Portland Region Tries to Decide What to Develop, What to Preserve

Officials from three counties in the Portland region are trying to work together to decide where to locate regional urban reserves of land for future development and rural reserves for preservation.

"Advisory committees for Clackamas, Multnomah and Washington counties are finishing lists of potential "urban reserves" and "rural reserves," as required by a 2007 state law. Urban reserves would form a pool of developable land Metro draws upon over the next 40 to 50 years when it expands Portland's urban growth boundary. Rural reserves would be off-limits to urbanization for the same period."

"The 2007 Legislature devised an optional method for expanding the urban growth boundary, which would enable development of prime, close-in farmlands, such as potential job centers outside Hillsboro."

"The new law, Senate Bill 1011, requires an uncommon degree of cooperation among the three counties and Metro. They must jointly submit rationale for the urban and rural reserves to the state Land Conservation and Development Commission."

Full Story: Protection vs. development battle continues

Comments

Comments

Portland--an shining example of the failure of "smart growth"

Portland is supposed to be the model city for "smart growth", the popular movement to preserve open space by channelling growth to high-density urban centres. The sworn enemy of "smart growth" is urban sprawl. But by just managing and not slowing or stopping growth, sprawl appears to be the winner as Portland is talking about extending its urban growth boundary yet once again. When will people learn? I don't think that urban planners will ever learn as most of them are in bed with developers who, as we all know, want more and more growth whether its "smart" or not.

Michael Lewyn's picture
Blogger

Definitions, please

What exactly do you mean by "growth"?

growth

By growth, yes, I mean population growth and to answer a previous questioner, I am personally if favour of voluntarily encouraging a two child limit per couple as well as restrictions on immigration to population swaps with other countries. But municipalities have the right to protect themselves by implementing growth controls. The problem of population growth needs to be attacked on many different levels.

Surely you realize a

Surely you realize a government program to encourage couples to voluntarily adopt a two child limit would be deeply unpopular and ultimately pointless - family size is a personal decision and wouldn't be affected much by state-sponsored pleas (I guess you could modify the tax code to penalize larger families, but that would be even more of a political non-starter and probably create larger problems with social security). With regards to municipal growth controls (assuming you are now talking about real estate development growth), you have only two options. One, you can allow denser development in already-developed areas - i.e. the smart growth option that you curiously oppose - and as a consequence consume less land than you would otherwise. Two, you could prohibit any further real estate development. But this is self-defeating because population growth will merely find an outlet somewhere else, probably in a more sprawled-out area, consuming more land and further degrading the environment. You claim to oppose more land development and care about environmental quality, so I really don't understand your objection to option 1. Unless there is some other option that you could illustrate? (Again, just give up on your pet population control policy - it's not gonna happen)

Regarding your response to Charles' data, you claim that "most" metro areas consume land because of population growth then only cite Washington DC. Regardless, you may have not spent much time in the suburbs there, but I can assure you that the metro area could have preserved a lot of land by encouraging denser settlement.

population control

I think that you are being much too negative in your opinion that a voluntary program to limit the size of families would fail. In my community and elsewhere people are voluntarily sorting their garbage into recyclable bins, switching to energy efficient lightbulbs, conserving water, etc., so why wouldn't the public cooperate by voluntarily controlling the size of families is they see that it is necessary to save our environment?

Regarding municipal growth controls, you make the typical "smart growth" fallacy that we only have two options -- densification or completely stopping growth. How much thought have you given to this? I can name you a long list of communities that have slowed growth by limiting the number of building permits issued annually, so it's not an all or nothing matter. Please don't be so simplistic. And I can hear it coming already that if one community implements growth controls then the growth will happen in a neighbouring community. Well, they have the choice as well as to how much they want to grow and I would encourage them to adopt growth controls as well.

Your preferred solution is the "cram and jam" option of packing an unlimited number of people into existing urban centres causing their densities to soar until they become unlivable which will be long after their community character is destroyed. That's the problem with the "smart growth" crowd. They are efficiency experts only and have no sensitivity to anything else like community character, urban aesthetics, quality of life, etc. Sounds like the typical urban planner to me.
www.controlgrowth.ning.com

"simplistic"

I have to agree with the previous comments. I would replace the description you use "simplistic" with "reasonable." Let's say we adopt your suggestion - every community limits building very strictly after a certain point (probably already there). So then, there are excess people, maybe lots of them. Where do they go? China? Canada? New Zealand? Obviously, some legal immigration issues. Just tell me when and where you are organizing the firing squads so I can avoid them.

I support eliminating tax benefits for having children, but that's about as far as you can go unless you take a draconian Chinese approach. Then, your solution transitions from the absurd to the insane.

