Emory Report

May 15, 2000

 Volume 52, No. 33

Emory hosts 'sprawling' forum for lawmakers

By Michael Terrazas

Emory is establishing a reputation around Atlanta and the Southeast as a leader in addressing the problems of urban sprawl, and a forum on smart growth the University is hosting this week for the State Legis-lative Leaders Foundation (SLLF) will only burnish that distinction.

A national, nonprofit, nonpartisan research foundation for state legislators, SLLF approached Emory last fall as a possible host for its spring 2000 event, and smart growth seemed like the logical choice for a topic, according to Betty Willis, associate vice president for governmental and community affairs.

"We had just hosted a successful field hearing of the U.S. Senate Smart Growth Task Force, and the issue was fresh on my mind," Willis said. "SLLF likes to hold these events on college campuses, which offer faculty expertise in an academic, nonpartisan environment. We've been very proactive with our alternative transportation and our master planning activities, and we have direct experience and success stories to share."

The three-day event, to be held May 18-21, is not open to the public; out-of-state participants will stay at the Ritz-Carlton Buckhead and ride buses to and from campus each day for sessions. Among those expected to attend are Gov. Roy Barnes, Georgia House Majority Leader Larry Walker and Post Properties President John Williams.

President Bill Chace will welcome the participants the morning of May 19, and two Emory professors will give presentations: Howard Frumkin, associate professor and chair of environmental and occupational health, and William Buzbee, associate professor of law.

Frumkin will speak on a new approach he is taking to urban sprawl-as a public health concern. He said sprawling cities like Atlanta, Houston and Phoenix pose public health problems in three ways: respiratory health damage from air pollution from so many cars on the roads; vehicular accidents, limited not just to single- and multiple-vehicle collisions but also pedestrian injuries; and the cyclical "urban heat island" effect.

"It can easily get up to a six- or eight-degree differential in the summer," Frumkin said. "That has health effects in a couple ways: first, heat itself can be dangerous, [resulting in] heat cramps, heat stroke, heat exhaustion. Second, as it gets hotter, people turn up their air conditioners, so you have an increase in power demand, which means the power plants have to burn more coal, aggravating the air pollution problem."

Frumkin said he is cooperating with Georgia Tech's Larry Frank, an assistant professor of urban planning, in writing a new book on the threats sprawl poses to public health. Frumkin said he became professionally interested in the issue through his involvement with the Clean Air Cam-paign and the Georgia Regional Transportation Authority (GRTA).

Buzbee will speak as an authority on environmental, land use and property law. "I'll be talking about open space or green space protection policies and ways state governments can create incentives for green space protection," Buzbee said.

It's fitting that not only this University but this city hosts this event since, as Frumkin said, Atlanta is "the poster child for sprawl."

"Five years ago, this was a metro area where growth was a religion," Frumkin said. "The developers named the agenda of the day, nobody could talk about smart growth and sprawl was a dirty word."

But Atlanta got a wake-up call when its poor air quality prompted the federal government to cut off funding for highway construction. Barnes ran in 1998 on a platform that concentrated on smart growth and drafted the legislation that formed GRTA almost immediately after taking office. The young organization has almost unprecedented political power in transportation matters.

But there are other ways to tackle sprawl. Buzbee said the Minneapolis/St. Paul area is "10 to 15 years" ahead of Atlanta in dealing with these issues.

"GRTA is of definite significance, but every state is unique in its urban forms and traditions and legal structures," Buzbee said. "GRTA will be a subject, but I think it will be far from the focus of the [SLLF] gathering."

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