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

population growth and land consumption

That might be true for Cleveland but in most metro areas sprawl is at least somewhat attributable to population growth. In the book In Growth We Trust by Edwin Stennett (2002) about growth in the Washington, D.C. area, he writes "an increase in developed land is seldom due to either increasing population or increasing per capita land consumption acting alone, but both factors acting simulateously. Estimates provided in a recent Brookings Institution report indicate that developed land in the Washington area jumped 47% between 1982 and 1997. ... it can be readily determined that at least 63% of this huge loss of open space was due to population growth. This means that for every acre of Washington area land lost to increasing per capita land consumption, about two acres were lost due to our rapid population growth."
www.growtheducation.org

Washington Population Growth

What was the percentage population growth in the DC area between 1982 and 1997? It would have to be about 30% for your claim to be true that 63% of sprawl was caused by population growth, and a very much doubt that population grew by 30% in just 15 years.

Note the figures I posted last week showing that in the other cities, apart from Cleveland, one-eighth to one-tenth of sprawl is caused by population growth and the rest by incerased per capita land consumption:

Population growth vs growth in developed land area from 1970-1990
Chicago: 4%, 46%
Los Angeles: 45%, 300%
New York: 8%, 65%
Cleveland: -6%, 31%
St. Louis: 35%, 355%

Charles Siegel

pop. growth and per capita land use have equal sprawl impact

An analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data found that two sprawl factors share equally in the blame:

(1) Population Growth: Half of sprawl is related to the increase in the number of residents within urbanized areas.
(2) Per Capita Sprawl: An almost equal half of the sprawl nationwide appears to be related to the land-use and consumption choices that lead to an increase in the average amount of urban land per resident.

http://www.sprawlcity.org/cgpg/index.html

Pop Growth Vs. Per Capita Land Use

That is interesting data. My first take is that places where population growth contribute most to sprawl are places that already have extremely low densities, such as Albequerque. In these cities, per capita land use can't get much higher than it already is, so population growth is bound to be a larger contributer to sprawl. I will have to think about the data and look for other patterns in it.

Apart from that, my obvious response is: I have said repeatedly that I do think we should do whatever we can to control population growth. Will you say that we should do whatever we can to control per capita land use?

If you say the two are equally important, then you should be just as interested in controlling per capita land use as you are in controlling population.

Charles Siegel

Every community has an optimal population size

I agree with you in principle that both population growth and per capital land use should be addressed in order to control urban sprawl, but I am still very concerned that authorities will adopt a defeatist attitude in regards to the former and say that all we can do is control the latter hence, the "smart growth" solution. Every community has an optimal population size in terms of environmental carrying capacity and quality of life considerations. The only two communities that I am aware of that have determined what their optimal population size is are Santa Barbara, Ca in the 1970s and Okotoks, Alberta more recently. Charlottesville, VA is currently undertaking such a study. Every community should be engaged in this exercise.

see below

see below

stopping the copulation explosion

Without immigration, population growth in most developed countries would not be an issue. In fact, Japan's population is now declining slightly. Japan has extremely restrictive immigration policies and practices, making it virtually impossible for anyone to emigrate there. But immigration elsewhere provides a "safety valve" for many countries, taking them off the hook so that they do not have to deal with their own population growth. As well, various reports are now highlighting something that a few voices have been saying for years: foreign aid programs have actually made the situation worse in virtually every country receiving that aid. So, one strategy for stopping growth worldwide is for all receiving countries to immediately halt immigration and foreign aid. Overpopulation may be a global problem, but there is NO global agency dealing effectively with that problem, so solutions have to start somewhere. As well, education, particularly of women, and ready availability of contraceptives are demonstrated ways to slow and even stop growth. Another way to slow or stop growth is to remove any and all incentives to have more than one or two children per family. Some countries have "baby bonuses" and tax structures which encourage larger families. So, I've had my turn with a few ideas. What other ways do you see to slow or stop growth?

Smart Growth: The Worst Kind of Sprawl

One of the fundamental principles of “Smart Growth” is to increase residential density by infill in existing areas, and by redeveloping existing residential areas more densely. The claim is that this will somehow create livable cities, reduce energy requirements and emissions, save farmland, and protect green space. Or, as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency puts it, “density is (an) integral component to the creation of neighborhoods that offer convenience, value and a high quality of life.” (http://www.epa.gov/dced/density.htm)

Portland, Oregon, is an icon for the smart growth social engineers. In a 2007 article about problems with the Portland harbor (http://portlandtribune.com/news/story.php?story_id=118825124084524300) , the Portland Tribune cites a recent study by the Portland Business Alliance and state agencies which shows that the number of goods passing through Oregon needs to double by 2030 to keep pace with population growth, globalization and expanding markets. But the harbor and city infrastructure are lagging. Traffic congestion and delays on Portland roads are cited as hindrances to business efficiency, and as a significant factor in increasing business transportation costs.

