Monday, December 20, 2004


Brookings Institution Study

If you're like me, and you spend altogether too much time perusing the information superhighway for the latest in urban planning news, then you might have recently noticed the release of a very important report from the Brookings Institution (

The report outlines that in the next 30 years most metropolitan planning organizations (MPO's) and state governments expect, and are planning for a tremendous surge in America's population, especially in the continuously booming sun-belt region. Perhaps what is more impressive is that according to these findings, half of the buildings and the infrastructure improvements that are needed to house all the people and their social, business, and recreational needs, do not currently exist . A reality that must have real estate speculators and developers chomping at the bit.

Yet, with America's current method of absorbing growth by building ever outward, the prediction of such rapid population growth and development is chilling, as our society is not ready for it. By this, I mean that that we do not have the energy or the natural resources to adequately sustain such growth. Nor do we have the social, political, and economic mechanisms in place to grow and maintain the high quality of life that most Americans currently expect, if not demand. How can the southwest continue to develop lush golf course "communities" without cheap gasoline and a plethora of water? They can't.

Thus, as the Brookings Institution notes, these growth projections should be viewed as yet another round of ammofor the battle against sprawl, as well as the impetus for America to start reconfiguring its own manifest destiny to something that actually purports real sustainable progress through development. But let's face it, most high level decision makers and the people who put them into office are not currently prioritizing how we must grow in order for this suppossed boom to actually occur.

If America is to grow in population and remain an economically stable place to inhabit, those who salivate at the opportunity to produce more auto-centric far-flung edge city boomburgs must change their approaches, and quickly. If they do not, then America will have to endure long term population growth that is not coupled with economic growth. A disastrous dichotomy that is sure to alter the social and political structures within our country. If you do not believe this prediction, simply use history as a guide and you will see that most great societies of the past were the cause of their own decline.

Fortunately, in effort to stave off this gloomy future, more and more people are getting involved with changing our patterns of growth and development. Moreover, the nascent sustainable development movements of new urbanism, smart growth, and LEED certification, along with other well established environmental movements, are gaining traction in America, as society at large is realizing that sustainability isn't just for the hippies anymore. Yet, with the inherent challenges of our nation's predicted growth, our efforts need to be ramped up even further, and now!

As Winston Churchill said, (Not an exact quote) "Americans will do what's right, only after exhausting all of other options." Well, after a century long experiment with a reckless and profligate socio-economic system, we now have an impending energy crisis, an ever weakening dollar, an over-extended military, state and national budgets that are deep in hole, and a federal government that is led by a president who has quietly waged a war on our country's most precious natural resources. If these conditions do not precede a tipping point, I'm not sure what will. Thus, I echo the Brookings Institution's report and say that we must mitigate against several of the problems that threaten our nation in the future by working tirelessly now to rebuild America with a more intelligent approach.

Sunday, December 12, 2004


Maine Embraces Smart Growth

On Friday, December 10th, the first annual Maine Smart Growth Summit was held at the Civic Center in Augusta, Maine. This conference, which had close to 500 people in attendance, was long overdue for the state that boasts that it is "the way life should be." Ironically, this first conference on combating sprawl was held at a facility that has helped incubate some of the states finest examples of big box debauchery and highway spur development. Nevertheless, I wouldn't have missed the opportunity to attend the first conference in Maine dealing with the issues that I care so deeply about.

Unfortunately, Maine's long standing reputation as the home of genuine people, beautiful vistas, and real towns and villages, has been severely threatened by the slow creep of suburbanization "from away" (the term us Maine'ers use to describe something that is not endemic to our beloved home state). The growth of sprawl, like everything else that finally makes its way to Maine, has been slow and incremental. Yet, in the last 20 years it has compromised the quality of life that that is so crucial to those who not only live, but work in Maine.

This very important point was emphasized by key note speaker, former Governor Angus King, who told the attentive audience that though Maine lacks many of the essential mechanisms needed for sustained economic growth, the state has always been able to use its extraordinary quality of life assets as a key selling point. This means that though business moguls do not move their companies to Maine for its low taxes, or its warm weather, people are attracted to Maine because it offers refuge from the terrible places that many are forced to call home.

Thus, if Maine loses the battle to sprawl, it loses twice. That is to say, not only will Maine continue to be further homogenized by sprawl and all its culture sucking accoutrements, but that the state will lose its power to draw those from away (tourists) who keep the Maine economy alive. Thus, for the state of Maine, smart growth is smart business and yesterday's conference should serve as a battle cry to keep Maine, Maine.

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