It is not enough to whine about urban sprawl or challenge densification. People must acknowledge the root cause of urban growth and address it. They must call for the reduction of immigration.
A question was recently put. “When will Eben Fodor, (author of the brilliant handbook for anti-local growth activists, “Bigger Not Better”), step outside of his comfort zone to say that mass immigration must stop?”
Answer: Never. He is a nice guy who has done valuable work in exposing the myths and fallacies shopped by local growth-boosters. But when asked about the role of immigration in civic growth in Vancouver years ago, he wouldn't touch it. He is not alone. In fact, few of us will----for good reason.
Time and time again I meet tourists who are upset at urban growth. They come from Vancouver, or Ottawa, or Calgary or cities across North America. They tell me how much their city has changed. How it once was a nice place to live but no longer. How growth took off and swept over the region, making greenbelts vanish and affordable housing a memory. They complain that there are just too many people there now. But they will not connect the dots. They will not follow through and trace the source of this growth. Instead, they take refuge in familiar refrains. “We must save the farmland”. “We must make housing affordable to young people”. “We must rezone our neighbourhoods to accommodate smaller low cost housing”. “We must stop sprawl.”
Sounds good, but being against "sprawl" is a motherhood issue. Push that agenda and the greens will hijack it. Their cure? Land-use planning, aka “smart growth”. Let’s “grow up” rather than “out”. We need higher density, they say. But if population growth persists, then what? Stack’em even higher? And by the way, how have urban growth boundaries stood up against the pent-up pressures of population growth? Even Portland, Oregon---the poster child of smart growth, succumbed---as did Los Angeles.
Other inconvenient questions arise: Who controls local land-use decisions? Local governments? How much influence do developers have on them? I think the answer is obvious. And if you need a good case history read Professor Robert McDermid’s paper “Funding City Politics” about the role that developer money had in influencing the city councils of Metro Toronto. As McDermid concluded, even small campaign donations influence voting behaviour.
What people need to ‘get’ is that population growth drives half of sprawl, and that 75% of population growth is driven by immigration. Making that connection is vital to solving the problem.
That is why I would like to put together a book consisting of letters to the editor written by urbanites in Canada and Australia ( and the US if I can find them) complaining about the growth of their cities. LTEs are good for two reasons.
1. Due to word limits, letter writers pack a lot of punch into them. They tend to be potent and concise.
2. Readers are attracted to text that is broken down into ‘bitable bits’. A book consisting of a series of 350 word "letters" can be absorbed in short bursts.
The book is almost all written, because I have been saving an archive of LTEs from Canadians across the country. What I need to do is write an introduction---and a conclusion. That conclusion MUST draw the connection between urban growth and immigration. The problem is, there has never been a study done about Canadian cities equivalent to what Leon Kolankiewicz and Roy Beck wrote a decade ago when they examined 100 US cities and found that on average, half of sprawl was driven by population growth, not bad planning.
One thing Canadians need to learn is that while Canada has had the fastest population growth rate in the G8 for the last decade (.9% per annum), our real growth rate rivals or surpasses Australia's. Why? Because underneath that national population growth rate is the fact that we have experienced massive rural de-population. So in fact, urban Canada, where 80% of Canadians actually live, have had population growth rates double the national rate. Ottawa, for example, has been growing at 1.9% per year. Calgary's growth rate has also been insane. Ditto Vancouver and Edmonton. Toronto's Mayor –Rob Ford---was elected with the comment that Toronto was too big and that no more immigrants were needed (immigrants voted him in! ).
There is one problem. Most of the immigrants who have made these cities their homes happen to have dark skin. 90% of immigrants to Canada are drawn from the southern hemisphere, Central America and the Caribbean.
That fact means that we are prevented from raising the issue--unless we want to get quickly branded as racists and nativists. One can bet the farm that whenever growth is challenged, the growth lobby will play the race card. Mass immigration from “non-traditional” sources has changed the face of urban Canada, almost overnight. The number of Somalis in Ottawa and Edmonton is mind boggling. As are the Muslims in St. John's and the Chinese in Charlottetown (now 10%). What has happened to Perth in Western Australia has happened to Canada’s major cities. So if we try to attack the root cause of urban growth, we must go to war against that great god "Diversity". We may be bursting at the seams, our infrastructure may be crumbling, our housing costs prohibitive, but by God we are diverse! As if ‘diversity’ in an over-laden lifeboat is recompense for the very real prospect of capsizing in the Perfect Storm of peak oil, financial collapse and ecological meltdown.
The irony is, this quest for cultural diversity has come at the cost of biological diversity, as wildlife habitat and farmland on the perimeter of our growing cities have fallen under the bulldozer. Intellectual diversity is another casualty of cultural diversity as well. Ideas that would challenge the rationale for mass immigration threaten profits and cultural sensitivities, and therefore fall outside the range of socially acceptable discussion. The growth lobby has employed an effective strategy. Much as a fleeing bank robber would grab an innocent bystander as a shield against police gun fire, growthists use multiculturalism as a shield against criticism of Ponzi demography. We can’t attack growth without attacking diversity. We’re handcuffed by political correctness.
Nevertheless, we must brave ad hominen attacks and get the truth about local growth out . People must know why there cities are becoming more unliveable. They must come to understand that Al Bartlett was right, that we cannot stabilize local growth without stabilizing regional growth. And we can’t do that if national growth continues to rage on.
So here are the dominos of urban growth:
Mass immigration > Population Growth plus bad planning> higher density and sprawl
The Hobsonian choice of higher density or sprawl is a false antithesis. As we are discovering, with unrelenting population growth, we are getting both. We must address the root cause. We must reduce population growth. We must reduce immigration.
July 12, 2012