Thursday, March 1, 2012

Growth Projections

Texas looks like Mars in this video about the 2011 drought:


This leads to something I've been pondering a bit lately, particularly as it regards to contemporary planning practices. As you might know, I tend (or at least try) to criticize my own tribe as much as the much easier targets such as finance, housing, and transportation markets, as well as the nasty, poisonous cocktail when those things are mixed improperly. Like cooking a cuttlefish improperly.

I can't seem to find the date on this posting from the US census bureau, but by all appearances it seems they're pretty explicit about a slowing and aging of the US population. Of course, the include the typical projection graphic:
Graph: Estimates and Projections of Resident Population: 1950 to 2050
Trend line...stays the same from here to eternity! Which if you have any brain whatsoever you know infinite growth is an impossibility, let alone desirable. Even further complicated by the various finite systems and resources we've fueled past growth on.

What I found interesting in the Census Bureau's statement is that they seem pretty confident that while the population is likely to get larger, growth rates will most likely slow and between 2030 and 2050 could even wane a bit if not stagnate. Of course, these projections of growth and decline are set within today's context. We have no idea what unforeseen effects could manifest between now and 2030 or 2050, particularly climate variations leading to potentially currently habitable places becoming wholly uninhabitable.

Which brings me to many modern planning efforts, both transportation planning and land use planning, which seem to build upon a foundation of "growth." This isn't entirely insane considering that is our current paradigm of development. We don't care much how or why. Just grow, baby. And Americans listen. We grow in height to physical maturity. Then we grow in girth from there on with very little qualitative improvement. Dumb and fat wins the race with these rules.

More specifically, many various local planning efforts like to point to a doubling of the DFW population in the next few decades. Let's say by 2050 to match with the Census Bureau's projections as well as the Vision North Texas plan, which to my mind, is the epitome of paper planning. Books, visions, and participatory public charades masquerading as true involvement, its legacy. Long may it rest in peace.

DFW comprises 1.6% of the US population currently, yet the projections suggesting a double to 10 million by 2050 mean DFW would capture 5% of that. Is that believable? Perhaps even moreso given the context of a potentially uninhabitable state? Scary. But we don't know for sure either way. So why base transportation and land use decisions on a theoretical 10 million people?

Instead, why don't we focus on growth, not quantitative and outward, but instead qualitative. Growth in the quality of life of current residents and their ability to meet their wants and needs without sacrificing those of others present or future.

Of course, if we did that everybody would want to come live here and we may hit 10 million after all. But not because of these projections, but by creating a desirable place to live.