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Better Not Bigger
How to Take Control of Urban Growth and
Improve Your Community

by Eben Fodor

Most cities are busily doing everything they can to grow as fast as possible. More people, more jobs, and more real estate, we are told, will make our cities better and enhance our quality of life. So isn't urban growth good for us?

Eben Fodor, a central voice in the urban growth debate, asserts that bigger is not necessarily better. Growth - especially rapid growth - can leave communities permanently scarred, deeply in debt, drowning in traffic, with unaffordable housing, a lost sense of community, and sacrificed environmental quality.

Better, Not Bigger is a ‘mantra’ for communities facing rapid development. Fodor explodes the fundamental myth that growth is always good for us and that more development will bring in more tax money, provide needed jobs, lower housing costs, and reduce property taxes. The real winners, contends Fodor, are real estate developers, mortgage bankers, realtors, and construction companies who utilize local government to divert public resources into growth-inducing investments. The benefits from exploiting the community commons accrue to a few, while the costs are distributed across the entire community. Fodor marshals evidence from almost every state in the US to prove his point.

In his book, Better Not Bigger, he provides insights, ideas, and tools to empower citizens to switch off their local "growth machine" by: debunking the pro-growth rhetoric; recognizing the true cost of growth; implementing the right growth controls for their community; and presenting a sustainable vision for their community that is an attractive alternative to endless growth. Written in a lively style with liberal use of illustrations, cartoons, tables and graphs, Better Not Bigger is highly accessible to ordinary citizens as well as professional planners.

Here are some sobering facts from Fodor’s book: Each new single-family house built requires $20,000 to $30,000 or more in public infrastructure to provide water, sewers, storm drainage, roads, fire stations, schools, libraries and other community facilities.

Urban development in North America has covered more land in the last 50 years than in all previous history. Urban sprawl in the U.S. is consuming 2.2 million acres of land per year or 256 acres of land every hour.* At this rate, new development is covering an area equivalent in size to the state of Indiana every 10 years. Almost half of the land being developed is farmland (cropland or pastureland). In the U.S., we have lost 95% of our old-growth forests, 55% of our wetlands, and 99% of our native prairies.

Between 1970 and 1990 the population of the U.S. increased at a rate of about 1% a year. But the number of housing units increased at twice that rate – about 2% a year. Between 1970 and 1990 the size of the average new home increased from 1,500 square feet to more than 2,000 square feet while the average number of persons in each house declined from 3.1 to 2.6.

Twenty-five percent or more of urban land area is devoted to auto travel. From 1969 to 1990, the number of vehicles increased 6 times faster than the U.S. population.

The average North American citizen consumes 5 times more resources than the average world citizen. On average, each North American requires 11 to 13 acres of ecologically productive land to supply his/her current consumption levels. By contrast the average resident of India has an “ecological footprint” of only 1 acre. If everyone on Earth had the same levels of consumption as North Americans, we would need 3 planets to satisfy our demands.

For more information contact Sarah Bidwell, Administrative Director Alternatives to Growth Oregon, 205 SE Grand Ave., Suite 203, Portland, OR 97214. Tel: (503) 222-0282;