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Anti-Growth Activists Are Too Negative


As an urban planner, I am dismayed at the negativity found in these archives and a myriad of other doom-saying blogs. I must believe---we must believe----that the future of our civilization lies in growing cities. In fact cities are the cradle of civilization---of art, science, music and literature, and the more citizens we pack into them the more vibrant and creative they become. Malthusian logic suffers from inconsistency and its prognostications lack an empirical foundation. Most of all, their gloom and doom verbiage is, at closer scrutiny, an exercise in deliberate obfuscation.

People, our greatest resource

I believe in people. People are our greatest resource. The more the merrier. We need more people to make our transportation system more efficient, our production runs longer and our costs-per-unit smaller. We need the collective brainpower that more people can give us so that we may solve the problems generated by population growth. We need more cultural diversity and less biological diversity. With more diverse people we can have more choices in our cuisine, and we can always enjoy the film-footage of extinct and endangered species threatened by the encroaching subdivisions built to accommodate our growing population as we eat from a buffet of Thai, Indian, African, Afghani and Spanish food. It is best to enjoy wildlife vicariously---no one wants to suffer the discomfort of off-road trekking and camping. More dim-sum, less undomesticated animals---sounds like a good bargain to me.

Growing the bottom line

Above all, we need more people to pay for the health and pension benefits of our growing aged population. And when these new people are finished their working careers paying for our growing aged population, we can import an even large base of people to support the people we brought here to pay for those aged people. Ad infinitum.

No Gain without Pain

Yes, admittedly, there are growing pains involved in growing our population. But those can be infinitely mitigated by the greatest panacea known to man---“planning”. Now, it used to be that planning was understood as something both pro-active and pre-emptive. A government decided what its urban boundaries would be and how many people would live within it, and planned accordingly. But of course, that antiquated notion gave way to the enlightened concept of laissez-faire growth. Urban planners and demographers now look at what the population is projected to be and then counsel government s to “plan” for it---as if a given growth rate or trend is something that cannot be challenged. Which of course it can be, but to do so would be racist, xenophobic and selfish. Those who attempt to control population growth are playing God—when the truth is God wants us to go forth and multiply, especially if some rival tribe, religious community or nation threatens to out-breed ours. Well, no worries. Governments now have the good sense to believe that growth is inevitable, so the only option is to channel it out of harm’s way. Now we can have “green” buildings, “green” development and “smart” growth. Growth without ecological impacts. It is time that Malthusians got smart too. It is time they shut up and left it to the experts.

Public Education a must

The problem, I feel, is in lack of communication. Emotive language must surrender to dispassionate discussion. Malthusians must chill out. They must understand that there are positive alternatives to a sustainable steady state society that lives within the means and absorptive capacity of the environment. We can grow the limits.

Use of language

Let me elaborate with more precision. We can inculcate end-to-end morphologies, re-tool ruderal users and reintermediate next generation podcasts. If we monetize peer-to-peer networking we can repurpose next-generation synergies and enhance out-of-the-box action items by targeting open-source partnerships and maximizing ubiquitous deliverables. Only by capturing turn-key metrics and synthesizing seamless channels can we expedite vertical ecologies. If successful, we will have delivered 24/7 platforms and revolutionized viral e-commerce.

Getting Agreement

In short, if we communicate with clarity then the omniscient vision that is exclusive to the planning profession can be imparted to the voting public who are ill-equipped to grasp the opportunities that await us in the broad, sunlit uplands of our cornucopian future. Let’s dispense with the clichés and speak plainly. If there is no hope, do not despair---we can manufacture it with the same ease that we can build the hundreds of nuclear reactors necessary to power the hundreds of desalination plants that will substitute for our dry river beds and reservoirs, as well as energize the solyent-green biscuit factories that will replace the farmland that lies beneath our sprawling suburbs.

You see, the future is not as bad as you thought. Just leave it to us.