What is the proposed solution? More harbor facilities, and significant improvements in rail and road infrastructure through Portland. That’s right - an infrastructure deficit, traffic congestion, and more roads, some of the very things that smart growth is supposed to help prevent.

The argument could be made that, as a port city, Portland is a special case. But Vancouver, B.C., is another port city, and has been called “the Northwest’s smart growth leader.” (http://www.sightline.org/maps/animated_maps/sprawl_van_04anim) Here is a typical calculation of the ecological footprint of Vancouver: “When the calculations are made based on average Canadian consumption patterns, Vancouver (covering only 114 square kilometers) has an ecological footprint (appropriated carrying capacity) 207 times its actual size - an area covering 23,600 square kilometers. This includes 7,000 square kilometers for food production, 3,000 square kilometers for forestry products, and 13,000 square kilometers to accommodate energy use.” (http://www.umanitoba.ca/faculties/arts/philosophy/EFoot.htm)

These results are similar to the calculations made by William Rees, co-developer of the ecological footprint concept, for Vancouver, and are similar to calculations made for Toronto, Ontario. In general, these relatively dense cities (by North American standards) have an ecological footprint about 200 times their actual geographical size. That footprint includes, among other things, appropriated farmland in other countries which supply our food, land used for industrial development in other countries which supply our goods, and land used to supply energy in those countries and deal with wastes.

If density is the criterion, then Los Angeles is near the pinnacle. L.A. has one of the highest urban densities in the United States. Yet farmland and natural space around the city continue to disappear. And L.A. continues to have some of the highest rates of traffic congestion, and of poor air quality, in the United States.

What then is wrong with the smart growth argument? Fundamentally, the energy and food requirements for suburban subdivisions and for very dense urban development are approximately the same. Indeed, many highrises use more energy per resident than a well-built townhouse, and not much less than a small well-built single family home. The Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation states that, “on a floor area basis, (highrises) consume more energy than single family dwellings - even though the highrise unit has much less exposed exterior surface. And when compared to the leading edge Advanced House standards for energy consumption, multi-unit residential buildings consume three times the amount of energy per unit of floor area.” (http://www.cmhc.ca/en/inpr/bude/himu/hehi/loader.cfm?url=/commonspo...

With dense development, the food must come from farther and farther away. Each new person requires additional farmland somewhere else in the country, or on the planet. And the denser the development, the farther the food must be transported. In the words of William Rees, “cities necessarily appropriate the ecological output and life support functions of distant regions all over the world through commercial trade.” (http://dieoff.org/page110.htm )

Then there is the issue of the “degraded land” portion of the ecological footprint. Degraded land is the land required for buildings, driveways, roads and highways, parking lots, businesses, public buildings, industrial infrastructure, railroads, airports, and garbage dumps (before reclamation, of course). A residential lot in suburbia is only a tiny portion of the degraded land footprint. Even highrise dwellers still require virtually all of that infrastructure, including highways and roads to escape the city for recreation (as there aren’t many golf courses and ski hills in the downtown cores of most large cities) and to bring in goods and services. As an example, those of us who live in British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley and Shuswap area know full well how many Vancouverites, Calgarians, and Edmontonians drive hundreds of kilometers on a regular basis for our recreational opportunities, putting more and more pressure on our natural areas as the populations of those cities continue to grow. Highways and roads seem to be under construction continually as traffic increases, with lanes added each year.

And silently, unknowingly, those urban Canadians are accomplices in other activities leading to resource exploitation in natural areas, and to creation of even more degraded land from industry and commerce, accompanied by even more waste and pollution.

How?

Growth in the value of their stock portfolios, RRSPs, mutual funds, and pension plans relies heavily on these sorts of activities, even growth in many of the so-called “ethical” funds and investments. Yes, rural residents have the same issues, but the bulk of our population is in cities. This is just one more example of how the call for even more urban growth, through densification, has an impact on the planet – an impact that is hidden from those creating it. Out of sight, out of mind, but every little bit hurts.

There are those who say that “Peak Oil” (http://www.peakoil.net/about-peak-oil ) will help to alleviate many of the failures of smart growth. People will be forced to drive less, we will have to use alternative energy sources, and (one of the important points) we will have to relocalize production of food and other commodities – the 100 mile diet (http://100milediet.org/ ), and so on. But cities like Vancouver, hard up against other cities already, will find it impossible to do so, as there simply isn’t enough agricultural land left within easy transportation distance to supply all the needs of the residents, especially when the adjacent cities of New Westminster, Surrey, Coquitlam, Langley and so on are all growing rapidly themselves.

