THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Vice President
For Immediate Release
September 2, 1998
REMARKS BY VICE PRESIDENT AL GORE
Since it was first seen by human eyes, the new world has been a
revelation to the old. The American countryside used to make travelers
stand still in astonishment. That's how beautiful it was.
THE BROOKINGS INSTITUTION
Wednesday, September 2, 1998
From the Lakota storytellers who described the vast clearness of
the Western sky as a metaphor for inner courage; to the Hudson River
painters whose canvases and brush strokes grew ever larger and wider in
an effort to show old Europe just how majestic were the cliffs of the
Storm King; from Thoreau, who saw an entire pilgrimage in a still body
of water in a Massachusetts meadow; to Mark Twain, who wrote back to his
Eastern readers that the Tahoe depths were so lucid, you could see
straight down a mile to the stones on the lake's bed; to Spanish
settlers who named the high places in California after the views they
commanded -- Buena Vista and Alta Vista; all these Americans knew that
their home was a place of natural grace.
This nation's cities and villages used to be a model of civil life.
We were the experts at creating the gathering-places, the very
architecture, that set the stage for democracy: the Puritans built their
villages around common greens; the livestock grazed there, but, more
importantly, the village green was where news was proclaimed, and where
neighbors chatted or argued over the issues of the day.
As our cities grew, their life took the vibrant shape of America:
the mixed-use building of dwellings over small shops allowed people to
work long hours, raise families close by, and start the climb up the
economic ladder; as the nineteenth century drew to an end and America
looked around at its new wealth and diversity, the City Beautiful
movement was inaugurated: proud civic buildings -- libraries and post
offices, town halls and colleges, parks and recreation areas for working
men and women's days off, ornate commercial buildings and statuary --
proclaimed to the world that though Cleveland or Milwaukee or Corvallis
or Tuscaloosa were new, they had plenty to be proud of.
The great civic buildings and recreation areas drew the people
together in the heart of the cities: at best, the working people mingled
with the affluent, Latin families picnicked alongside Anglos, and
students of Chinese parentage sat in reading-rooms alongside those whose
folks were Irish. The civic spaces, by drawing people together in pride
and enjoyment, also helped create the diversity and self-respect that
characterized our bold new country.
In the hearts of our cities, those who are willing to seek them
still find the precious gifts of culture and history. Our communities
are a reflection of who we are as a people, and where we have been.
From 18th Street and Vine District in Kansas City; to the Bronzeville
area in Chicago, one of the homes of jazz; to historic Beale Street in
Memphis -- our cherished landscape tells the story of how we came to be
just who we are.
We can still see the greatness of what those Americans saw in our
natural and civic landscape -- but all too often, in too many places, we
see only traces of that greatness, because over the last thirty years,
bad planning has too often distorted our towns and landscapes out of all
recognition. We drive the same majestic scenery, but in too many
places, the land we pass through is often burdened by an ugliness that
leaves us with a quiet sense of sadness. The burden is national. No
state has escaped it.
From the desert Southwest to the forested Northeast, from the most
pristine snowfields in Alaska, to the loveliest hollows of the Carolinas -- thickets of strip development distort the landscape our grandparents
remember. We walk through the hearts of the cities, but so often the
downtown is a wasteland of boarded-up storefronts that goes silent at
night, as commuters start their grueling commute to further and further
Many of our walkable main streets have emptied out, and their small
shops closed, one by one, leaving a night-time vacuum for crime and
disorder. Acre upon acre of asphalt have transformed what were once
mountain clearings and congenial villages into little more than massive
parking lots. The ill-thought-out sprawl hastily developed around our
nation's cities has turned what used to be friendly, easy suburbs into
lonely cul-de-sacs, so distant from the city center that if a family
wants to buy an affordable house they have to drive so far that a parent
gets home too late to read a bedtime story. In many such developments,
an absence of sidewalks, amenities, and green spaces discourages
walking, biking, and playing -- and kids learn more about Nintendo and
isolation than about fresh air and taking turns.
Houses in such places were built fast and heedlessly by bulldozing
flat an ecosystem, and ripping out the century-old trees that had
sustained the neighborhood's birds and wildlife. People move in and
make their lives, but as the bulldozers leapfrog their dreams, they
begin to long for something they remember -- the meadow that used to be
the children's paradise at the end of the suburban street, the local
shops where neighbors passed the local news from one to another, the
park where families shared picnics.
The problem which we suffer in too many of our cities, suburbs, and
rural areas is made up of so many different pieces that until recently
it has been a problem that lacked a name. "Sprawl" hardly does justice
But Americans are resourceful people. While the blight of poor
development and its social consequences have many names, the solutions,
pioneered by local citizens, are starting to coalesce into a movement.