B. Rees-Nable,
Urban Planning Institute
Tim Murray, Vice President.

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Thank you for this timely article in your business section. You are right to celebrate the opportunities in maximising human resources. I wonder if you are aware that the business of having less biological diversity and more diverse people and choices in cuisine is now poised for a marketing leap, with optimistic and creative business planning, to educate people to be more accepting of cannibalism as a product of the educated and multicultural palate. Soylent Green, that bland product of a totalitarian state, was a dud on the market for good reasons. Predictably, it never sold well beyond the niche-market of remote airplane crashes and marooned arctic expeditions. Beyond those demographics, whenever competing food products were available, with the exception of a small cohort of illegal hobbyists, consumers would invariably choose the other-species competition. What the creative corporates are planning now is for Thai, Indian, African, Afghani, Spanish and Canadian ethnic human biscotti as a value-add product, putting the choice back into the product. Population growth, as ever, will keep demand and production rising in synergy, attracting the discriminating investor. Led as always by the creative expansion of the Real Estate Lobby, this spring Australian state parliaments will be voting on laws to overturn the early colonial protectionism which prevented the human biscotti from competing openly with the beef and sheep variety. We have this time provided protection for elite humans who might otherwise have become a target for black market operations, thus removing the last obstacles to these culinary reforms. What we anticipate is a continuous sort of chain production line with possibilities of expansion only limited by persistent ethical considerations in a few NIMBY change-resistant communities. We know from prior experience that we can break down that resistance by offering jobs to their children in the industry, who can probably even be convinced by TV cook-shows to prepare their own parents as food.

Can we expand the viral mindshare and innovate real-time infomediaries ?
Yes we can!

"-that the future of our civilization lies in growing cities". The problem is not with civililsation as such, in art, in knowledge, in architecture, but the idea that we can continue and keep growing and growing cities forever! People are not just economic units, fillers for the "planning" and be expected to comply, meekly!
No biological communities can grow forever. Growth is only one stage, then there has to be an equilibrium with other species, and natural resources. This is the trade-off period, when growing more will jeopardize the future and well being of the community and individuals. We are still biological creatures, and we must live harmoniously with our environment or else we destroy the basis of our existence.
A biological community can create conditions that lead to its own destruction. Human activities such as logging or clearing land to make agricultural or urban ecosystems can also destroy a biological community.
For example, as trees grow older, they become weak and vulnerable to destruction by insects or diseases. When this happens, a biological community ‘grows old’ and ‘dies’, and another biological community takes its place. We could over-grow our limitations to our own demise.

Some would say that it is unfair to target planners. After all, they are working under the thumb of the developer-funded politicians. Well, to me they are like the Kapos---the Jews in the Warsaw ghetto whom the Nazis selected as delegates to organize and manage deportations to the camps. Planners are schooled in an ideology which assumes that growth is inevitable---if not good. Their job is to lubricate the process of growth by tiding it up and managing it. Some may rationalize their intervention as trying to blunt potentially negative impacts, but the net result is that their plans make growth more palatable.

I am not in awe of the profession. The most effective planning tool in most cases is neglect. Not building that bridge or not adding another runway to the local airport. Allowing congestion to finally reach a point where people decide to leave their cars at home or where businesses decide not to expand or locate in your city because air travel facilities can't cope with the volume. Say's Law stipulates that supply creates its own demand. Widen a highway or a bridge and in no time flat it becomes filled with more cars. New highways and bridges, by initially shortening commutes, allow realtors and developers to use this fact as a selling point to entice people to the new subdivisions served by the new highways and bridges. Then five or ten years on, commuters from these new subdivisions are clamouring for another highway or bridge. How many times do we have to witness this cycle before people get wise?

Planning for more growth is much like a dog chasing its tail. We are told that we must grow the tax base to provide for more services. But the infrastructure costs of new subdivisions and commercial parks out-strip the tax revenues that they return to city coffers. We are told that growth will create needed jobs. But new job opportunities attract outsiders to compete for those job opportunities, and while locals may gain employment, the unemployment rate is unaffected. There is an optimum population level for an locality. Beyond that, growth only offers diminishing returns. Why don't more people see through this scam?
Tim Murray