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We have sprawl, all right -- a sprawl of decline

The recent publication by the League of Women Voters, "At Taxpayers' Expense -- How Government Policies Encourage Sprawl in Erie and Niagara Counties," began by citing the decline of population in our region. Unfortunately from this solid observation the report went on to blame this loss of population, along with increased obesity, auto accidents, costly municipal union contracts and increased Medicaid costs on "sprawl."

The Buffalo Niagara Builders Association agrees that sprawl is a serious problem in our region.

But it's the "sprawl of decline" that is killing our region -- sprawl, not from Buffalo to the towns of Boston or Colden, but rather, sprawl from Buffalo to Boston, Mass., and Charleston, S.C.

Over the past year, articles have appeared in this newspaper detailing this "sprawl of decline" -- articles describing the plight of churches closing for lack of parishioners, not-for-profit groups struggling to raise funds, the severe out-migration of our young people and the threat our shrinking population could someday pose to the future of the Buffalo Bills.

It's time the connection is made between a healthy economy and a healthy quality of life. A healthy economy produces social vitality. A healthy economy means churches fill their pews, service clubs better serve their communities and art, cultural and not-for-profit groups raise adequate funds.

The Builders Association has some fundamental disagreements with the League report:

The word "sprawl" should not be used when describing growth in first-ring suburbs. First-ring suburbs of cities are designed to be densely populated and growth-oriented.

It seems that the only growth the League is comfortable with is growth within the City of Buffalo. If the League supports an urban growth boundary around the city, it should say so and defend that position.

The report says "unchecked growth" in our region "subtracts something vital from the quality of life of communities." Let's be clear, there has been little to no growth here for decades. With a growing, vibrant economy, none of the articles cited above would have been written.

Recent reports by the University at Buffalo's Regional Institute pointed out that our entire region continues to lose population and young people. Between 1990 and 2005, the population age group 25-34 declined by 30 percent. These residents left for jobs and a better quality of life. They were victims of the sprawl of decline.

This is why the Builders Association has supported the creation of the Coalition for Community Building, a broad-based group committed to making the connection between a healthy economy and a healthy quality of life. Without this basic connection, the sprawl of decline will claim our entire region as its victim.

Susan Ballard is a member of the board of directors of the Buffalo Niagara Builders Association.

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