Friday, October 19, 2007

Debunking the Growth Myth, Part 6

Myth Number 6
Growth is inevitable. Growth management doesn't work and therefore we have no choice but to continue growing. You can't put a fence around our town.

Reality Check: You can establish limits to growth and you can create a "railing" around your community.

Because it is impractical and also illegal to build a physical barrier to the movement of people and goods within the country, growth advocates suggest that there is nothing productive you can do to keep your community at the size you like.

The statement that "growth is inevitable" implies that we are helpless victims of change, that we must accept whatever growth is thrust upon us, and that our only choice is the manner in which we accommodate it.

It is true that our communities cannot erect tall fences, build insurmountable walls, or use drawbridges over alligator-filled moats to keep people out. There is a constitutional right to travel that prevents communities from erecting these kinds of rigid barriers. But that doesn't mean there is nothing we can do to rein in growth. We can use a wide range of responsible policies and regulations to influence whether or not people and businesses choose to locate in our community. We can also set limits to the rate of growth and even cap the ultimate size of our community.

One option is to adopt policies that will discourage undesirable kinds of growth. By enacting specific standards, a community can create what might be termed a "railing." This railing, unlike the proverbial fence, might be composed of environmental, social, and economic standards that will direct growth and change in the community without blocking it entirely.

Dozens of communities have established limits to their rate of growth and to their ultimate size to protect the local quality of life and to respect the physical limitations of their natural environment. These growth limits have yet to be thoroughly tested in the courts. But the ability to establish limits seems like a reasonable, if not essential, tool for community governance. The idea of unlimited, or forced, growth is repulsive. It implies a horrible sickness, like a cancer.

Some growth limits will cap the ultimate population size of a community. This must be done in a manner that does not prevent people from coming and going. While the size of the population may be stabilized, the composition can remain dynamic within the bounds set by the community. As long as new births and in-migration do not exceed deaths and out-migration, the community does not grow.

As more and more communities realize they want to preserve their small town character, the ideas of establishing limits to growth will become more commonplace. As some communities reach the limits they have set for themselves and stop growing, the courts – and society – will make decisions about how this transition to a stable community may properly occur

click here for a printable copy of the argument against Myth 6

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