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 Fodors 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;