You might be better served focusing on immigration policy since immigrants and their ancestors essentially generate our population growth. Then, all the growth will be in other countries and you can have your Santa Barbaras and Boulders here, assuming we'll retain enough affluence to maintain them.

hysterical

Blasting people into space? Firing squads? You all sound positively hysterical. Putting quality of life issues aside temporarily, please answer this question -- given that this planet on which we all live has a finite amount of resources, how can it support an infinite number of people even if those people are packed together tightly in dense settlements? When we run out of resources, which we will, you won't need firing squads as people will just starve to death. Easter Island writ large. But before that happens our quality of life will decline sharply thanks to the "smart growth" planners, developers, and superficial environmentalists -- the Al Gores of the world who breed like rabbits and then lecture people about the dangers of sprawl.

Population Vs. Economic Trends

"given that this planet on which we all live has a finite amount of resources, how can it support an infinite number of people"

According to all the demographic projections, world population will peak between 2050 or 2060.

World population will grow to about 30% above its current level in the next 50 years before it peaks and begins to decline.

By contrast, per capita GDP in China will grow about 30% above its current level in the next 3 years alone - and will keep growing at that rate indefinitely, unless the world's ideas about economics change.

Forget the old population scare that everyone talked about 40 or 50 years ago. Demographics have changed since then, and there is no chance that the number of people will increase infinitely.

But given current economic policies, per capita GDP will increase infinitely - or at least it will try to increase infinitely until the ecological crash comes.

Charles Siegel

the world is already overpopulated

According to William Rees and other experts in the field, mankind's ecological footprint is already 20-30% beyond the earth's carrying capacity and that we are consuming part of our natural capital. An additional 30% growth in the global population will be disastrous. Good luck with that one as some well respected thinkers believe that the ideal world population is between one and two billion people vs. the 10 billion that you project. I agree with you that the current level of consumption is part of the problem but it is impossible for most people in the world to enjoy a decent standard of living with seven billion people let alone 10 billion. We have a choice to either control our numbers or suffer a sharp drop in our standard of living. Which do you choose?

Population, Consumption, Technology

According to William Rees and other experts in the field, our ecological footprint is beyond the earth's carrying for three reasons: over-population, over-consumption, and environmentally destructive technology. To reduce the ecological footprint, we have to deal with all of these things: control population growth, control consumption growth, and shift to environmentally benign technology.

Because of your narrow focus on population growth, you are working against one of the most important things we can do to control consumption growth: building cities where people can walk and use transit rather than having to drive on every trip.

Using Rees's and Wackernagel's ecological footprint studies as a basis, I have estimated that, with a rapid shift to solar energy and other ecologically benign technologies, and with a four-fold increase in resource efficiency (which clearly is possible), the world can support 9 billion people at a standard of living similar to America's standard of living during the 1960s - which could provide a very comfortable, middle-class standard of living for all.

I choose controlling our numbers and also controlling our consumption to keep our ecological footprint down to a sustainable level. To control our consumption, we need smart growth that builds more traditional urban forms that are not as auto-dependent as our current suburbs.

You apparently choose to blame everything on population, and not to think about controlling consumption - which will lead the world straight to ecological disaster.

There is no plausible scenario in which population will decline quickly enough to balance the current rate of growth in consumption.

Charles Siegel

We're very clever at inventing things, but...

"There is no plausible scenario in which population will decline quickly enough to balance the current rate of growth in consumption.

Charles Siegel"

Rapid population dieoff because of our current rape of this planet and level of overshoot is a very plausible scenario. We are not a privileged species in this regard. Malthus wasn't wrong, just a bit ahead of his time.

A humble suggestion

So why are you wasting time posting to this website? Shouldn't you be stockpiling ammo and bottled water in a bunker somewhere?

waking people up

Perhaps Rick is just trying to wake some of you up from your "everything will be fine if only we create dense cities" slumber.

Chicken Little? No, more like the boy who cried wolf.

"So why are you wasting time posting to this website? Shouldn't you be stockpiling ammo and bottled water in a bunker somewhere?"

Yes, the typical redneck response. How do you know that I'm not posting this from a well-stocked bunker?

And why is this a waste of time? Just because the wolf eventually did come shouldn't stop us from trying, should it?

"Because of your narrow

"Because of your narrow focus on population growth, you are working against one of the most important things we can do to control consumption growth: building cities where people can walk and use transit rather than having to drive on every trip.

Charles Siegel"

And these people do not eat, crap, access government services, pursue recreational activities, use energy to heat their homes, travel to other areas (as there are precious few golf courses and ski hills in cities), visit relatives elsewhere, work, or have any impact on this planet other than using automobiles? Do they all sit around with corks in every orifice, heat and air conditioning turned off, in dwellings built from 100% recycled materials and constructed without the use of energy and any other resources, simply waiting to die? Or are they living, breathing human beings who have an enormous impact beyond just driving cars? What simplistic nonsensical social engineering to try to force everyone to live in termite colonies!