Some call it "sustainability;" some call it "smart growth;" others refer
to "metropolitan strategies;" still others prefer to talk about
"regionalism." In New York and Portland, in towns like Celebration in
Florida and in other areas nationwide, it's been called the movement for
"liveability." And that's as good a word as any to describe the many
solutions that local citizens are crafting.
This movement across the country is showing us how we can build
more liveable communities -- places where families work, learn, and
worship together -- where they can walk and bike and shop and play
together -- or choose to drive -- and actually find a parking place! --
and get out and have fun.
A liveable suburb or city is one that lets us get home after work
fast -- so we can spend more time with friends and family, and less time
stuck in traffic. It is one that restores and sustains our historic
neighborhoods, so they are not abandoned and bulldozed under, but are
alive with shops and cultural events. It is one that preserves among
the new development some family farms and green spaces -- so that even
in the age of cyberspace, kids can still grow up knowing what it's like
to eat locally-grown produce, or to toss a ball in an open field on a
summer evening. Most of us can't afford to travel to Yellowstone or the
Grand Canyon when we want to enjoy the rich American landscape; a
liveable neighborhood lets you and your spouse walk through a natural
ecosystem as you simply take an evening stroll down your street.
A liveable community cares about parks as well as parking lots, and
develops in a way that draws and local strength and uniqueness --
resisting the "cookie-cutter monster" that has made so much of our
country look all the same.
And increasingly, in the 21st Century, a liveable community will be
an economically powerful community: a place where a high quality of life
attracts the best-educated and trained workers and entrepreneurs. A
place where good schools and strong families fuel creativity and
productivity. A place where the best minds and the best companies share
ideas and shape our common future.
So many towns and suburbs are building more livable communities,
and showing that you can embrace community development while growing
stronger economically in the process. Indeed, first and foremost, our
cities, suburbs, and neighborhoods need continued economic growth and
strength to thrive.
That is why our efforts to make communities more livable today must
emphasize the right kind of growth -- sustainable growth. Promoting a
better quality of life for our families need never come at the expense
of economic growth. Indeed, in the 21st Century, it can and must be an
engine for economic growth.
In the last fifty years, we've built flat, not tall: because land
is cheaper the further out it lies, new office buildings, roads, and
malls go up farther and farther out, lengthening commutes and adding to
pollution. This outward stretch leaves a vacuum in the cities and
suburbs which sucks away jobs, businesses, homes, and hope; as people
stop walking in downtown areas, the vacuum is filled up fast with crime,
drugs, and danger.
Drive times and congestion increase; Americans waste about half a
billion hours a year stuck in traffic congestion. An hour and a half
commute each day is ten full workdays a year spent just stuck in
traffic. The problem isn't the cars themselves; for so much of this
century, cars have given us the chance to chase our dreams. We just
never expected to hit a traffic jam along the way.
So the exhausted commuter seeks affordable housing further out --
and can't help pushing local farmers out of business, since family farms
can't pay the rising property taxes. Orchards and dairy farms go under;
the commute gets even longer; and nobody wins, least of all our
children. America, which is losing 50 acres of farmland to development
each hour, could become the largest net importer of food, instead of the
world's largest exporter by the next century.
This kind of uncoordinated growth means more than a long drive to
work; it means a half hour to buy a loaf of bread; it means that working
families have to spend thousands of dollars a year more on
transportation costs when they might want the option of spending that
money on a year of a good college for a son or daughter. It means that
people coming off welfare and eager to work, especially if they have
children, find that they don't have a way to reach an available job and
still pick a child up from day care.
It means mothers isolated with small children far from play-mates,
and old people stuck in their homes alone. Air and water quality go
down; taxes go up; there are no sidewalks, and even if there were, there
is nowhere to walk to.
We gather at the mall, but there is nowhere to sit outside with
family on a fine day. Suddenly we see: this is not the community we
were looking for.
I often refer to the well-known theory called "broken windows."
When a criminal sees a community with broken windows, garbage strewn on
the street, and graffiti on the walls, there is a powerful but unspoken
message: if you're looking for a place to commit a crime, it's here,
because we have a high tolerance for disorder.
If a young family is looking for a place to live, or an
entrepreneur is looking for a place to start a business, what kind of
message does a community send if there are no parks and green spaces;
nowhere to shop and walk and play with your children; no running paths
to help people stay well and productive; no nearby countrysides or
The message is clear: you'd better not raise your family here,
because we don't value the quality of life you want. But a liveable,
walkable, playable community -- like a safe community or a good, modern
classroom, sends a very different message: we care about this place, and
you should, too.
