Growth is the recurring issue for the Northland. Some people want more, the faster the better. Others would prefer none. Commercial and residential growth remained steady in Platte County through economic ups and downs. It’s not if we’ll have growth; the questions are how much, how fast and what kind.
So a headline caught my eye last week on the Opinion page of The Kansas City Star. “SORRY POPULATION FORECAST ADDS TO KC REGION’S WOES.” The forecast for the KC metro area’s growth rate had been slashed in a recent report the Mid-America Regional Council (MARC) issued. The editorial writer lamented that this is foreboding to the area’s economy.
I profoundly respect the writer, and as well I consider MARC an excellent source of information and data, but there’s an assumption behind growth and economics ingrained in American thought that bothers me. Growth alone cannot be the measure of prosperity. We must shift the emphasis to sustainability — even if that means everyone sets their sights lower regarding conspicuous consumption.
Human population growth began when man perfected fire and added bows and arrows to his weaponry.
Population growth served a purpose in spreading mankind throughout the Earth, but now, we know natural resources we depend on for healthy economies are finite. We know certain natural systems that keep the Earth a healthy place to live, such as oceans, are breaking down due to mankind’s ever growing destruction of water, air and soil resources.
Satellites and land-based researchers gather mountains of data warning us about problems. Scientists try to translate the issues to the general public, but the public is more worried about Sunday’s football game than they are about issues such as epic droughts and water shortages. Economists warn that natural resource shortages affect livelihoods across nations.
But we pay little heed.
People are working on these issues on a grassroots level. Consumers are sometimes careful about where their food and goods originate. We have in Platte County small farmers producing food in sustainable ways. There are companies looking to invent ways to keep the planet green. But all these added up are small in size compared to the big economy that roars on based on growth, any kind of growth.
No army of economists, government agencies and concerned citizens combined can wave a giant magic wand and instantly change the system. Turn a corner too sharp, and the vehicle turns over and wrecks, as do economies.
But community leaders need to make sustainable part of the discussion when talking about population, jobs and infrastructure.
Sustainable and growth need not be inseparable. Large parts of Kansas City and suburbs could be redeveloped to add people and jobs without taking land away from agriculture production. Land planners have been talking for a few decades about building subdivisions smarter to fit more people comfortably on less acreage but still have chunks of green space for recreation and scenery. I’d argue that Zona Rosa was built in a good place and in a good way to not overly affect a broad landscape. Green roofs, bioswales, shade trees, solar design are all options that help.
And of course, excellent schools, parks and trails are part of what keeps a neighborhood used and reused by generations.
I’ve been driving a lot more in towns such as Platte City. I’m struck by how steadily the sidewalks are used. People are walking places. That’s sustainable use.
I’m not saying all the answers are there for how sustainable growth can provide jobs without undue consumption of land and resources, but the topic at least needs to be part of the conversation when forecasting growth and planning for development.
Bill Graham, who lives in the Platte City area with his family, may be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.