"Using Rees's and

"Using Rees's and Wackernagel's ecological footprint studies as a basis, I have estimated that, with a rapid shift to solar energy and other ecologically benign technologies, and with a four-fold increase in resource efficiency (which clearly is possible), the world can support 9 billion people at a standard of living similar to America's standard of living during the 1960s - which could provide a very comfortable, middle-class standard of living for all.

Charles Siegel"

Now I know that you have blinders on. So you believe that solar energy is "ecologically benign?" Where do the materials come from? How did we produce those materials? How did we transport them to their locations? How do we maintain them? What storage requirements do we need? How benign are those storage devices? Do you realize the enormous ecological consequences of producing enough solar and other technologies to power what we do? And, regarding your notion about resource efficiency, I recommend that you read up on Jevons paradox, and the Khazzoom-Brookes postulate, and then tell us that efficiences are desirable. Claptrap.

Jevons Paradox And The Lunatic Fringe

I understand Jevons paradox well enough to see how often is is misapplied by the lunatic fringe.

Charles Siegel

Which fringe is which?

So, which lunatic fringe do you commonly associate with?

Whom I Associate With

I associate with those who say we should shift from fossil fuels to solar energy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

I don't associate with those who claim this shift would involve Jevons Paradox, since anyone with the slightest understanding of Jevons Paradox would know that this claim is obviously false.

Charles Siegel

Saying it's false doesn't make it so

Despite your claim; Jevon, Khazzoom, and Brookes point out how efforts to use energy more efficiently are doomed to failure. In this case, that is especially so, given the enormous output of greenhouse gases required to shift to solar energy -- something the green-hued and a variety of others consistently avoid discussing. We would apparently burn through most of our remaining legacy of fossil fuels in a very short time in order to produce the required quantities of all those solar panels, electric cars and transit vehicles, and other technologies. At the same time, we will burn through large quantities of other resources (and they don't magically come from the ground in finished form), and continue with our wonderful legacy of biodiversity destruction.

As an example, in the service of our "clean" computer and information technology industries, Silicon Valley is now blessed with horrendous pollution and contamination. How will this be different?

And, even if we bite that bullet, accept the pollution, accept the further loss of other species, accept the continued paving over of good land to create these "walkable" cities for our still-increasing population, and accept the other consequences of continued growth and population overshoot, there simply ain't enough "renewable" energy out there to continue to allow us to do what we're doing even with much more efficient use. Gore et al. are setting us up for an even bigger population crash by duping us into believing that we are dealing with the real issue here, regardless of one's take on the theory of anthropogenic global warming.

Solar energy saving the planet? That's just so much hot air from technomaniacs.

will alternative energy sources save us?

James Howard Kunstler and Richard Heinberg are two leading thinkers on "peak oil" who are skeptical that there is enough energy available from alternate sources to replace what we will be losing from the declining production of oil and that these sources are flexible enough to use as subsitutes for oil for more than just a narrow range of uses.

Kuntsler And Density

And that is why Kuntsler is in favor of higher density to reduce our use of oil.

As I have said many times before in this thread, to save ourselves, we need to deal with three things: population, technology, and consumption. Alternative energy alone won't save us. We also need to consume less energy.

It is irrational to say that we should not shift to cleaner energy because cleaner energy alone won't save us. It is an extreme, fringe position that 99% of environmentalists would reject categorically and that shows indifference to the future of the world's environment.

Because you two constantly come up with this sort of irrational position, I am not going to bother responding any further. You obviously are not going to have any influence on the debate about the future of the world's environment with your bizarre claim that we shouldn't shift to clean energy because clean energy alone won't save us (much less with your claim that solar energy involves Jevons paradox, which actually has to do with energy efficiency and not with changing sources of energy).

Charles Siegel

a true understanding of Kustler and density

True, James Howard Kunstler, is an opponent of sprawl and a proponent of compact settlements but his endorsement of the latter isn't open-ended to include compact settlements no matter how large or dense. He is opposed to high-rises and warns in The Long Emergency that towns and small cities surrounded by ample agricultural land will be in the best position to survive the coming resources crunch brought on by the declining production of oil. In that book he says that the urban cores of large cities will become ghost towns. After "the long emergency" ends and billions of people have died, he opines that about one billion of us will survive, which to him is a sustainable number rather than the present 6.7 billion or the 9-10 billion that you are comfortable with.

