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Environmental group says DL should watch for sprawl

Sixty acres of Minnesota land -- about the size of the Mall of America -- gets paved over per day.

"We're consuming land faster than we're growing," said Philip Hunsicker, lakes region program director for 1000 Friends of Minnesota.

1000 Friends of Minnesota is a non-profit organization that promotes development that creates healthy communities while conserving natural areas, family farms, woodlands and water. Hunsicker and Sally Wakefield, a GIS specialist with 100 Friends of Minnesota, spoke at a recent Natural Innovations forum.

Hunsicker continued that Minnesota has lost 50 percent of its wetlands and 99 percent of its native prairies. In a 20-year period, nine out of 10 cities had more expansion outside of the city than within the core of the city.

In the next 25 years, he said, Minnesota will add 1.3 million people to its population.

"How do we accommodate them but save healthy lakes and recreational opportunities?" he said, which are why most people move to Minnesota in the first place.

He said expansion can be linked to health. With the sprawl of cities and expansion, obesity, hypertension, blood pressure and diabetes have also increased.

But, some cities or businesses are promoting active living by design. Companies are putting their parking lots a block or two from the office to promote walking, he said.

Besides the health of people, the health of lakes and other natural resources are a concern for those at 100 Friends of Minnesota. There is also the question of sprawl's effect on a city or county's financial health. Hunsicker said for every $1 created in tax base with new businesses outside the city core, it costs $1.16 for infrastructure.

Hunsicker said the answer is smart growth.

Smart growth includes building where infrastructure already exists, creating more pedestrian-friendly cities so people don't rely on vehicles, creating a unique sense of community so every town doesn't look alike, and conserving open space.

Wakefield added that when talking about development in cities and counties, developers need to discuss what needs to be saved and what the new horizon will look like with the new development.

Google Earth is a free program on the Internet for people to do just that. The program allows people to find their area on a map and import houses and commercial businesses to see where they would go and what lakes, wetlands, etc. the development would cover in that area.

Development is going to happen. Wakefield said it's just a matter of where and how.

"It's the 'not in my backyard' thing, but it's not realistic," she said.

Growth is going to happen, she said, but it can be done responsibly.