From the Editor

Q quiz

by Carolyn Chase


1. How much more traffic congestion would you like in your community?

  1. There is already plenty of traffic, thanks.
  2. Just a little bit more, please.
  3. A whole lot more.

2. How much more air and water pollution would you prefer?

  1. We have too much already.
  2. Just a little more pollution, please.
  3. Give me toxic soup!

3. How much more farmland and open space do you want to be developed?

  1. It would be nice if we could save what we have left.
  2. I suppose we have to sacrifice this land in the name of "progress."
  3. I can't bear the sight of undeveloped land going to waste.

4. How much higher do you want your taxes to go?

  1. For what I'm getting, I think I'm paying enough already.
  2. I'm happy to pay more, even if I can't see any benefits.

5. How much more of your local natural resources (fresh water, electric power supply, forests, aggregates and minerals) do you want consumed?

  1. I'd like to conserve our natural resources and use them as efficiently as possible.
  2. We have to sacrifice our resources to create prosperity.
  3. We should sell all our natural resources for a quick buck.

6. Would you prefer that your city government continue to subsidize new development, or should they use the money to fund schools, extend library hours, offer day care at community centers, create cultural and recreational programs, and still have enough left over for a tax cut?

  1. I'll take the expanded services and the tax cut, please.
  2. Let's keep the development fire stoked with my tax dollars.

7. How much bigger do you want your community to be?

  1. It's already big enough.
  2. Let's just keep growing and see what happens!
  3. I love big cities but am too lazy to move to one.

Does this quiz seem absurd? Only because no one ever puts it quite this way before the public or the voters.

Who cares about growth? It impacts everyone and everything. But in our busy lives, who can deal with such a big phenomena?

In the new book Better NOT Bigger: How to Take Control of Urban Growth and Improve Your Community, author and city planner Eben Fodor designed the quiz above as if to illustrate the lack of candor and clarity in dealing with growth.

I called it the "Q" quiz for quality of life. But I could have just as easily called it the E quiz for the environment and the economy.

In her column "The Global Citizen," scientist Donella Meadows points out, "As long as there is a killing to be made, no tepid "smart-growth" measures are going to stop sprawl. We will go on having strips and malls and cookie-cutter subdivisions and traffic jams and rising taxes as long as someone makes money from them."

Fodor identifies the driving force behind the status quo as the "urban growth machine." "The benefits flow to a few while the costs (congestion, decreased quality of life, higher taxes) are spread among the many."

Meadows further observes: "We can't blame those who make the money. They're playing the game according to the rules, which reward whomever is clever enough to put any cost of doing business onto someone else. They get the profits, we build the roads. They hire the workers (paying as little as they can get away with, because the market requires them to cut costs), we sit in traffic jams and breathe the exhaust. They get jobs building the subdivision, we lose open lands, clean water, and wildlife. Then we subsidize them with our taxes. That, the tax subsidy, is not the market, it's local politics.

Collectively we set out pots of subsidized honey at which they dip. We can't expect them not to dip; we can only expect them to howl if the subsidy is taken away."

The answer? Every week, public decisions are made that matter - for change or against it. A sufficient number of people have to stand-up and participate in the political processes or we will never see change for the better. With the advent of computer email and websites, it has never been faster or easier to make connections and stay in touch.

April and this special "Earth Day Edition" of SDET is especially full of opportunities to make the connections between our actions now and a healthy, prosperous and sustainable future.

To find out more about how to help make every day an Earth Day, send an email to me at: