GreenSense: 160 acres an hour. That's how fast we're developing land in the U.S.. And why? Fodor exposes the myths about the benefits of growth and development...and who reaps them. He shows how we've set things up to accelerate sprawl and shows how several communities are putting on the brakes.
Most cities are busily doing everything they can to grow as fast as possible. More people, more jobs, and more real estate, we are told, will make our cities better and enhance our quality of life. So isn't urban growth good for us?
Eben Fodor, a central voice in the urban growth debate, asserts that bigger is not necessarily better. Growth - especially rapid growth - can leave communities permanently scarred, deeply in debt, drowning in traffic, with unaffordable housing, a lost sense of community, and sacrificed environmental quality.
Better NOT Bigger is a 'mantra' for communities facing rapid development. Fodor explodes the fundamental myth that growth is good for us and that more development will bring in more tax money, add jobs, lower housing costs, and reduce property taxes. The real winners, contends Fodor, are real estate developers, mortgage bankers, realtors, and construction companies who utilize local government to divert public resources into growth-inducing investments. The benefits from exploiting the community commons accrue to a few, while the costs are distributed across the entire community. Fodor marshals evidence from almost every state in the US to prove his point.
Eben Fodor is a professional community planning consultant, and an environmentalist, civic activist, and grassroots organizer from Eugene, Oregon. He has been in the middle of the urban growth controversy for the past ten years.
City officials often tell us that growth is good for us, that it will increase our tax base, and provide needed jobs. But what is the benefit of a bigger tax base if growth places even greater demands on the tax base than it contributes? And what is the benefit of more jobs if the act of creating those jobs attracts more people to the community seeking work than there are jobs to be filled? The evidence of past growth tells us that the net result of growth is to increase the local tax burden and to produce a larger population that has even more unemployed people than before. How can we continue to count these as benefits when they are more often liabilities?
The municipal cost-benefit balance sheet on urban growth rarely has anything listed in the "costs" column. While the new tax revenues resulting from growth are tallied, the associated costs of expanding pubic facilities and services are ignored. If a private company had a business plan that looked only at revenues and ignored costs, it would quickly be out of business. Why should the public tolerate such one-sided accounting by local governments? We make tremendous expenditures of public resources to support growth, yet fail to account for these costs in terms of the impact on existing residents and taxpayers...
...Can slowing growth actually improve your community? The answer is a resounding "Yes!" By controlling growth, communities can take charge of their future. Stable, sustainable communities have the potential to reach new heights in virtually every area of community endeavor. These include opportunities to:
improve local quality of life;
improve public services (without new taxes);
maintain or improve environmental quality;
protect local agricultural and resource lands;
preserve the community's cultural and historic heritage; and
provide economic security and well-being for all residents.
It is not a question of whether we should have stable, sustainable communities, but when and how. Our choice is between either a community that grows until it is ultimately forced to stop by intolerable conditions, or a community that takes charge of its own destiny by identifying an ideal or optimal population size and setting goals towards reaching and maintaining that size. It is undoubtedly easier to obtain an optimal size by starting sooner rather than later.
The stable, sustainable community offers intriguing possibilities. Far from being a place where people are poor, life is dull, and nothing changes, the stable community is likely to be strong, dynamic, and prosperous. Individual liberties should be greater, not fewer. The local economy can operate more efficiently without the constant turmoil of expansion. Employment levels may be higher and local government can provide better services that cost less.
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