I presently live in a small city surrounded by lots of good agricultural land and what is the head-in-the-sand "smart growth" crowd doing here? Why, they are advocating turning it into a large, dense city abundant in high-rises! But then, I've stated my opinion elsewhere that the leadership in Kelowna, British Columbia, Canada are a bunch of idiots.
www.johnzeger.wordpress.com

Letting in a little sunshine on the subject.

And now for a complete misreading and misinterpretation of what I have been saying: "bizarre claim that we shouldn't shift to clean energy because clean energy alone won't save us (much less with your claim that solar energy involves Jevons paradox, which actually has to do with energy efficiency and not with changing sources of energy). Charles Siegel."

Are you not the one who is saying that we need to consume less energy? How exactly do you propose to do that without looking for efficiencies, or without a significant reduction in population? In the case of the former, Jevons paradox is most certainly involved. If you are promoting the latter instead, then I'm all for it.

As for the claim about "clean" energy, it is utter nonsense. People like Siegel clearly do not know how to "complete the circle" and look at all the consequences and implications of what we are doing. Shifting our entire economy to "clean" energy would, as I have already stated, leave behind an enduring and disastrous environmental mess. Or are people like Charles naive enough to believe that these technologies magically spring from nowhere, do not require resources and energy to produce, do not produce a waste stream when maintained and decommissioned, and are not simply another enabling behaviour (like the behaviours of families of alcoholics) for our continued addiction to growth? Does the Sixth Great Extinction not mean anything to these so-called "environmentalists?"

The true "lunatic fringe" is the one who believes that CFLs, hybrid cars, walking on paved over farmland, and solar panels will save this planet. The notion that we continue with business as usual, with a green tint to it, is the truly radical, and dangerous, notion in our society.

End Of Economic Growth

Do you know I wrote a book named "The End of Economic Growth," where I say that economic growth should end when per capita income is at the level that the US had in the 1960s? Does that sound to you like "business as usual with a green tint to it"?

"Are you not the one who is saying that we need to consume less energy? How exactly do you propose to do that without looking for efficiencies, or without a significant reduction in population? "

As I have said, by consuming less. Eg, by building cities where people can walk instead of driving. And by buying less useless junk.

You people are so angry about your local issue that your anger obscures your view of everything else. You can't extrapolate from Kolona to the entire world. If I knew all the facts, I expect that I would agree with you about stopping development in Kelowna: the idea of smart growth is often used for greenwashing projects that are actually anti-environment.

But you cannot extrapolate from Kelona to the entire world. If population growth is the greatest threat to Kelona, that doesn't mean that populatioin growth is the greatest threat to the world. It is one of three threats (population, technology, affluence) and it is the one that is closest to being under control.

(Incidentally, Jevons paradox only applies in cases where demand is relatively elastic. Most people who throw the term around don't understand this. The paradox does not apply to all increases in energy efficiency, and it certainly doesn't apply to the shift from coal to solar energy, which is more expensive than coal.)

Charles Siegel

He's baaaaaaaack.

Charles, I have no idea where Kelona is. What are you talking about? If you mean "Kelowna," I don't live there. And I thought that you weren't going to respond to these radical, lunatic fringe, posts any more. Given your comment about Kunstler (and that is the correct spelling, by the way), I thought that you would sit safely in your little cocoon.

Ooooooh, a book. You wrote a book. I'm sure that it is widely read, and available everywhere, rather than simply sitting on the "Preservation Institute" website. Yes, I believe that I accurately described your "book." Business as usual, with a green tint. Everyone cut back just a bit, and things will be peachy-keen. Do you know what the consequences of your economic proposal would be for this planet, without a reduction in population? I seriously doubt that you thought that far.

Exactly how do you propose that we reduce consumption, when we are gearing up to consume enormous amounts of energy and resources to produce the alternative energy sources that even Kunstler says will not save us?

When the current level of species extinctions drops to the normal "background level," I'll take that as one sign that the population issue might be "under control." With estimates from a variety of learned sources that this planet can only sustain about one billion people sustainably (and some predict far less than that), your conceit that consuming less will somehow make everything better is on the lunatic fringe of something. The global problem we have created, the overshoot condition we are in, and the lack of action on this issue mirrors past civilizations just before their collapse, and I'm sure that there were Siegels there as well, saying that all will be good if we just restrain ourselves a little bit. Sure.

(Incidentally, I've mentioned Khazzoom and Brookes at least twice now, but you have not bothered to respond at all to their position, which applies over a wide range of assumptions. We are at a point right now where energy efficiency is being promoted heavily, via "Earth Hour" and many other initiatives. Jevon, Khazzoom, and Brookes are quite relevant to this discussion. As well, I note that you haven't bothered to respond to the comments that switching to other forms of energy will actually make the situation worse. Hmmmm....)