There are even predictions of the complete demise of large cities in a post-carbon world, with claims that villages and small cities with populations up to 80000 people will be the only urban forms able to sustain themselves with what they find locally. (http://oilbeseeingyou.blogspot.com/2006/12/debate-over-viable-commu... ) Predicting the future is a risky and uncertain business, but the promoters of smart growth certainly don’t have a monopoly on the truth.

Those who are coming to grips with the fact that current alternative energy sources still rely quite heavily on fossil fuels for materials, manufacture, transport, and maintenance and cannot supply all of our energy needs are pinning their hopes on Plan B: technology will somehow come up with a clean and cheap energy source that will be as portable, energy intensive, flexible, and reliable as fossil fuels. Such an energy source is nowhere on the horizon, and already alternative energy sources are showing themselves to be extremely expensive, and often unreliable. It is at least possible that the smart growth engineers may be creating the conditions for catastrophe if Plan B fails.

Just like the efforts of conservationists, hopes of saving farmland and natural spaces through dense urban development are doomed by population growth. Each additional person consumes more goods, land, food, energy, and degraded land. Each additional person places more pressure on natural areas and adds more risk to threatened species, not just locally, but across the planet; the human-caused “Sixth Great Extinction” of species is happening now (http://rewilding.org/thesixthgreatextinction.htm). Even in Canada, biodiversity is on the wane, with many species already extinct or threatened. And, finally, each additional person creates more waste and emissions.

By hiding, or ignoring, or trying to discount these impacts, the smart growth social engineers are covering up the ecological destruction that they are creating. Calling it “eco-density,” as Sam Sullivan, former mayor of Vancouver did, is more than just invoking an oxymoron; it is a complete eco-obscenity. “Grow up, not out” is the mantra of many local politicians, and of course developers are happy to oblige. But empty catch-phrases and slogans like this have somehow convinced us that we can feel good about population growth as long as it is “planned” properly, and directed to denser development.

And the slogans and good feelings are hiding the fact that we are creating something much, much more destructive for this planet than urban sprawl – something that is rapidly destroying other species, depleting resources, gobbling up farmland and natural space, and polluting the land and the water and the air. What we’re creating can only be called human ecological sprawl.

Smarting from the reality.

But, of course, getting back to the fundamental issue here, it is clear that so-called "smart" growth really does nothing to preserve farmland and natural space in the long run. Even that icon of "smart" growth - Portland - is expanding and expanding like a cancer over the countryside, and has finally incorporated that expansion into long range plans. As well, "smart" growth fails miserably in most of its other claims, and seems to have degenerated into an argument that "walkable" cities somehow save the planet. Hopefully, and preferably sooner rather than later, the fiction of "smart" growth (which is really just smart marketing by the development crowd) will die a smart death.

Expanding Urban Growth vs Increasing existing density

I have enjoyed the lumination everyone brings to this conversation, which is well above my level of understanding and education. I would like to point out that everyone I read seems to have a tremendous amount of talent and understanding to bring to the discussion, which is helpful for someone like me, trying to grasp the implications.

I would like to suggest that everyone stay civil and cooperative with counter points and different interpretations of the facts, opinions and decisions. I have been involved with issues involving fisheries in which those pro and con argue and become polarized. The reality is that everything then becomes "political" and rational solutions become difficult to come by. In the end, a lot of time, effort and money is wasted in coming to "solutions" which accomplish little.

I hope to continue to read and learn from you all, and hopefully reasonable decisions will be made. As for solving world population, energy use, etc. I would suggest that be discussed at a different blog, as it seems to me as well beyond the scope of this subject. The US is not the only voice in this, and our cultural bias may skew our positions in a way which does not find agreement in other societies, which have increasing say on these issues.

Thank you all for the great dialog, which is extremely informative (great reading suggestions, I am making my list for the library).

More than two possibilities...

"Expanding Urban Growth vs Increasing existing density
Submitted by TKraft on Mon, 04/20/2009 - 12:43. "

Your title misses a third important option, which is halting growth. Period. It's really quite easy in practice, once the political opposition has been overcome. But therein lies the rub.

The Transition movement

I saw this planetizen link about the Transition movement and wondered if its vision is in accord with your own. http://www.planetizen.com/node/38405

Transiton, maybe. But transition to what?

According to the post linked in your comment, much of what the Transition movement says agrees with much of what I say, with two notable exceptions:

1. nowhere in that post (and I haven't had time yet to research the Transition movement globally yet) is the issue of population addressed.
2. nowhere in that post is our position as one species among many on this planet acknowledged. Biodiversity contributes to many life support functions for our own species and, until and unless we take a much humbler approach to our position on this planet, we will continue blindly onward toward our own demise. That is one of the fundamental blind spots of "smart" growth -- failing to recognize the impact on the rest of the planet of more growth in any form.

According to William Rees and others, even if we developed countries reduce our standard of living and consumption levels to that of many Third World countries, we would just be barely hanging on ecologically. And Rees acknowledges that even his estimates are overly-optimistic. For example, England, as one of the most densely-populated developed countries will find it impossible to find enough land for enough villages to house all the people, to grow food to feed all those people, to provide other resources for all those people, and so on. If the fundamental problem is too many people (and I believe it is), then I have to marvel at the many ways in which humans attempt to avoid solving that problem. As things stand, I believe that we are rapidly losing our opportunity to solve the problem ourselves, and rapidly working toward natural controls on what we do.

Short answer: the Transition movement seems to be missing the point.

Plug In Numbers On Population

"If the fundamental problem is too many people (and I believe it is), then I have to marvel at the many ways in which humans attempt to avoid solving that problem."

Rick, I actually agree with much of what you say, but let me ask you the same question I asked John below:

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, and it is unrealistic even to think that the world will adopt population control as strict as China's, but even this strict population policy would 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

The lowest population may result from forces beyond our control

You asked what I think the lowest population "could" be, and I'll point out that there are several possible scenarios. You, along with many demographers, have assumed some sort of continuous and asymptotic behaviour for population growth (yes, I am fully aware of demographic momentum, and yes, I teach mathematics). However, many populations, including past iterations of our own, have demonstrated significant discontinuities, especially when those populations have been heavily resource dependent. Peak Oil could actually create multiple processes to bring about those discontinuities -- lack of fertilizer, lack of fuels to transport food, lack of energy to build infrastructure (even "green" infrastructure), and more. Liebig's Law applies as much to us as it does to other species, despite the starry-eyed ravings of the technotopians.

If the predictions are correct in some or most ways, the lowest population after the crash might well be in the order of 1 or 2 billion. One prediction from a well-informed soil scientist indicates that a population level of about 10000 years ago, prior to cultivation agriculture, is the only truly sustainable population. I don't believe that anyone in his or her right mind would actually want the suffering that would accompany such a crash, but I do see a significant population crash as a distinct possibility. And I see it as a personal moral responsibility to do as much as I can to prevent as much of the suffering as possible. That is why I promote various measures, with full knowledge that they likely are nowhere near enough.

As I (and Kunstler) have already commented, the ultimately futile process of trying to switch to so-called "renewable" and non-polluting sources of energy would in fact bankrupt our current supplies of fossil fuels, and leave us with a very polluted planet. In a sense, I see a "damned if we do, and damned if we don't" scenario there, but that is not the main reason why I look for solutions elsewhere.

As far as greenhouse gases go, you are clearly convinced that AGW is real. I, and many reputable scientists, and many other as well, are not (see below). Yes, I have no issues with actions which will help to reduce pollution and clean up the environment, unless those actions distract us from other more fundamental problems. Frankly, I see other problems as far more serious, especially if Peak Oil solves our consumption and emission problems for us -- the current Sixth Great Extinction, the collapse of ocean fish stocks, desertification due to poor agricultural practices, depletion of aquifers (have you read "Blue Gold" yet?), toxin accumulation in the biosphere, and all the other population-dependent problems we are creating. And the psychological issues have not yet, in my opinion, been properly researched. What are the effects, for example, of living in cities and towns with no natural spaces left within easy access? Manicured "green" space does not house much biodiversity, does not provide exposure to the natural world, and may in fact contribute to a generalized city psychosis (at least that is my unsubstantiated suspicion).

It may, in the end, come down to the question of which apparent Chicken Little is right -- those who claim that global warming is our biggest problem, or those who claim that overpopulation is instead. Given our history, I have serious doubts that we will take action which would effectively mitigate either problem, but (yes, somewhat Macbeth-like) I believe that we have to fight on.

Where I have real issues is with b.s. and, getting back to the topic of this thread, it's pretty clear to me that "smart" growth is fronted by much b.s., a considerable amount of very poor logic and reasoning, and precious little truth.

__________________________________________
"The Great Global Warming Swindle:" http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=288952680655100870

"Antarctic ice is growing, not melting away:" http://www.news.com.au/story/0,27574,25348657-401,00.html

Lowest Population And End Of Growth

"You asked what I think the lowest population "could" be ....
If the predictions are correct in some or most ways, the lowest population after the crash might well be in the order of 1 or 2 billion. ...
I don't believe that anyone in his or her right mind would actually want the suffering that would accompany such a crash, but I do see a significant population crash as a distinct possibility."

