Friday, May 30, 2008

When Does Growth Become a Bad Thing?

I’m having a little problem with growth. It seems that I, like many men of my age, have put on a few extra pounds around the middle. Dieting, exercise, positive thinking… I’ve tried them all, but over the years, the inexorable crawl from one belt hole to the next has continued.

Now, this isn’t a major issue… yet. I’m a big guy, but I can support the weight. The big problem comes when I try to button my trousers. You see, while I keep growing, the inanimate fabric of my clothing steadfastly refuses to keep pace. Something about it being a finite resource, I suppose.

Frisco may soon experience some of the same “growing pains.” Over the past few years, we’ve raced through the municipal equivalent of pre-adolescent growth spurts. Any parent of a middle-schooler can appreciate the challenge of keeping up with that kind of growth. You buy a pair of sneakers this week, only to find yourself back at Payless before the tread is even worn thin. In Frisco, just about the time that you get to drive on the newly-opened lane of fresh pavement, you realize that the street needs to be widened.

These constraints we can deal with. It certainly hits the pocketbook to shell out for a new pair of shoes or a four-lane expansion, but with a little belt tightening, you can still make ends meet. And as long as your income continues to grow, you’re probably going to do okay.

That’s one reason that cities and their politicians talk about “Growth” as such a great boon. If you’re not growing, you’re falling behind, right?! But when does growth become a bad thing?

Well, much like my reticent pants, there are some resources that just won’t keep up with Frisco’s expansion. The most obvious is water. A little over a year ago, we were stuck in a drought that had reservoirs at an all-time low. Last year’s higher-than-normal rainfall alleviated some of that shortage, but the water levels are already beginning to drop again. The North Texas Municipal Water District has a plan to try and keep up with the demand for water in our region, but most of it depends on creating new reservoirs and even buying water from our neighbors to the north. The former projects are mired in bureaucratic red tape and environmental concerns, while the Okies haven’t decided if their water is even for sale.

But even if these new projects do come on line as expected, dams don’t create water. At some point, our growth will outpace the ability of the land to support us. Don’t believe me? Take a quick trip west to Chaco Canyon in northern New Mexico. What was once a thriving community that spanned hundreds of square miles quickly disappeared when they outgrew the land’s capacity to provide. Can’t happen in these modern times? Don’t count on it.

Beyond water, there are other resources that will limit the number of people who can live in North Texas. There’s plenty of air, but we’re already straining its ability to clear out pollutants before we have to breathe them. Local food supplies are ample for now. But more and more we find ourselves relying on items produced further and further from home. Watch the impact of the recent rise in fuel prices on the cost of food and you’ll get a sense of the danger this reliance on distant growers presents.

The bottom line is that it is unrealistic to expect that we can continue to grow at anywhere near our current rate indefinitely. At some point, our city, region, state and country will have to deal with the concept of zero growth. How we do that – and when – is the tricky part. But any way you slice it, we’re going to have to wean ourselves from the concept that we can grow our way out of our problems. That doesn’t work with my waistline, and it won’t work with our city.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Well written and to the point. Good Job Mr Biehl