A flock of Siegels

Kunstler? What you have stated about Kunstler makes an oversimplification look good in comparison. Kunstler has this to say about our future:

"No combination of alternative fuels will allow us to run American life the way we have been used to running it, or even a substantial fraction of it. The wonders of steady technological progress achieved through the reign of cheap oil have lulled us into a kind of Jiminy Cricket syndrome, leading many Americans to believe that anything we wish for hard enough will come true. These days, even people who ought to know better are wishing ardently for a seamless transition from fossil fuels to their putative replacements."

and this:

"Wishful notions about rescuing our way of life with "renewables" are also unrealistic. Solar-electric systems and wind turbines face not only the enormous problem of scale but the fact that the components require substantial amounts of energy to manufacture and the probability that they can't be manufactured at all without the underlying support platform of a fossil-fuel economy. We will surely use solar and wind technology to generate some electricity for a period ahead but probably at a very local and small scale."

and this:

"The successful regions in the twenty-first century will be the ones surrounded by viable farming hinterlands that can reconstitute locally sustainable economies on an armature of civic cohesion. Small towns and smaller cities have better prospects than the big cities, which will probably have to contract substantially. The process will be painful and tumultuous."

and, finally for now, this description of Kunstler's fictional novel about what life might be like if his predictions are true:

"the population of the United States (and most likely, the world) has been decimated by an energy shortage, starvation, plagues, terrorism, and global warming."

From various sources, available on request.

Addendum

(from James Howard Kunstler, The Long Emergency)

“as oil ceases to be cheap and the world reserves arc toward depletion, we will indeed suddenly be left with an enormous surplus population … that the ecology of the earth will not support…. We will discover the hard way that population hypergrowth was simply a side effect of the oil age. … and we are stuck with it.

“Our bigger cities will be in trouble, and some of them may not remain habitable"

“The belief that ‘market economics’ will automatically deliver a replacement for fossil fuels is a type of magical thinking …”

“American life in the twenty-first century has the best chance of adjusting to the Long Emergency in a physical pattern of small towns surrounded by productive farmland.”

“The industrial cities will never again be what they were in the twentieth century. They require too much energy to run … big cities will not be suited to the reduced scale of life in the post-cheap-energy future.”

“The energy disruptions of the Long Emergency are going to remind us that the skyscraper was an experimental building form. These structures operated successfully during the twentieth century, when there was plenty of cheap energy, after which they became a problem.”

“Our communities … will have to reorganize physically as well as socially and economically. The existing small cities and towns … offer the best opportunities for that…”

“[In the future] there may be relatively little building activity per se, and the construction ‘industry’ as we have known it almost certainly will not survive – certainly not the so-called ‘production housing’ sector.”

Whatever you do, don't think too hard.

Charles Siegel comments "Because you two constantly come up with this sort of irrational position, I am not going to bother responding any further. "

Yes, this is typical avoidance behaviour when faced with ideas which unsettle a comfortable and set-in-concrete world view. Call people names, call their ideas irrational, try to marginalize them, then cut and run when the going gets tough. These are the very behaviours that permeate our society, and which ensure that the real issues will never be properly discussed.

Numbers On Population

John, maybe we could shed some light (rather than heat) on this subject if we look at some numbers estimating how much we could reduce the world's peak population with the sort of population control programs you support.

To give very round numbers, current world population is about 6.7 billion, and population is expected to peak at about 9 billion in the 2050s. What do you think could be the smallest world population in 2050, with strict population control?

Remember that there is demographic momentum. After the fertility rate is reduced, population continues to grow for decades until the population ages enough that fewer women are of child-bearing age.

Thus, China adopted its so-called one-child policy in 1979, and that policy very quickly reduced the fertility rate to 1.8 children per woman, a fertility rate that means that population will ultimately decline. But China's population is still growing 30 years later, and it is not expected to peak until 2025 - 45 years after it began strict population control.

Let's assume that the entire world adopts policies as strict as China's and this cuts world population growth by 2050 more than half, so the world's population in 2050 is 7.5 billion instead of 9 billion. There is no way that we could have stricter population control than this, but it still involves less than a 20% reduction in total population.

Yet to avoid the worst effects of global warming, we need to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 80% or 90% by 2050.

Isn't it clear that population control can be only one part of the total effort to control global warming? There can be at most a 20% reduction in peak population compared with the 80% or 90% reduction of greenhouse gases that we need.

Do you have any alternative numbers? What do you think could be the lowest world population in 2050?