When I asked that question, I was thinking about what we could do to avoid the crash. Can we reduce population, consumption, and environmental impact enough by 2050 to avoid the this sort of massive suffering? My point is that, because of demographic momentum, reducing population can be only a small part of the needed reduction by 2050.

I agree that such a crash is a possible and that no one in his right mind would want the suffering that it would cause. Therefore, we have an obvious moral obligation to do all we can to avoid the crash.

Only a small minority of scientists or engineers would agree with Kunstler that we do not have enough fossil fuels left to make a transition to cleaner energy. Some people seem to glory in the possibility of an energy crash, and they are obviously not helping constructive efforts to avoid that crash and the massive suffering it would cause - which you estimate at up to 7 or 8 billion deaths from starvation. If the majority of scientists and engineers say that we can make a transition to clean energy, then we should at least try, rather than following the advice of the defeatist minority.

I won't spend time arguing about whether global warming is a myth. "The Great Global Warming Swindle" has been much criticized, and anyone can find the criticisms by Googling. I will only say: if 95% of all doctors tell you that you have a disease and should take a treatment, and 5% of doctors tell you that you don't, then the only prudent course is to take the treatment. Likewise, if 95% of climate scientists tell you that "AGW" is real, the only prudent course is to take the treatment - considering the immense amount of suffering that global warming will cause if the 95% are correct.

But my main point is that we must decrease total environmental impact (including depletion of energy resources and the other problems you list as well as global warming), and that to do this, we must address 3 things: population, consumption, and technology. Population and technology are often mentioned, and I want consumption added to the mainstream discussion.

The British Sustainable Development Commission recently issued a report named Prosperity Without Growth, which gives convincing evidence that the usual technological fix is not enough and that we must address consumption and end economic growth to keep our environmental impact down to a sustainable level, which you can read at http://www.sd-commission.org.uk/publications.php?id=914 This is the same point I am making, and it applies to all the impacts you list, not just to global warming.

Since you focus on the need to end growth, you should be sympathetic to this argument that we need to end economic growth.

Charles Siegel

Liars, damned liars, and economists...

I never have bought the "95%" argument, after looking at the history of science. Phlogiston, flat earth, the immutability of matter, and other claims and theories cause me to be a skeptic. Articles like the very recent one about Antarctica's ice pack only reinforce that skepticism about common wisdom. But I will say that, IF AGW is true, and IF it poses a significant threat to us, then we do need to do something about it, provided that we are addressing the other significant threats appropriately at the same time.

I'd like to see your data regarding your "only a small minority of scientists" please, and thank you. And one person's "defeatist minority" may be another person's "realistic few." Yes, if we can find alternatives which truly do pollute less, and increase the chances for survival of our species and others, then I'm all for it. But again, believing that using solar panels, CFLs, and hybrid cars will save the planet is, in my opinion, a waste of energy (pun not necessarily intended).

"Since you focus on the need to end growth, you should be sympathetic to this argument that we need to end economic growth."

What I should be according to others, and what I am, are often two very different things. However, that is not the case here. I have been stating for decades in various forums (online and not) that our economy is unsustainable, and that not only do we need to end economic growth, but that we must reverse much of what we have done as well. The current crash in the house of cards we created may or may not be the permanent one, but it certainly is an indication of how fragile human constructs truly are.

As things stand, the mainstream media are all over the issue of conservation (and thus consumption), as are the so-called "environmentalists" out there. If I hear one more consumer product called "eco-friendly" or "green," I think I'll puke. The issues of the negative impact of technology, and of the negative effects of population overshoot, are virtually nowhere in sight. We humans continue to be completely smitten by our own cleverness, and our own sense of self-importance on this planet. I've said before that I believe that one of our fundamental problems is the underlying and overarching arrogance of our species, and perhaps that isn't much different from other species. Where we differ from other species, especially in some of our cultures, is in our near-pathological obsession with technological fixes, and our ability to make this entire planet uninhabitable for ourselves and other species in so many ways.

So, yes, I think you get the sense that I believe that technology is a problem too.

But, I disagree that we hear anything significant about population, especially in terms of overpopulation and its consequences. The rabid responses on discussion forums, in the media, and in other areas when this topic is even mentioned are an indication to me that more education needs to be done. And so, I choose that particular windmill, and tilt against the b.s. that often surrounds it.

Finally, I always remember that every new idea is radical, until it becomes mainstream.

Economic Growth And Smart Growth

"I have been stating for decades in various forums (online and not) that our economy is unsustainable, and that not only do we need to end economic growth, but that we must reverse much of what we have done as well."