So many generations moved out to the suburbs to find the good life
-- more space, more safety, more privacy, and a better quality of life.
Today, it is where the vast majority of new jobs are created. We should
be able to reclaim that dream.
We're starting to see that the lives of suburbs and cities are not
at odds, but intertwined. No one in a suburb wants to live outside a
No one in the city wants to be trapped by surrounding rings of
parking lots instead of thriving, liveable suburban communities. And no
one wants to do away with the open spaces and farmland that give food,
beauty, and balance to our post-industrial, speeded-up lives.
Fortunately, all across America, communities are coming together to
meet these new challenges of growth -- to restore historic
neighborhoods, to protect centuries-old farmland, to turn shopping malls
into village squares, to preserve both our natural and our cultural
heritage. These communities are proving that America can grow according
to its values -- which include goodness, but also include beauty. By
working together, they show us we can build an America that is not just
better off, but better.
What is being gained is not just liveability, but new life for our
As citizens come together to plan their common future -- as they
realize that they can make a difference right in their own neighborhoods
-- we open the door to more vibrant civic life and self-government on a
much broader scale. That is why smart, green growth must happen at the
local and community level.
The American Heritage Rivers initiative rewards communities that
restore their rivers and waterfronts. Empowerment zones unite
communities to revitalize central cities. These initiatives reveal that
rediscovering the pride of place, the delight of home, has an
In the words of Daniel Kemmis, who was one of several thinkers who
joined Tipper and me at our home early in 1997 for a series of
discussions on this subject, "what holds people together long enough to
discover their power as citizens is their common inhabiting of a single
place." In other words, to paraphrase the TV show: "everyone needs a
place where everybody knows your name." When I was a child, I lived in
a community just like that -- Carthage, Tennessee. I've often described
it as a place where people know about it when you're born, and care
about it when you die. There are a lot of Americans who want to live in
a community that has that feeling.
Let me share a few examples of what is happening across the
Consider Chattanooga, a city of black and white families, both
affluent and working class, in my home state of Tennessee. Like the
Spanish settlers who made their home on the Buena Vista, Chattanooga's
founders were entranced by the beauty of the land that lies between two
majestic mountains and a sweeping bend of the Tennessee River. Each
feature of the landscape speaking to the soul, in Wordsworth's memorable
phrase, "like a mighty voice." But by the time I was growing up, that
voice had grown hoarse. The smog was so thick people couldn't even see
the mountains. The air was so polluted that on some occasions, when
women wore nylon stockings outside, their legwear would actually
disintegrate from the pollution. The riverfront was littered with
dilapidated warehouses and a vacant high school, and the town's oldest
bridge was considered so unsafe the state wanted to tear it down.
According to one council member, in Chattanooga, "the prosperity of one
generation became the burden of the next one."
Then the people of Chattanooga decided to reclaim the natural
beauty of the place. More than 2,500 people turned out for public
meetings and listening sessions. They looked at pictures of different
neighborhoods and communities, and were consulted for their ideas and
preferences. Students proposed turning the old warehouses into an
aquarium that families could visit. Soon after, the vacant high school
reopened as a nationally-recognized magnet school. The old bridge was
reinforced, and reopened as the country's longest pedestrian walkway
over a river, a beautiful sight. As Tennessee?s Senator, I was proud to
help Chattanooga develop an electric bus system to give people an
alternative to all those hours in traffic. And best of all -- just as
those students had dreamed -- those old warehouse properties were turned
into the largest freshwater aquarium in the world -- attracting 1.3
million visitors every year since it has opened, making kids, fish, and
retailers very happy. Today, Chattanooga is not only cleaner than it
has been in decades -- it is led the entire state in job growth for the
first half of last year.
In St. Paul, people like Mary Gruber are showing us the power of
citizen action. She is a nurse living with her husband -- a pipe fitter
-- in the working class north end of St. Paul. She is also active in
the St. Paul Ecumenical Alliance of Congregations. In the early
1990's, she met a social worker who told her that she spent the first
six weeks of every school year looking for shoes for kids. She saw that
poverty was undermining their community's efforts to provide a good
education. But when she wondered where all the jobs would come from,
all she saw in her neighborhood were abandoned old factories. Doing a
little research, she found that there were more 4,000 acres of abandoned
factories in inner cities, barring job growth.