Charles Siegel

no small feat

If the global population could be limited to 7.5 billion by 2050, that would be no small feat considering we are presently already in a state of overshoot regarding resource consumption. After that level has been reached, we can then concentrate on reducing global population by encouraging one child families until a population has been achieved at which everyone on this planet can enjoy a decent standard of living. Have a look at this great video that summarizes the problems facing us as a result of the combination of population growth, overconsumption and diminishing resources: http://controlgrowth.ning.com/video/hooked-on-growth-our-misguided

No Small Feat But Small Part Of Solution

It certainly would be no small feat, but it would only decrease peak world population by about 20%, and peak population would still be more than 10% above current world population.

Therefore, population control can only be a small part of the fight to control global warming. We have to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80% or 90% by 2050. The best we can do by controlling population is to limit population growth to 10%. Most of the action to control global warming will have to involve limiting per capita emissions. Isn't that true?

Charles Siegel

a necessary step

I acknowledge that population control by itself will not solve all our environmental problems, but without it there will be no solution. In the 2005 publication The Little Green Handbook, author Ron Nielsen identifies numerous critical global trends. They are environmental degradation, the population explosion, diminishing land resources, diminishing water resources, the destruction of the atmosphere, the approaching energy crisis, social decline, and conflicts and increasing killing power. In the last chapter of the book Nielsen concludes "The population explosion is the primary driving force behind critical global trends and events." I highly recommend this book as it is an eye-opener for those who think that global warming is the only environmental problem that we have.

As I have stated before, there are other authorities who have identified population growth as being the basis of most of our environmental problems, yet it is getting the least amount of attention in terms of being addressed with an action plan. If I have overemphasized it in my discussion here, it is because others, including yourself, don't give it the weighting that it deserves.

and I would be amiss ...

and I would be amiss if I did not include a link to an article by the former managing editor of Portland's own daily newspaper, The Oregonian: http://www.populationmedia.org/2009/05/27/treading-on-a-taboo-overpopula...

Prosperity Without Growth

For a very brief summary of my views on economic growth, see my book review of "Prosperity Without Growth" posted on Common Dreams yesterday at http://www.commondreams.org/view/2009/04/28-4

I think this could eliminate misunderstandings among those who think that as an advocate of smart growth, I must be an advocate of growth. On the contrary, I advocate smart growth precisely because it means consuming less - consuming less land and consuming less transportation.

Charles Siegel

Calling a spade a spade

"I think this could eliminate misunderstandings among those who think that as an advocate of smart growth, I must be an advocate of growth.

Unless I'm mistaken, "smart" growth contains the word "growth." Advocating "smart" growth seems to mean advocating growth, regardless of what else may be included. Perhaps you are not really an advocate of "smart" growth, but rather an advocate of new urbanism? That would be an entirely different discussion.

"On the contrary, I advocate smart growth precisely because it means consuming less - consuming less land and consuming less transportation. "

How can growth mean that we consume less? Are you again stuck in the "per capita"mode, and not considering the big picture? Wouldn't it be more intellectually honest to say that "smart" growth may mean a modest reduction in the increase in consumption? Or, again, are you going to take the "growth" out of "smart" growth?

William Rees calls "smart growth" and techno-fixes "ineffective"

In a recent article in the journal Building, Research & Information "The ecological crisis and self-delusion: implications for the building sector," William Rees writes that, "The world's top ecologists and climate scientists tell us that global civilisation is on a collision course with biophysical reality ... we have 'overshot' long-term carrying capactiy ... staying on our growth-based path to global development virtually guarantees eventual catastrophe for billions of people." Yet despite these warnings, society is in a state of denial because it is caught up in the myth that endless growth is both possible and desirable. Rees writes, "Any society so firmly wedded to ever-rising material expectations will naturally resist the argument that there are limits to growth." He quotes 19th century behavioural psychologist Gustave Le Bon:
"The masses have never thirsted for truth. They turn aside from evidence that is not to their taste, preferring to deify
error, if error seduce them. Whoever can supply them with illusions is easily their master; whoever attempts to destroy their illusions is always their victim."

Rees goes on to say that the remedies that have been offered to date for our sustainability conundrum "are ill-conceived and largely ineffective ... most mainstream approaches to sustainability today -- hybrid cars, green buildings, smart growth, the new urbanism, green consumerism -- do not, in fact, address the fundamental problem. Instead they attempt to reproduce the status quo by other means."

Rees says that there is a cultural illusion that we can maintain growth and still achieve sustainability through techological innovation and greater material and economic efficiency. An example of this illusion is that the adoption of the LEED building standards will make our communities sustainable. However, "LEED (and its counterparts elsewhere) remain wedded to the techno-industrial paradigm. LEED is reform at the margin that would deliver a more energy- and material-efficient version of the otherwise status quo. The specific problem is that society cannot become sustainable merely by becoming more efficient at the margins."