I agree. Studies of self-reported happiness show that economic growth stops bringing benefits at one-half to two-thirds of the US per capita GDP, and we and the world would clearly be better off if we rolled back to this level.

Now, see if you agree with this: One area where economic growth has clearly gone too far is automobile use. After World War II, North American cities were rebuilt around the automobile, and most people cannot leave their homes without driving. In this case, economic growth has made our cities less livable and has put an unsustainable strain on the world's environment. We should undo this error by rebuilding our cities so they are pedestrian- and transit-oriented cities and a car is not a necessity.

If you agree with this, you agree with what I consider the main principle of "Smart Growth."

"Smart Growth" is misnamed, since it would actually reverse an important element of consumerism and economic growth. The bad name is connected with the false argument: "population growth is inevitable, and so we should accommodate it with as little damage as possible." This argument is false because:

1 - It is not true that population growth is inevitable. On the contrary, it is inevitable that population growth will end in a few decades, and we should try our best to hasten the end of population growth.

2 - Population growth has nothing to do with the basic principle that we should avoid sprawl by building walkable, transit-oriented neighborhoods. This principle is true even where there is no population growth, as in Cleveland where sprawl increased the populated land area by 30% even though population declined - causing worse auto dependency and more strain on the world's resources.

The key example is China. If current trends continue, two things will happen in China in about 2025: population will peak, and per capita income will reach about the level that equal to the United States in the 1950s, making it possible for most people to rebuild their lives around the automobile as Americans did in the 1950s. I expect you would agree that, even without population growth, the huge increase in consumption and economic growth that would come from all the added automobile use in China would be unsustainable.

The term "smart growth" is inaccurate to begin with, and it has been misused by development interests to greenwash destructive projects. They are using the term even in Dubai!

But I think the basic principle of building transit- and pedestrian-oriented neighborhoods rather than auto-oriented sprawl is invaluable, precisely because it rolls back some of the most destructive effects of the consumerism and economic growth of the last 60 years. Do you agree?

Charles Siegel

No growth is smart growth.

"We should undo this error by rebuilding our cities so they are pedestrian- and transit-oriented cities and a car is not a necessity.

If you agree with this, you agree with what I consider the main principle of "Smart Growth." "

I disagree, and I need some clarification. Are you promoting "smart" growth, or are you promoting new urbanism?

Smart Growth v New Urbanism

They are not mutually exclusive. Quite the opposite: If SG is a strategy then NU can be one set of tactics. In any case, their shared set of principles can be implemented in the absence of population growth, so there is not necessarily a contradiction between those who fear over-population and those who seek to rearrange existing settlement patterns to minimize environmental impact. You need to make a distinction between sincere people like Charles and those who cynically use labels like "Smart Growth" to provide cover for their fundamentally harmful developments - like suburban office park developers who wear their LEED-certifications like badges of honor. And while NU may support some "Smart Growth" principles, certain instances of it may not - for example, I'd rather that NU not take the form of clustered greenfield developments, where they probably can't function as intended. The point is that these labels encompass as many different beliefs and motivations as religions (no further comparison intended), and they are therefore subject to almost as much misinterpretation, misappropriation, and caricature. My feeling is that you and Charles agree on 75% of the issues - but your reliance on simple labels prevents you from realizing that.

Perhaps it's time to start the New Ruralism movement.

"My feeling is that you and Charles agree on 75% of the issues - but your reliance on simple labels prevents you from realizing that."

I agree that trying to get one general definition of "S"G or NU is like trying to pin Jello to the wall, and, in principle "S"G or NU may have some redeeming qualities. I am fully aware of the dangers of labeling, so I look behind and beyond the labels, and my reliance on the evidence, the practice, and the history are what prevent me from jumping onto the "S"G or NU bandwagons. In particular, any attempt to "rearrange existing settlement patterns to minimize environmental impact" that does not at the same time attempt to rearrange existing thinking patterns to halt growth is, in my opinion, simply another enabling behavior for our addiction to growth.

And I do not agree that in practice either NU or "S"G will have any significant effect on our environmental impact, for the reasons I cited in an earlier post. No matter what the form, "settlements" have an enormous impact on the environment just from the cumulative effects of the individual impacts. Transit itself, for example, has a significant impact in terms of degraded land; and pollution and emissions in manufacture, construction, and operation. And, with more people using transit, there will be a larger impact. It's exactly like the futile efforts to cut consumption by 30%, when that will be negated by a 40% increase in population.

