The addiction to growth is precisely the same phenomenon I was talking about in my last post when I referred to "American consumption patterns." It is an appalling fact that our culture views remaining stable as losing ground. Everything has to be bigger: the Gross Domestic Product, the square footage of our homes (which has increased astronomically since 1950), our vehicles, farms, the number of phones and computers we own -- the list is endless. And not least is the way this is translated into the sense of entitlement about sprawling growth patterns: if we can afford it, we deserve it.|
It has seemed to me for a while now that chipping away at this attitude is something environmentalists need to be all about.
From: "Paul Hanly" <PNARH@bigpond.com>
To: "William Tobler" <WilliamTobler@CrittersWoods.org>, <email@example.com>
Subject: Re: E-M:/ High Density Developments to Preserve Agricultural Land???
Date: Wed, Apr 23, 2003, 7:33 PM
I agree with most of William Toblers observations but would like to add a few:
1. Underlying all of these issues of sprawl and increased densities is the politicians' and businesses (and community's) addiction to growth to provide more jobs, greater power, more (relative) prestige, higher material standards of living (surveys show happiness is not actually significantly increased and appears more relative than linked to absolute standard of material well being), more profits and supposedly a more rewarding lifestyle - politicians in particular know that if there is a recession and job losses they are unlikely to get re-elected.
2. Population growth which in an industrialised country provides more customers for businesses leading to greater profits, in countries like Germany, Japan and I think Italy provides young workers to help sustain the higher and growing proportion of retired/unemployed over 55, it provides competition for jobs keeping wages lower than they might otherwise be, it generally allows less attractive jobs to be filled by immigrants with insufficient language or education to compete for more pleasant jobs, which otherwise might have to be done by the children of the existing population, or not get done, or get done at higher cost.
3. Falling numbers of persons per dwelling, partly through nuclear families being smaller, partly through more elderly persons living alone as the population ages, and partly as a result of delayed marriage and divorce - if population remains stable more dwellings are needed, if population grows as well, even more dwellings are needed.
4. Those most affected by increased density by way of loss of existing benefits are those who live close by whose land can't be redeveloped to the higher density. they have more noise, traffic, people (often of a different cultural background), burden on community facilities like schools, libraries, parks, public transport. The people who are able to sell for redevelopment generally get the compensation of being able to get a higher price for their property, enabling them to move, often to a better home but with some inconvenience and disruption. The people who (think they) will benefit are those who move into the new developments, generally they get these benefits, but sometimes they don't and sometimes they discover that there are unforseen costs.
5. Those areas attracting increased population from internal (country town and other states) and external sources (immigration) face the greatest problems of combined sprawl and increased densities
6. Re development of decayed areas, particularly large former industrial landholdings near city centres or in the inner ring of suburbs, is often a solution as the land for hundreds of dwellings is owned by one entity, meaning rapid development on a large scale, communities around such areas are often less educated and see the redevelopment in a positive light given the current decay, the sites are sometimes in need of expensive remediation which will mean that redevelopment requires a high value end use otherwise the land is just forfeited by the owner/polluter. Corporations often ensure that each major parcel of land is owned by a special purpose company to enable them to do just that (surrender a contaminated piece of land without risk to the rest of the corporate group). In established areas, much of the infrastructure already exists, even if part of it needs updating, making the cost to the public of re-establishing less than the cost for a greenfields site - no major developer ever pays the full cost of infrastructure - it prohibits development - that is why higher densities are almost always near existing infrastructure that can be leveraged, not establishment of total new cities or towns.
7. As we live longer after retirement and become less able as we age, the need for different housing styles becomes greater and high density suits many people, particularly the older, the young homeleavers and the single or divorced with no or only one or two children.
If most of the people are addicted to growth (and remember political campaigns of all major parties other than the Greens are funded mainly from the donations of profit maximizing corporations) then the continuation of a mix of sprawl and increased density is inevitable - rarely are new cities established and country towns are often dying, in spite of their cheap housing. This outcome has been going on for hundreds of years and is unlikely to change unless the fundamental drivers change.
Governments also don't provide full additional infrastructure in advance of gross unhappiness threatening loss of an election, because 90% of the time the money is already needed urgently elsewhere where more votes are at stake in a more marginal electorate. To keep taxes as low as possible, existing public infrastructure - an uncrowded road, schools which have reduced in enrolments because of changing demographics (aging of the population),a railway line with some unused capacity, existing sewer and water reticulation, is fully utilised by adding more people almost until there is a problem which requires huge public infrastructure.
In summary, unless the drivers of economic growth are changed in your area (by community agreement or natural factors like a shrinking population, often in association with aging of the population) then politicians know they are more likely to remain in power by dealing with the problems of growth, than by creating a situation of no growth and trying to deal with the problems that causes (less work, falling material living standards - dramatic for some) and hundreds of years of recorded experience all around the world support that view.
All this applies in Michigan and across the world. To understand Michigan and your area you need to understand the current population trends and what is driving them, and against the combined impacts of federal and state governments driven to grow, no local community (other than a major one in a swinging electorate where government is likely to be lost on the issue), will ever really stop sprawl and increased densities.
Sorry to be so pessimistic.
To see an example of the type of population analysis that shows the population drivers for more development (sprawl and density) see:
----- Original Message -----
From: William Tobler <mailto:WilliamTobler@CrittersWoods.org>
To: firstname.lastname@example.org <mailto:email@example.com>
Sent: Thursday, April 24, 2003 8:24 AM
Subject: Re: E-M:/ High Density Developments to Preserve Agricultural Land???
I live in an area that is still relatively rural, or at least most urban folks think so. I actually would prefer to live in an area a heck of lot more rural than is available.
The problem for a rural township within a commuting distance of employment is the clustering proposal will quickly transform it to anything but rural. The factors that keep urban and suburban people away are:
1) Yuk, you live on a dirt road?
2) Echk, you drink water that comes out of the ground?
3) Ooh, where does this go when I flush?
4) Ach, you go how far to buy cheez doodles?
Creating the cluster home situation takes away all of these deterrents. It would be one thing if we were building it for the township's residents to live in at their choice. But instead, you are inviting every one else to move in and take away from you what you hold dear. If you build it, they will come, and in short order, they will have the local votes to take away the rest, and they will. I've spent my entire life moving from one area or another that has become a place that I wouldn't even want to visit.
As far developers paying their way, forget it. They don't and they won't. Not even close. It is a real struggle to get the developers to even build and pay for the amenities that they promised to put into their developments in the first place. Our legislators won't fix it either. How many years have they had the opportunity to fix the inequity of MHP developments?
The only solution is to address urban and suburban flight, and not create yet more new urban and suburban sprawl.