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Is Population Growth Worth Fixating On?

While mayors of shrinking cities do all they can to buoy a discouraging metric, others ask whether population growth is all it's cracked up to be.
October 17, 2017, 9am PDT | Philip Rojc | @PhilipRojc
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Alan Levine

It makes sense to see leaders like Detroit mayor Mike Duggan focus heavily on population growth. As J.B. Wogan writes, "Population loss can become a symbol for other things people feel is going wrong in a city, such as rising poverty and unemployment rates, vacant and blighted housing, increased violent crime, the exit of pro sports franchises, racial segregation and police brutality."

People vote with their feet, so the story goes, and rising populations imply basic desirability. Wogan goes on, "Interestingly, it's the mayors of cities struggling to attract people who insist population numbers are the secret of success. The mayors of the fastest-growing cities tend to have a much different attitude about population gains."

The creed of growth-at-all-costs has its challengers. "Perhaps the leading voice in this contrarian club is Paul Gottlieb, an economist at Rutgers University. He has argued for decades not only that local elected officials should take a measured approach to growth, but that metropolitan areas with stable or slow-growing populations are likely to have greater economic prosperity." Wogan discusses similar views from Eben Fodor and Charles Marohn.

While residents of growing cities may not be automatically better off, interest groups like retailers, the real estate industry, and developers are often at hand to sing growth's praises. At the same time, analysis treating cities as separate entities from surrounding communities can oversimplify.

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Published on Friday, September 22, 2017 in Governing
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