Together with the members of her religious coalition, she helped
bring together 45 inner-city and suburban churches, environmental
groups, developers, and government officials to clean up those old sites
and bring jobs back. They came up with their own slogan: "Turn Polluted
Dirt Into Paydirt." They held rallies, they sent letters, they met with
state legislators. And they persuaded the legislature to pass a
seven-year plan to reclaim 175 acres of polluted sites, create more than
2,000 new jobs there, and leverage up to $70 million in private
investment in the once-neglected community. One of them summed it up
this way: "I hate to sound like a civic cheerleader, but...you come away
thinking that this is worth your time." In St. Paul, changing the
physical landscape meant a change for the better in people's lives.
In Routt County, Colorado, in the Rocky Mountains, residents and
businesses became concerned that an explosion of year-round resorts and
tourism could degrade the character of their small ranching and mining
community. On summer weekdays, in a town with a population of just
15,000, it wasn't unusual for 28,000 cars to crowd the main street. One
bank president said: "It's not a question of whether we are going to
grow. It's a question of how we're going to manage that growth to
maintain the things we all came here for." They also realized that
destroying their rural way of life would only hurt tourism. So more
than 1,000 residents worked on a plan called "Controlling Our Own
Destiny," which led to plans for affordable housing, more open space,
and better transportation and schools.
More than 10,000 acres have been set aside as permanent
land-ranches that the town can grow around. And former adversaries,
from ranchers to business people to conservationists, are now working
together for strong, sustainable, and beautiful growth.
Then there is the City of Detroit. We all remember how Detroit
seemed to be in a free-fall just a few years ago -- losing jobs, losing
businesses, gaining crime and poverty. Distrust between the city and
the surrounding suburbs was the norm. Today, Detroit is experiencing an
economic renaissance -- and much of that progress is due to Mayor
Archer's efforts to work with the surrounding counties.
Our Empowerment Zone in Detroit not only helped to attract $4
billion in private investment and thousands of jobs to the once-ravaged
city core, it also linked the zone's residents with available jobs out
in the suburbs. The natural surroundings benefit, too. Communities have
come together to protect and preserve the Detroit River as one of our
new American Heritage Rivers. Thirteen communities, three counties, and
the state have banded together to fight urban blight along Detroit's
northern border. And last year, city residents even approved $38
million in improvements for recreational facilities located out in the
suburbs. Diverse religions are seeing a common interest. They all
realize that the only way to achieve growth and prosperity for everyone
is to work together.
In the 1970's, Portland, Oregon was consuming 30,000 acres of its
rich agricultural land every year, and threatening the pristine forests
leading to Mount Hood. To protect the land, Portland passed a smart
growth plan -- creating a more walkable, liveable community while
preserving historic areas rather than builder farther and farther out.
They were told that it would be impossible -- that the new emphasis on
quality of life would force out businesses and force down property
values. Instead, the opposite has come to pass: high-tech campuses
sprung up, home values have increased, Portland's population swelled
with families fleeing sprawl and congestion elsewhere -- and a new light
rail system has attracted 40% of all commuters.
Today, the environment is better protected; developers advertise
"not sprawl but community villages;" new developments, crafted with
care, boast community spaces, light rail stations, and on-the-block day
care; and Portland's community spirit is one of joy.
As one newspaper described: "many of the newer companies in Oregon
-- like Hewlett-Packard, Intel, and Hyundai -- say they moved here
because there are forests, fruit orchards and meandering creeks just
across the street from the contained urban areas. The employers said
they wanted to locate in an area that could attract educated workers who
were as interested in quality of life as a paycheck." Or as one Intel
employee put it: "companies that can locate anywhere they want will go
where they can attract good people in good places." Coming together as
a community made good common sense.
And we see this kind of success across the nation -- from Chicago
to Fresno to South Florida to Indianapolis to San Antonio.
How, then, can the federal government encourage and strengthen
smarter, more liveable, sustainable growth? Again, smart growth is
about local and community decisions, and we don't want to tell anyone
where to live, or where to locate a business. But I believe there is an
important role for federal support for local energies.
We, the federal government, can start by getting our own house in
order, and making it look good. We should start paying closer attention
to liveability and smart growth in the building and planning we provide
to taxpayers -- such as where we locate new libraries, post offices, and
so on, and whether we should fix up old beautiful old buildings in
historic areas before rushing to build bland new ones farther out.
Secondly, we can get our own house in order by reexamining federal
policies that may have been well-intentioned, but have encouraged the
wrong kind of growth and runaway sprawl.
For example, in some cases, federal subsidies actually encouraged
communities to extend sewage lines far out into undeveloped areas,
rather than improving and expanding them in places where families
already relied on them. And until we changed the policy, the federal
government gave employers big subsidies to offer parking spaces to their
employees, but much less help in covering their mass transit costs. We
need a national dialogue on these kinds of policies.
