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Film on development draws local crowd

"After showing his movie about sprawl, Subdivide & Conquer: A Modern Western, to about 30 viewers in Coupeville's Performing Arts Center last week, producer Jeff Gersh asked the audience for feedback.Depressing, really depressing, one woman said.No one disagreed.Perhaps that's because the hour-long film chronicles the developer-driven consumption of millions of acres of open space in the American West. Or perhaps because it showed pristine Colorado range land bordered by garish, vinyl-sided subdivisions.Or maybe, because Gersh informed them that Island County was expected to get more then 17,000 new residents in the next 10 years. Gersh, who spent two days touring South and Central Whidbey, said island residents were still in a position to prevent sprawl. But he also said that if they passively stood by while the island's forests and open spaces were bulldozed for development, Whidbey would soon resemble the places many moved here to escape. Whidbey has a chance to design a future for itself, Gersh said. The choice is to design a future for yourselves or have it imposed on you one strip mall at a time.Ironically, Gersh said, developing more subdivisions and big-box stores could end up taking income away from residents and businesses. Especially tourism-oriented businesses, he added, noting he heard Island County generated about $100 million in tourism dollars annually.The reason tourism is so popular on Whidbey is because it's a pretty place, Gersh said. If it becomes a hodge-podge of strip mall, suburban-pod sprawl, I can promise you that $100 million will go somewhere else.To combat sprawl, Gersh suggested reexamining zoning laws and encouraging more density and diversity within established city neighborhoods.If people could live within walking distance of restaurants, shops and grocery stores, and had a variety of affordable housing alternatives, he said, they would be less dependent on their cars, and less inclined to want to move into a new subdivision.Zoning prohibits the density I describe, Gersh said, but there needs to be incentives for everyone to get something ... the developer, the homeowner and the farmer.Otherwise, he said, sprawl will continue to be an institution that benefits bankers and developers, but reduces property values.Did you know, Gersh asked, that in 1920, Los Angeles was the biggest agricultural county in the United States.The clock is ticking, Gersh added. Seventeen thousand people are headed here in the next 10 years. It's not the numbers, but how are you going to accommodate them. ----------------Some facts about sprawl from the film, Subdivide & Conquer: A Modern Western, * Suburban sprawl consumes more than 3 million acres of the American landscape every year. That's like losing an area the size of Glacier National Park twice a year, every year.* The vehicle population has grown six times faster than the human population in the U.S. since 1969. There are now the same number of vehicles as there are drivers - 176 million.* Island County is expected to get more then 17,000 new residents in the next 10 years.Subdivide & Conquer: A Modern Western, won Best Environmental Film, honors at the 1999 Telluride Mountain Film Festival. Video copies are available, in either a one-hour, or 28-minute version, from Bullfrog Films: 1-800-543-3764. Or, through web site: http://www.subdividefilm.com. "

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