Is "smart growth" and channeling people towards existing urban centres the answer? Not according to Rees. "High income consumer cities consume many more resources and generate much more waste per capita than do the developing world's political industrial cities and have a correspondingly large negative impact on the world's ecosystems. [As such, cities like Vancouver] are grotesquely unsustainable -- they currently exceed even the quasi-sustainability standard by a factor of four or five."

Rees concludes that we need a new social myth. "Growth must give way to the steady state. ... As for buildings themselves, the first step should be to acknowledge that greater material efficiency is not enough -- new buildings, no matter how green, still add to the total human load. ... Consistent with these principles, the building and construction sector should do the following:"

-- promote 'new and green' buildings mainly in the developing world
-- emphasize renovation and replacement as the most effective adaptation for the slow-growing countries of the developing world
-- energy and material use in the developed world must be reduced to compensate for increased consumption in the developing world
-- make zero-carbon construction the norm everywhere
-- acknowledge that LEED and similar building protocols fall far short of what is both necessary and possible.

Populations and resources

Yes, I was engaging in hyperbole because your arguments lend themselves to it. More seriously though, suppose Charles is wrong about world population leveling off in 2060 (although there's probably better than a 50-50 chance he is right - just look at what happens to population growth as income increases). Then at some point in time the world population will become too large at any per capita consumption level to sustain itself. This would be a very serious problem. So why would your proposed family size limits be only voluntary? Secondly, since those extra people have to live somewhere, how would tighter restrictions on building permits deal with them? More likely they would just spawn illegal, ungoverned, unsanitary, and ecologically harmful squatter settlements. My point is that the implications of the Malthusian scenario you present are totally incompatible with the solutions you propose to deal with it.

Even under the assumption of unbounded population growth, we may not fall into a Malthusian death trap. In this case, humankind would essentially be racing against the clock to develop the technology required for terraforming nearby planets. So our odds of survival would be a function of how long we can husband the earth's resources for a continually growing population. I think we would both agree that preserving farmland and reducing CO2 emissions would prolong that time. Recognizing this, might it be wise to to require that new homes be built on, say, a 16th of an acre instead of 1/2 an acre? Would that be too unlivable? Should we develop transportation systems that make walking, biking, and transit a real alternative? This environment would hardly be unlivable. It doesn't need to be dominated by high-rise condos, which I agree are usually incompatible with their surroundings. As Charles points out, more of our settlements would look kind of like the towns we lived in prior to the mid-20th century. And yes, existing cities would become even denser, though as cities like Copenhagen are demonstrating, density can actually be used to decrease a place's carbon footprint (a recent study demonstrated that even cities as they currently operate generate lower per capita emissions http://www.reuters.com/article/environmentNews/idUSTRE52M0E120090323). The bottom line is that there are strategies that do seriously engage with the very real issues of environmental degradation and overpopulation. A simple-minded idea like restricting building permits is just escapism.

beyond simplicity

I never proposed that urban growth control measures like restricting building permits be adopted by EVERY city, but only that it remain an option for some. Obviously not every community would want to do that but some do and they shouldn't be prevented from doing it like they are in states like Oregon and Washington where "smart growth" solutions are mandated. Furthermore, I encourage the creation of compact communities provided that they aren't too large or dense as there have been warnings from environmentalists that if the Earth faces a resources crunch such as James Howard Kunstler and others have forecast, their urban cores will become ghost towns. But that is a matter for each community to decide. My original point was and still is that without some sort of population control either local, national or global, "smart growth" solutions to contain sprawl will fail as has been demonstrated by the example of Portland which is now considering extending its urban growth boundary FOR THE THIRD TIME!

Population Leveling Off

"suppose Charles is wrong about world population leveling off in 2060 (although there's probably better than a 50-50 chance he is right - just look at what happens to population growth as income increases)."

I am using the mid-range UN projections, which implies that there is a 50% chance that population will peak at a higher level, and a 50% chance that it will peak at a lower level.

Actually, because of a bias in UN calculations, it will probably peak at a lower level. We have no idea of how low the fertility rate will go, because there is no experience in the past of the fertility rate going below the replacement level. Until recently, the UN arbitrarily assumed that the fertility rate would only decline to 2.1, the replacement level. Now, it arbitrarily assumes that the fertility rate will only decline to 1.8. In fact, the fertility rate in many European countries and in South Korea has already declined to 1.3 to 1.5 - so that assumption of 1.8 is probably high.

Of course, we don't know what the economic and demographic effects of global warming will be, so we can't make any certain predictions. We can just say that *if* we control global warming, then the current demographic trends should continue and make it possible for world population to peak at a sustainable number.

