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BOOKS & THE CULTURE A Brighter Shade of Green BY CHAR MILLER Forcing the Spring: The Transformation of the American Environmental Movement By Robert Gottlieb Island Press 503 pages, $40 t I281, a central south north artery. in San Antonio, has always made good copy. When initial plans for its construction were released to the public in the mid-1950s, the San Antonio Conservation Society rose , in opposition; the plans revealed that the proposed highway would bisect a number of urban amenities. In advance of a .1960 bond vote, the society unleashed a media barrage. Under the header, “STOP THIEF,” one flyer trumpeted that the expressway would “Destroy the world famous SUNKEN GARDENS…Destroy the ZOO [and] Ruin public PICNIC GROUNDS And RECREATION AREAS.” It debunked, too, highway-boosters’ claims to frugality, noting that “to traverse as much of the park area as possible so as to save money” was a bit of “false economy.” The attacks were effective, and the bond was defeated, leading Life Magazine to chortle, “A new breed of engineers regards concrete, anywhere, as more esthetic than nature, and sometimes need to be put in their places by alert and stubborn conservationistsas San Antonio did.” The engineers and their political allies seemed to have the last laugh the next year when a reconfigured bond package swept the polls. But nothing was quite so simple with this highway project: Over the next 10 years the Alamo City experienced its most bruising political battle, as the Society and a coalition of environmental activists across a broad spectrum of the commu nity brawled with city hall in and out of court. In the end, they failed, but with this key legacy: Sen. Ralph Yarborough, in cahoots with the conservation society, amended the 1966 act creating the U. S. Department of Transportation to prevent its secretary, in the senator’s words, “from unleashing the bulldozer on our public parks, historic sites, wildlife refuges and recreation areas.” That amendment proved to be a legislative harbinger for the more inclusive protections embodied in the 1969 National Environmental in the latest struggle over U. S. 281. In response to the Texas Department expand the expresswayup to 16 lanes at its widest pointand build toll lanes along its route as it cuts across the Edwards Aquifer recharge and drainage zones in northern San Antonio, Aquifer and People for Efficient Transportation filed for an injunction in federal court in December. Citing TxDOT’s failure to conduct a full-fledged environmental impact statement, AGUA’s executive director Annalisa Peace told the San Antonio Express -News that the agency had not done “as the law requires, which is to engage the community through this environmental impact process?’ To put pressure on the state and local government, the two groups recruited likeminded grassroots organizations to join the fight and held a series of animated public meetings to educate the citizenrygarnering considerable media. In the city’s modern history, there has been no more divisive presence than U.S. 281. Although the particulars of this history of highway protest are peculiar to San Antonio, the long-standing debate intersects with similar battles around the country, from the 1960s to the present. In contemporary Los Angeles, as with Chicago and Atlanta, and everywhere in between, there has been an expo nential growth in “groups to promote and mobilize around open space and Urban Nature” issues, observes Robert Gottlieb in this revised and updated edition of his 1993 classic, Forcing the Spring. They “face enormous obstacles … associated with scarce land, concretedominated landscapes, auto-centered streetscapes, and contamination problems:’ That they are combating a set of interrelated issues is a direct ramification of the tremendous increase in urban populationsa matter of utmost significance in the American southwest, now home to seven of the nation’s 10 largest cities. Yet for all the dilemmas these mushrooming metropolises face, Gottlieb, who is director of the Urban & Environmental Policy Institute at Occidental College, believes that their similarities offer an unparalleled opportunity for the environmental movement to reconceive itself as an advocate for “nature and the poor?’ The intellectual history of this form of advocacy dates back to the Progressive Era. Gottlieb recovers such critical figures as Alice Hamilton, a protg of Jane Addams and the settlement house movement. A physician, she conducted pioneering research in the field of industrial disease. Using “shoe-leather epidemiology,” Hamilton interviewed workers on the job and at home, canvassed health-care providers, and began to unravel the links between workplace hazards and a series of illnesses confronting the urban underclass. As she worked on such dangers as phosphorous and lead, her research transformed the legal environment, producing new protections for workers, upgrades in safety mechanisms, developments that found their parallel in other progressive reforms that addressed airand waterborne pollution, garbage disposal, open space and parkland, water quality and quantity, poverty and deprivation. If this list has a contemporary ring to it, it should. As Gottlieb makes abundantly clear, we owe a great deal to the women 26 THE TEXAS OBSERVER FEBRUARY 10, 2006