One self-proclaimed environmentalist has this to say:

"An objective appraisal shows that mass transit today is little (if any) better than the automobile as far as energy use and pollution are concerned. (...) Neither the automobile nor mass transit will significantly reduce our energy consumption in urban passenger transportation. There is no magic technical fix for the problem, but there is an obvious solution: Simply greatly reduce the amount of travel. This can be encouraged by reducing population so as to provide more available housing so that people can live nearer work. Land use controls should prevent the construction of workplaces unless there is plenty of available housing nearby (within walking or bicycling distance)." http://www.lafn.org/~dave/trans/energy/does_mt_saveE.html (emphasis mine)

I hope that you do not believe that I pin my beliefs on one post on one website, but I suspect that, if we ever manage to peel away all the hype and look at the problem objectively, we'll find that the current focus on transit will be unmasked, and shown to be another futile gesture which prevented us from dealing with the real problems.

Oh, and "smart" growth is not a strategy for sustainability or for reducing our environmental impact, it is a strategy for developers to continue to make profits.

What Environmentalists Mean By Smart Growth

I agree that trying to get one general definition of "S"G or NU is like trying to pin Jello to the wall, and, in principle "S"G or NU may have some redeeming qualities.

The terminology is all unclear, so it is best to say I support walkable and transit oriented neighborhoods.

My point is: this is exactly what most environmentalists mean when they talk about smart growth, that they want to build walkable, transit-oriented neighborhoods. The only differrence is that some smart growth advocates support high rises, and others (myself included) oppose them. I would guess that the smart growth movement splits about 50-50 on the issue of high rises.

Needless to say, some developers will make a profit building walkable neighborhoods, just as some drug companies selling birth control devices will make a profit on population control.

There is no magic technical fix for the problem, but there is an obvious solution: Simply greatly reduce the amount of travel. This can be encouraged by reducing population so as to provide more available housing so that people can live nearer work.

We have already agreed that population cannot be reduced for decades because of demographic momentum.

Reducing the amount of travel by providing housing nearer to where people work is the key point of environmentalists who support smart growth (though not necessarily of developers who use the term as greenwash).

The focus on transit is just one part of the larger idea of building pedestrian and transit-oriented neighborhoods. The greatest environmental benefits come not from shifting people from cars to transit but from building more compact cities where people travel less.

The way to reduce the distance people travel is by increasing density in a metropolitan area. For any given population in the area, doubling density reduces per capita distance traveled by about 30%, according to research by Newman and Kenworthy.

That should be what you expect as a math teacher. Distance traveled should be inversely proportional to the square root of density. Eg, if population is settled one-fourth as densely, then people should travel twice as far on the average, all else being equal. Isn't that right?

Charles Siegel

the object of math hysteria

"We have already agreed that population cannot be reduced for decades because of demographic momentum. ."

I have agreed to nothing of the sort. Population in certain countries, and certain regions, can be reduced significantly if immigration and inmigration are halted, as the TFR is below the replacement rate for those areas. Japan's population is already in decline, according to the most recent data.

And I am certainly not what many would classify as a typical "environmentalist," who, in my opinion are in the main completely misguided, or completely paid off by corporate sponsorship, as the case may be.

As a mathematician, and as a long time observer of human behaviour, I do know that your attempt to establish some sort of inverse variation between density and distance traveled is utter nonsense. Do you know why, and do you care to try again?

And doubling density may reduce the per capita distance traveled, but according to what you posted, it significantly increases the total distance traveled, or did you not know that? Per capita data are a convenient way to hide the total effect, whether it be distance traveled, consumption, or what-have-you. That's a typical ploy of those who wish to continue to enable our addiction to growth. And, by concentrating even more people into an area, more food and goods must be transported from farther and farther away to service these people. It'll be a long walk to the nearest farm when the oil and gas run out.

I would certainly like to see the replicable studies which show conclusively that there are net environmental benefits, when all factors are considered, of denser development, and especially in the context of continued population growth. Then I would like to see the replicable studies which show that the mental health and social well-being of people in general are not affected negatively by such development.

Portland has been a failure in many ways, and "smart" growth is wishful, airy-fairy thinking that has attained cult status among planners, much to the delight of developers. But more dense clearly means less sustainable, and it's time for some smart thinking about "smart" growth.

Total Population Vs. Population Density

You have to distinguish between total population and population density. The world's total population can be affected by family planning programs but is not effected by the density at which cities are built.

For any given population, there is less environmental impact with higher density. Let's plug in some sample numbers:

2,000,000 people settled at the density of Albequerque, about 2 people per acre, would take 1,000,000 acres.

2,000,000 people settled at the density of San Francisco, about 20 people per acre, would take 100,000 acres.

