Reader's Forum

Readers' Forum is a place for your feedback and ideas. We welcome you to use this space to share your thoughts, inspire us with your personal stories, and challenge our thinking and that of our readers.

Cities of Exuberance (YES! #10, Summer 1999) is a blockbuster issue! Eugene, Oregon, has been wrestling with growth/sprawl/liveability issues for some time, and this issue is full of ideas. I'm going to get copies to public officials here and several private organizations. Thanks!

Wanda Ballantine

Eugene, Oregon

Just say no to Wal-Mart

Thank you for the article, “Stopping the Big Boxes” (YES! #10, Summer 1999), and for giving us permission to post it on the Friends of Humboldt County Web site.

Things are beginning to heat up here in the battle around a local zoning initiative that Wal-Mart sponsored. “Measure J” seeks to rezone a large parcel of industrial waterfront property in Eureka, California, from public to service commercial. This rezoning would allow Wal-Mart to build a store there.

The property is the only large parcel with coastal access left available to support railroad and port development for Humboldt County. Citizens in our community have worked many years to develop our port and to restore much-needed rail service, which is absolutely integral to our port development.

We've formed a political action committee to oppose the initiative, called “Think Twice – No On Measure J.” The initiative goes before Eureka voters on August 24. We'll keep you posted.

Gina Woods-Norris

Eureka, California


Dreaming of Boulder

I am very glad that four times a year I get positive news about the environment. However, your Cities of Exuberance issue made me a little suspicious. I read all the wonderful things about my residence, Boulder, Colorado, in the article “Dreams: The Making of Cities” and could not recognize it from the author's description. It seems that Peter Newman either never visited Boulder or was dreaming when he was here.

It is true that yuppie Boulder bought 50,000 acres of greenbelt, but they sent the prices for real estate skyrocketing within that area. Consequently, most families cannot afford living there and live outside the belt, commuting by car and creating a level of smog during our first few warm days in early June that went far beyond the acceptable federal standards.

Boulder itself is laid out as one big suburb with very low density, mostly single family houses. The “vibrant, walkable, mixed-use center” is more like Fisherman's Wharf in San Francisco – you go there for a stroll to watch performers, have an ice cream, eat a meal, or window shop at one of the many boutiques. However, all the “serious” shopping happens around the Crossroads Mall, where everybody goes to by car.

The only convenient bus line (i.e. with an acceptable frequency of service) is the north-south line on Broadway. And even there, I meet mostly high school students and low-income people who don't drive simply because they can't afford a car. (More than two-thirds of Boulder's high school seniors drive to school with their own car.) Peter Newman might know some environmentally-oriented professors from the local university who take the bus or bike to work because they are among the fortunate who can afford to live close enough to do that.

I want to read about the success stories of our movement. But I need to be sure that they are well- researched. It makes me suspicious when my first opportunity for a reality check ends with disappointment.


Boulder, Colorado

Peter Newman responds:

I can only admit to being an “instant expert” on Boulder, having spent three weeks there in two trips earlier this year. But I do spend a lot of time in American cities, and for me, Boulder stands out as having achieved far more than other US urban areas in terms of curbing sprawl, providing alternatives to the car, and making an effective city center.

There is a lot of concern in Boulder about the lack of low-cost housing, and there are some programs that are trying to help with this situation (it is a struggle in any city to balance social justice and sustainability, but it can be done). However, there are so many urban areas in the US where the inner city is a wasteland; Boulder has avoided that and should be complimented, as it is not easy to go against a massive national trend.

I would not want to try and change your perceptions, but I should say that I found Boulder to have quite a lot of dense housing. Local citizens do know a lot more about a place than any “instant expert,” and there are always two sides to any story. However, had I written about how shocking Boulder was, I wouldn't have been surprised to receive a huge flow of mail showing me how innovative the place has been. I certainly was impressed by the huge number of people I met during my various public talks who seemed to have strong concerns about their city, particularly about the need for affordable housing. That is the real test as far as I can see: the strength of civil society concern. And that was the main point to my article; the Los Angeles experience for me and many others has been to find so little sense of concern for the future.

Your letter confirms for me that Boulder is a place of hope, as it has people like you who are concerned about creating a more just and sustainable future. I hope that I can report on the success of the Boulder affordable housing project sometime in the future.


Charged up

Just a note to let you know that in my humble opinion, this latest issue on Cities of Exuberance is the very best yet. What vision people are using! My hat is most definitely off to them (You GO, there in Brazil!) and to your staff for compiling this information for us to celebrate and to incorporate into our own cities. I have shared my issue with five other people (and counting), and they all got quite charged up.

So, good work, people!

Diedre F. Avery



Soybean paradox

I thought Peter Montague's article, “Against the Grain” (YES! #10, Summer 1999), on genetically engineered foods was excellent and an important warning. One key question, however, was left unanswered. According to Montague, “The new genetically engineered seeds require high-quality soils, enormous investment in machinery, and increased use of chemicals. And there is evidence that their per-acre yields are about 10 percent lower than traditional varieties (at least in the case of soybeans.)”

If costs are higher and yields lower, what compels farmers to choose them?

David C. Korten

Bainbridge Island, Washington


Graywater issues

I've now read the Doug & Annie column in YES! a couple of times, and I'm delighted that such a forum exists. In the Spring 1999 issue of YES!, they gave a recipe for a tile cleaner that was made from baking soda and liquid soap. I've noticed that baking soda is fast becoming a favorite for people that are looking for nontoxic cleaners, but I wanted to let your readers know that baking soda has its drawbacks.

I currently live in Tucson, Arizona, and we reuse our graywater almost religiously on outdoor plants. I've come to look very critically at soaps and detergents. What a lot of people don't know is that there are salts in these products. Using baking soda or typical laundry detergents regularly in tandem with graywater use would quickly make the soil toxic and unable to grow anything.

An effective abrasive I currently use is Bon Ami. It is simply calcium carbonate. The sodium is negligible, and the calcium supplements rather than hurts the soil. The price of Bon Ami at my local co-op is a mere two cents per pound more than baking soda.

I also sparingly use clear ammonia. I confess ignorance on its manufacturing, but the small amounts I use on occasion offer no toxic concentrations in the water or soil.

The only laundry/dish/all- purpose cleaner I know of that breaks down into nontoxic concentrations is Oasis brand.

These are the only cleaners I use, and I've found them plenty adequate.

Laura Labrec

Tucson, Arizona


Passing on the insights

I just wanted to let you know that I think the journal is incredible. Every quarter, I'm amazed at the quality and content of the articles. I'm always finding inspiring material. I've begun to tear out the subscription cards and hand them out from every issue I receive, and I get gift subscriptions when I can. It's the least I can do in exchange for all I get from the journal. Keep up the good work!

Joe Sellwood

Sâo Paulo, Brazil

Editors' note: Thank you, Joe, and everyone else who passes on YES! articles and gives gift subscriptions.



The correct address for the Victoria Transport Policy Institute, mentioned in YES! #10, should read: VTPI, Todd Litman, 1250 Rudlin St., Victoria, BC V8V 3RV; Web:



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