bicycles, and Transit. As a rule, sprawl development is not pedestrian, bicycle, or transit friendly. Infrastructure enhancements and service improvements are needed to get people out of their homes and cars. Walking and biking are two major travel modes that produce zero pollution. In addition, sidewalks, bike lanes, jogging paths all encourage physical activity, enhance public health, and promote social interaction and a sense of community.

Title VI and Environmental Justice. Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPOs) should demonstrate that their regional transportation plans comply with Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which assure transportation investments promote greater equity in access to opportunities in the Atlanta region. The assessments will also need to address equity, environmental justice, and adequacy and appropriateness of current data, computer modeling capabilities, a process for assessing needs and developing projects, and use of performance measures. The congestion mitigation strategies should also meet Title VI and environmental justice requirements.

Equity Analysis and Transportation Planning. In compliance with Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, President Clinton's Executive Order on Environmental Justice, and U.S.DOT's Order on Environmental Justice, U.S.DOT should require planning agencies to conduct regular analysis of transportation decision-making, policies, investments and impacts to determine whether decisions have been made in an equitable fashion. It should also enforce the disclosure of geographic distribution of investments. These types of analysis should be an integral part of Transportation Improvement Programs, Major Investment Studies, Regional Transportation Plans, and State Implementation Plans. They should be used as evaluation criteria for MPO recertification and the approval of state plans.

Access to Jobs and Economic Opportunity

Investment in Low-Income Communities and Communities of Color. Sprawl-driven development diverts funds away from central cities. We encourage investments in transportation funds in low-income communities and communities of color to support job creation and economic development.

Improving Access to Jobs. Improving low-income residents mobility, particularly for those making the transition from welfare to work, may be the difference between employment and unemployment. Public transportation improvements go hand-in-hand with expanding job opportunities. Regions should create transportation pilot programs to improve transportation efficiency, reduce the impacts of transportation on the environment, reduce the need for infrastructure investment, provide efficient access, examine development patterns and involve the community in such efforts. Some of these pilot projects will need to be based in low-income communities and communities of color, and focus on environmental justice and transportation equity.

The regional transportation planning process needs to include a thorough and comprehensive assessment of current and future travel needs. This assessment should incorporate transportation options such as transit, walking, and bicycling based on the location and demographics of forecasted population and employment trends. The assessment will also need to quantify the various infrastructure changes which may be needed, e.g. miles of new roads, sidewalks, and bicycle lanes, public transit and van pool service expansion, congestion pricing, and parking management, etc.

Air Quality and Public Health

Air Quality. Metropolitan Planning Organizations should incorporate social equity and environmental justice into air quality conformity requirements at all stages of the transportation planning process. It should also encourage the spending of congestion mitigation investments to benefit low-income communities and communities of color, especially if these areas exhibit disproportionately high levels of criteria pollutants. The U.S. DOT should work closely with the federal EPA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to monitor air quality levels in nonattainment regions with large concentration of low-income and people of color residents.

Public Health and Safety. Since pedestrian fatality rate is highest among people of color, we encourage the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and other agencies to focus on neighborhood safety issues, particularly pedestrian safety. It should also ensure that a reasonable amount of transportation safety funds are spent on pedestrian-related projects such as sidewalks, lighting, crosswalks, traffic calming, etc.

Public Participation

Uniform Local Public Involvement Processes. Create citizen advisory groups to provide reaction, guidance, recommendations and outreach to the public on current and future issues related to transportation, air quality, and growth in the region. The groups should have formal membership that is representative of the population, transit users, and interest groups in the metropolitan regions.

The existing environmental, housing, health, transportation, land use, and employment laws by themselves have not been sufficient to protect all citizens and communities from the negative costs and consequences of sprawl. Laws and regulations are only as good as their enforcement.



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