by Carolyn Chase
an Diego IS a special place. For this Earth Day issue, we are proud to offer four profiles of special communities working to save or restore special places in our county for future generations. I wish could have brought you 20 more - because those people are out there and they all the help and support we could give them. I think of them as the Lorax people (remember the story by our own Dr. Suess, "I Am the Lorax, I Speak for the Trees"). And more are needed, more than ever. We can and must do better to protect the natural places that remain. We must restore sites that have been polluted, and design systems that break an unhealthy relationship with growth.
Writer Edward Abbey observed, "Uncontrolled growth is the ideology of the cancer cell." Everyone can comprehend this quickly and realize that uncontrolled growth can be threatening to our survival.
But what does this imply? That all growth is bad? That we should have no growth? No. Everyone also senses that some kinds of growth are natural. All life grows. But what kind of growth? How do we grow? Where do we grow? How is it controlled? How can we plan for healthy growth?
Hunter Lovins and Michael J. Kinsley of the Rocky Mountain Institute put it this way:
"A sound economy requires development, that is, vigorous enterprise and a decent standard of living. But, it doesn't necessarily require growth, that is expanded community size. A community might be compared to a human being. Human growth after maturity becomes cancer. When a town continues to grow after maturity, its cancer is manifest in many ways - higher taxes, environmental degradation, spiteful controversy, and loss of a sense of community.
"But development is quite different from growth. After reaching physical maturity, humans continue to develop in many beneficial and interesting ways - learning new skills, discovering new interests and enterprises and gaining deeper wisdom. Similarly, a community can develop itself without expanding. It can reduce costs, create jobs and affordable housing, enhance cultural and educational opportunities and improve health and public safety.. Growth is an increase in size, while development is an increase in quality and diversity."
Clearly, we must have a new kind of growth different from the sprawling, wasteful and polluting patterns we've seen in the past. Preventing "Los Angelization" is still a real issue here. Some would say, it has never been more urgent. The fact that Peter Navarro (of Prevent Los Angelization Now) wasn't the right person to lead the effort doesn't mean that the problems were unimportant.
I attended a SANDAG (San Diego Association of Governments) regional planning workshop entitled "Population Growth, Land Use and Visions for 2050" last month (see article on page 14). They say that it is "likely" that 5 million people will be living in the County by 2050. Their version of the future is a clever variation on the lofty 'Build it and they will Come,' our local version is: 'They are Coming, You Have to Build It.' Neither one may be a healthy or sustainable way to relate to the future.
But as bureaucrats sensitive to the winds of short-term politics, it suits their purposes to choose a time comfortably far into the future when many of us will be gone. My first point in my small discussion group was: 'I'm worried about the next million.'
I know that most people don't have the time to delve into how our civic infrastructure operates and Lord knows, the government does not make it easy. But when you do take some time to look around and see where our society operates with respect to its land and water and waste... Well, my assessment is that the "evolutionary consciousness" of our culture is that of a toddler: prone to tantrums and still pooping in our pants.
We act as if someone else should be responsible for it all, and then whine when we're presented the bill. Why do we think the bills keep going up? It's not just wasteful bureaucratic expansion; we have to keep paying the bills to invest in systems to support more growth. It's like a Ponzi scheme, where the last unlucky sucker in line is stuck with a massive loss. And guess where the public of San Diego is stuck? We're still all picking up the tab for last round of growthmania - remember the Savings and Loan debacle? But I digress...
"The word of the Lorax seems perfectly clear,
UNLESS someone like you
cares a whole awful lot,
nothing is going to better.