If you publish a city’s daily newspaper, a prerequisite for the job is you must want the city’s population to grow, and therefore you must be in complete denial of overpopulation, ecological footprint, limits to growth, and overshoot. The reason is pretty obvious – an ever-increasing pool of potential subscribers, with the accompanying likelihood of higher ad revenue and a more valuable business to sell at some point.
The Wichita Eagle’s Rhonda Holman, writing on behalf of the Kansas newspaper’s editorial board, earns Wall of Shame status this week with:
Wichita is Growing, But Not Enough
Holman grabbed my attention (something you DON’T want to do) with her very first sentence:
“Cities that don’t grow risk dying, so it was reassuring to see census data showing Wichita continues to gain population.”
Many disciples of the church of growth everlasting would have stated this myth in even more certain terms, positive that a lack of growth means death. Still, Holman gives this myth oxygen. And she’s not even content to have slow growth (0.3 percent the most recent annual rate estimated by the U.S. census).
“But the rate of growth is lagging that of other cities in Kansas, especially in Johnson County. Wichita is going to need even more people, and the quality of life as well as the jobs to keep them coming and staying.”
The editorial celebrates Wichita’s eclipse of Cleveland and New Orleans in population size, and that brings up another pet peeve for me: cities using population growth as a metric for success, and actually competing with other cities to be the biggest or the fastest growing.
“The new estimates make Wichita’s 2 percent population growth since 2010 look puny compared with other Kansas communities: Lenexa, 8.9 percent; Manhattan, 7.7 percent; Overland Park, 7.6 percent; Lawrence, 7.2 percent; Olathe, 6.7 percent; Shawnee, 4.6 percent; and even Kansas City, Kan., 3.8 percent.”
This gets my goat because population growth is not even remotely a good proxy for true success or progress. It is, by definition, unsustainable. Also, the average citizen rarely enjoys any benefits, but always foots the bill for the costs of growth (see the recent Growth and Taxes: Costs for Governments and Property Owners Add Up as Bozeman Expands in the Bozeman Daily Chronicle).
It’s also a textbook example of the tragedy of the commons. We know the world has an unsustainable population, using resources faster than the Earth can replenish them (Living Planet Report). Imagine all the cities of the world having the kind of success their daily newspapers implore them to pursue. The outcome would be disastrous.
Newspapers across the U.S. get away with this self-serving growth mongering, under the guise of “economic development.” Attracting companies to locate in your city “creates jobs.” Debunking that myth will have to be a subject for another day. Interestingly, one of the commenters online under this editorial noted that the Wichita Eagle moved its printing business to another community, thus killing jobs in Wichita.
The simple fact is that a healthy city in the 21st century is one that has a stable or slowly declining population (that IS our future, we may as well get on with it). Instead of trying to prop up an archaic, growth-based and suicidal economic development strategy, every city should be figuring out how to have a healthy economy that meets the needs of its current citizens and their children. Healthy and growing are NOT synonyms.
I mentioned we should imagine a world in which all cities are getting the population growth they seek. Actually, we don’t need to imagine. While not all cities are growing their population, enough are, that this century we are witnessing the slow collapse of human civilization. It’s just slow enough that journalists like Rhonda Holman don’t recognize it.
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