Charles Siegel

a deadly fascination with shiny toys

"Even under the assumption of unbounded population growth, we may not fall into a Malthusian death trap. In this case, humankind would essentially be racing against the clock to develop the technology required for terraforming nearby planets. dscheltz"

Yes, technology will save us. Just as technology has allowed us to overfish the oceans to the point of collapse and extinction of many species. Just as technology has allowed us to exploit fossil fuels, leaving a legacy of pollution and contamination. Just as technology has allowed us to divert and use water resources to the point where critical aquifers and rivers worldwide are drying up and disappearing. Just as technology, as Theodore Roszak points out, typically creates more problems than it solves. We humans are pretty clever at inventing things, but have a poor track record when it comes to predicting their long term consequences. Pinning our hopes on our own technologies seems a foolhardy and ultimately self-destructive leap of faith, but a typical speciescentric one.

voluntary family limits

"Why would your proposed family size limits be only voluntary?"

Because programs to increase education about birth control and encourage voluntary compliance have been successful in many countries as Lester Brown points out in his book Plan B2.0: Rescuing a Planet Under Stress and a Civilization in Trouble to which I have here provided a link. https://www.earth-policy.org/Books/PB3/PB3ch7_ss3.htm

In this article Brown goes on to state "Countries everywhere have little choice but to strive for an average of two children per couple. There is no feasible alternative. ... The time has come for world leaders ... to publicly recognize that the earth cannot support more than two children per family."

Recognizing the truth of what Brown writes, I would conclude that "smart growth" is the simple-minded idea that offers an escapist delusion that we can continue with the present population growth trends and that all we need to do is to corral everyone into high-density urban centres and things will be just fine.

So the decision to switch to

So the decision to switch to energy efficient light bulbs is on par with deciding to have another child? How much thought have you given to that?

And how much thought have you given to your idea of slowing all building permits? Let's say neighboring communities of your own issue a moratorium on permits, and the neighboring communities of those neighboring communities do the same, so forth and so on, until every town in the world isn't issuing any more permits, or issuing so few that many people have nowhere to live (if only they could reside in denser multi-family buildings, but no! That would be an unlivable smart growth dystopia!). The absurd conclusion is that you need to blast the surplus population into space to form lunar or martian colonies. Perhaps you support increased funding for terraforming technology?

having another child is worse

I've given a lot of thought to the issue of population and sustainability, apparently a lot more than you have, and I as well as others have concluded that having an additional child is far worse for the environment than using incandescent light bulbs. http://www.news.com.au/story/0,23599,21684156-5009760,00.html
But, of course, if it weren't for population growth then there would be no need for urban planners. I'm so sorry to hear that. But perhaps then you could get an honest job like being a drug dealer.

Population Control vs. NIMBYism

"I can name you a long list of communities that have slowed growth by limiting the number of building permits issued annually,"

That's not population control. It is just NIMBYism - shifting the population away from your own community to some other community, while total population remains the same.

"packing an unlimited number of people into existing urban centres causing their densities to soar until they become unlivable"

Population densities of American metropolitan areas have gone down dramatically during the last century. We just need to return to traditional population densities, which give you walkable neighborhoods that are more livable than sprawl suburbs.

Charles Siegel

Social engineering for herds

"Population densities of American metropolitan areas have gone down dramatically during the last century. We just need to return to traditional population densities, which give you walkable neighborhoods that are more livable than sprawl suburbs.

Charles Siegel"

Is that because, like a creeping cancer, these metro areas are expanding to encompass the countryside? Taking your suggestion to its conclusion, if the entire country is covered by walkable neighborhoods, where will we grow our food? How far will we have to transport large quantities of food to supply these human feedlots?

You say NIMBY, I say NIMBI

Saying that something is NIMBYism is a typical attempt to cut off conversation. Much of what is happening nowadays is NIMBIism (Now I Must Become Involved) because people are simply fed up with so many facets of what we do. It's time for the NIMBIs of the world to unite and rise up against the forces of darkness -- the forces who try to use labels to shut people up. There is nothing at all wrong with trying to protect my back yard, despite what developers and their apologists would have us believe.

The implications of stopping "growth"

By "growth", you do mean population growth, right? So are you for mandated family-size limits? If not, how else do we slow or stop growth?

Sprawl Without Population Growth

As I wrote last week:
There is extensive sprawl in metropolitan areas that have no population growth, such as Cleveland.

Population growth vs growth in developed land area from 1970-1990
Cleveland: -6%, 31%

Cleveland with population decline does worse than Portland with population growth.

Clearly, urban "growth" must be a product of population growth * growth in per capita land use.

"Smart growth" does not increase the fertility rate and cause a higher rate of population growth, but it does reduce per capita land use.

Charles Siegel

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