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Continuing Growth Is Not An Option

By Tim Murray

21 October, 2010

Anti-growth activists are caught in a vice. In large urban areas bursting at the seams with overtaxed infrastructure, the potent force of the growth lobby and the pervasive influence of the media that supports it makes opposition to the growth juggernaut hazardous to mind, body and spirit. Yet life in a rural locality presents an even more daunting challenge. The costs of growth are not so manifest to those who do not understand its exponential nature. The benefits of fresh air, tranquility and wildlife are taken for granted, and the allure of big city amenities is irresistible. Locals are beguiled by the promise that new development will solve unemployment, increase the supply of affordable housing and keep young people close to hearth and home. To stand up against growth in a small town is to invite ostracism and ridicule from uncomprehending minds that cannot understand why anyone would oppose "progress". The following letter was submitted to the newspaper of one such town, but it could have been the template for letters to almost any small town newspaper in North America or Australia or elsewhere---newspapers which live on the advertising revenue from the businesses that profit from growth. - Tim Murray

Civic boosterism predictable and mistaken

From rural Nova Scotia to rural BC, the clichés of civic boosterism are as predictable as they are wrong. Sables-Spanish Rivers appears to be no different. Forum participants in the upcoming township elections seem to be reading from the same script that growth-addicts in my own community are.

“We need to bring in business to bring down taxes.” “Economic development is a priority...its not just about bringing new business...it’s about smart growth, maintaining the tax base.” “ New development will create needed jobs”. “We need to attract new families”. “We need to bring our kids back”. “There is nothing here for the kids”. “Once a school is gone a community begins to collapse”.


It is the same tired record heard across the land for time immemorial. But what are the facts?

Bigger towns, bigger taxes and lower average incomes

As a rule, the larger the town or city, the higher the taxes. Why? Because the tax revenues that are generated by growth do not offset the infrastructure costs of extended services that must be provided—water, sewage, road maintenance, police and fire protection, waste disposal and so forth. Creating new jobs may indeed attract newcomers, but is so doing it does not lower the unemployment rate. More people require more jobs. Moreover, business growth is correlated with lower per capita incomes, and lower paying jobs-- not limited housing stock or serviceable land--- makes housing unaffordable. And undeveloped property pays more property taxes than it costs in services---not many cows or trees demand medical or educational services.

Self-importance blinds local boosters both to real values and real limits

Some people seem to equate quality of life with more amenities, and having left the urban rat race wish to reproduce it in the bucolic paradise that attracted them, while accusing those who oppose them of being selfish. But the real question is not whether continued growth is necessary or desirable, but whether it is possible. It is astounding that civic debates are conducted without the slightest comprehension or awareness of Peak Oil and its implications. With triple-digit oil and ten dollar a litre gasoline on the near horizon, we will have more to worry about than keeping ice rinks and schools open. Feeding the mouths that are already here may prove to be an insuperable challenge. Forget fuelling the local Zamboni, fuelling tractors will be our focus. Growth ,“smart” or dumb, will not be an option.

Tim Murray is an Environmentalist, writer and activist, and VP of Biodiversity First