The answer to challenges of growth? No growth
Re: The true north strong and – suburban; Report says sprawl is winning the population battle in Canada, The Journal, Feb. 18.
While the statistics in the report are likely accurate, it is illuminating to check their source, and the political philosophy of their authors.
As an Edmontonian with an interest in urban sprawl issues, I looked up the two American websites mentioned in this article, Demographia. com and NewGeography.com.
Wendell Cox, an urban policy consultant and principal of Demographia, is a staunch proponent of low urban density, and hence opposes land-use regulations that increase density.
He says they curtail freedom of choice in housing and promote public transportation.
He sees these as hostile to economic growth, competitiveness and a high standard of living. Indeed, Demographias motto is: People should have the freedom to live and work where and how they like.
Coxs article on the Demographia website blames more restrictive landuse regulations for increasing land prices, which in turn push up house prices. He also imputes poorer economic performance in municipalities to restrictive land regulations.
Joel Kotkin, executive editor of NewGeography.com, is of like mind, supporting unimpeded suburban growth, because his big goal is population growth; he envisages with pleasure a US population of 400 million by 2050 in an America that is younger, stronger and has regained its economic superiority.
The fact that these ideas are being peddled is bad news to someone like me who believes that land-use regulation is for the common good. It allows such things as natural areas close to the city, protects aquifers and wetlands and can encourage local agriculture and food production. The best use of land is rarely to cover it with houses and roads.
As usual, however, none of these anti-regulation, anti-smart growth social analysts factor the natural environment into their thinking. They seem to have no inkling of the role of the environment in sustaining human activity, or that resources consumed at present levels by an ever-expanding middle class will not last forever.
With nine billion or more people expected on the planet by 2050, everyone should question whether we really have the freedom to live where and how we like.
Having witnessed since childhood the relentless destruction of fields, wildflower meadows and frog-filled ponds by new housing, I regard suburban sprawl as anathema. Consequently, I found Coxs calculation that 98 per cent of metropolitan Edmontons recent growth occurred outside its core to be shocking, even though such sprawl is plain to see.
The only answer to the challenges of growth is – no growth. And since population growth and economic growth go hand in hand in western societies, Im firmly in the camp of economists like Herman Daly who believe in a steady-state economy and the sharing of wealth rather than continued frenetic attempts to create it by greater resource use.
The future promoted by these urban visionaries is, to people who think like me, unsustainable. With such polarized viewpoints, society, like the proverbial unhappy couple, needs to talk.
PJ Cotterill, Edmonton