Third, we can provide carefully targeted incentives to encourage
smarter growth -- such as support for mass transit and light rail
systems -- not to restrict growth in any way, but to reward growth that
strengthens family-friendly communities.
Fourth, we can play an enormously positive role as a partner with
cities, suburbs, and rural areas, as we have already started to do
through our empowerment initiative and through out work with the U.S.
Conference of Mayors and the National Association of County
Organizations on their Joint Center for Sustainable Communities. That
way, whole regions can create a vision and build together for their
President Clinton and I have already done a lot to make the federal
government a better partner -- part of the solution. We are cleaning up
old Brownfield sites and toxic waste dumps, and replacing them with
parks, new businesses, and new homes. The President's Council on
Sustainable Development has worked very hard to encourage better, more
liveable communities. Our community empowerment strategy is bringing
billions of dollars in new private investment to central cities, and
breathing new life into America's central cities. We have passed
targeted tax cuts for families, small businesses, and communities. We
are rebuilding and modernizing crumbling schools. Under our new
transportation bill, we are giving local communities an unprecedented
local control over the kind of infrastructure they choose, and we will
make sure that control is preserved. We are putting 100,000 community
police on the streets -- police who walk a neighborhood beat and know
the kids on the sidewalk by name. We have taken new action to help
local communities protect their farmland, wetlands, and private forests.
Today, on behalf of President Clinton, I am pleased to announce
three additional steps we will take to help encourage smarter growth and
more liveable communities all across America.
First, today I am announcing that FANNIE MAE will launch a new $100
million pilot program that will recognize an economic reality that has
long been ignored by our mortgage system: families that live near mass
transit save as much as hundreds of dollars a month, and therefore
should qualify for larger mortgages. These new location-efficient
mortgages, which come with a 30-year transit pass, will give families
more choices, by enabling them to live in more desirable neighborhoods,
with higher property values. They will also illuminate whether this
financial innovation will encourage smarter growth nationwide.
Second, I am announcing two new initiatives to give more
information to communities. We will offer grants that enable
communities to get and display federal information on easy-to-understand
computerized maps, to see all the parks and buildings and farmlands in
the region, and even predictions of future growth. This will make it
dramatically easier to envision and plan smarter, more liveable growth
for the future.
Third, we are taking new action to protect our farmland. On my
family's farm in Carthage, I learned a simple truth: if you lose an acre
of fertile farmland, you lose it forever. That's why, two years ago, we
reached out to states, tribes, and local governments and asked them to
help us protect our farmland through the purchase of easements. Today,
I am proud to announce today that we are awarding more than $17 million
to 19 states to ensure that thousands of acres of our best farmland are
preserved for generations to come. This investment will protect more
than 53,000 acres of precious farmland on 217 farms across America. Our
kids will see horses, cows, and farms outside books and movies.
This is just the beginning of a renewed federal commitment to
smarter, more liveable growth -- and I will be announcing additional
actions in the coming months. But in every case, our goal will be to
put more control, more information, more decision-making power into the
hands of families, communities, and regions -- to give them all the
freedom and flexibility they need to reclaim their own unique place in
the world. That is why I will begin this fall by holding several
listening sessions on smart growth and liveability, to hear first-hand
what is working, and what the federal government can do to become a
better partner. In the coming months, members of the President's
Cabinet will hold several additional sessions around the country as
What is clear to the local and federal governments, more and more,
is something any parent has known when struggling to afford and then
protect a home: places matter to people; they shape people, for good or
ill. Our communities must be more than mere plots of bulldozed land,
more than mere networks of roads and soulless buildings. They must
allow us to come together, to walk and bike and play with our children,
and to know that we can shape the communities we want for their
children. They are a reflection of who we are as a people.
We must preserve and protect what is special about our natural
landscape, and about our man-made landscape as well. That is why
America must always seek strong and aggressive growth -- but growth that
is consistent with local values.
Wallace Stegner once reminded us that, as deeply as we treasure the
mythic cowboys and pioneer men and women and lone rangers who tamed
America's great frontier, we treasure our traditions of homesteading and
community-building just as much. As Stegner wrote: "This is the native
home of hope. When [America] fully learns that cooperation...is the
pattern that most characterizes and preserves it, then it will have
achieved itself and outlived its origins. Then, [we have] a chance to
create a society to match [our] scenery."
All across America, you and your neighbors have started to do just
that. And it's high time. Because this land is your land. From
California to the New York island -- from the Redwood Forests to the
Gulf Stream waters -- this land was made for you and me. Thank you --
and God bless our most beautiful nation, America.