Whatever the total population of a region, it is obviously better in environmental terms for them to be settled at the density of San Francisco. They would take up one-tenth as much land, drive about one-third as much, have more nearby farmland so their food would be transported shorter distances, produce less runoff and so have less impact on fisheries, and so on.

Can you separate the two? It is clear that 1) greater total population harms the environment and 2) higher density settlement of any given population helps the environment.

Charles Siegel

"Whatever the total

"Whatever the total population of a region, it is obviously better in environmental terms for them to be settled at the density of San Francisco. They would take up one-tenth as much land, drive about one-third as much, have more nearby farmland so their food would be transported shorter distances, produce less runoff and so have less impact on fisheries, and so on."

If you bothered at all to read and think about my article posted earlier, you will see that I understand the circular reasoning and other fallacies in your post. Do you not understand at all the concepts of "ecological footprint" and "appropriated carrying capacity?"

How dense are we?

"The world's total population can be affected by family planning programs but is not effected by the density at which cities are built."

I'd like to see the studies which support the latter part of that statement. I have my own opinions and hunches about what I've previously referred to as the "city psychosis," but I am looking for evidence for or against. Thanks.

"Can you separate the two? It is clear that 1) greater total population harms the environment and 2) higher density settlement of any given population helps the environment."

I agree with the first part, but see the latter as simply more enabling behaviour for our addiction to growth, and therefore harmful in the long term. I am sympathetic to the arguments from Peter Salonius and others that the only sustainable form in the long term will be the hunter-gatherer society, and there is precious little high density settlement there. http://culturechange.org/cms/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=1...

Not at all cowed by the bull.

"The greatest environmental benefits come not from shifting people from cars to transit but from building more compact cities where people travel less."

According to the UN and others, the greatest benefit comes from reducing our demand for meat and dairy products, and from changing our agricultural processes. In addition to the debatable issue of global warming and emissions, there are enormous benefits for other parts of our environment. So why are you focusing on the wrong target? Let's stop creating human feedlots, and focus more on the animal feedlots, and on reducing demand. Golly gee, perhaps controlling population would be one way to accomplish this, and especially halting immigration to high-consumption countries, which only magnifies the ecological footprint of immigrants.

http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=20772&Cr=global&Cr1=environ...
http://www.dnaindia.com/report.asp?NewsID=1067005

An excerpt from the second link:

"Who is contributing most to global warming? Dumb cattle and not emissions from factories and power plants, says the United Nations.

The increasing world population, a new UN report warns, would lead to further increase in the number of livestock as demand for meat and milk increases and that would mean emission of more greenhouse gases.

Not only that. Cattle are also a major contributor to land degradation and pollution of water, the report says.

The livestock business, the report says, is among the most damaging sectors to the earth's increasingly scarce water resources, contributing among other things to water pollution from animal wastes, antibiotics and hormones, chemicals from tanneries, fertilizers and the pesticides used to spray feed crops."

Cattle Vs. Cars

When I said "the greatest benefit," I was replying to your earlier post saying that transit had little benefit. My point was that advocates of smart growth believe that smart growth will reduce auto use primarily by reducing the distances that people travel, and less importantly by shifting trips from car to transit.

To reply to your unrelated point about food production: Food production is a greater source of GHG emission than cars world-wide, because 100% of the people in the world eat but only 20% own cars.

In the US and Canada, where virtually everyone owns cars, vehicles are a much greater source of GHG emissions than food production.

Of course, I also agree that we should reduce emissions from food production. One easy way of doing that is shifting from beef to chicken, which causes only 10% as much emissions.

Charles Siegel

Where's the beef?

"When I said "the greatest benefit," I was replying to your earlier post saying that transit had little benefit. My point was that advocates of smart growth believe that smart growth will reduce auto use primarily by reducing the distances that people travel, and less importantly by shifting trips from car to transit."

And that notion has, to date, been a relative failure, according to the recent statistics. So, will the "smart" growth social engineers be re-thinking that fantasy?

"Of course, I also agree that we should reduce emissions from food production. One easy way of doing that is shifting from beef to chicken, which causes only 10% as much emissions."

And another easy way is to halt immigration to high consumption nations, like ours, thereby halting and even reducing in some cases the total consumption of food products. As an aside, do you know what's in most commercially-produced chicken, and beef for that matter? Our high population has driven our food producers to look at "efficient" ways to maximize food production, ways that diverge significantly from our hunter-gatherer past.

another reading suggestion

I am happy that people are getting something from this discussion. I am therefore adding a link to another useful article "Solutions to sprawl: the limits to smart growth" originally published in the San Diego Earth Times in 2001. http://www.sdearthtimes.com/et0401/et0401s4.html

Anti-sprawl group skeptical about smart growth's effectivenes

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