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Growth will cut us down

MY VIEW: Big dream is to keep it small
by: L.E. Baskow, As Metro plans for an influx of 1 million more people over the next 25 years and developments pop up to house new residents, some are asking whether such growth ultimately costs too much, specifically in terms of livability and natural resources.

Portland is losing its charm - day by day, week by week, month by month.

The popular mantra being chanted here and all over the world is that we must continually grow. Our whole reason for being, it seems, is to feed the engine of growth. Economies worldwide have been set up on the premise of continued growth of population, jobs and infrastructure.

But this premise has a flaw - and that is at some point this growth will outstrip our (and the Earth's) ability to cope with it. We're already reaching that point.

Instead of asking how we're going to cram another million people into the Portland metro area in the next 25 years, we should be asking, Why?

The rampant demand for growth (and the bottom line of greed that seems to go along with it) will destroy the very livability that people who move here seek.

The signs are already here - crowded streets and highways, increased air and water pollution, and the destruction and development of open spaces that are vital to maintaining the metro area's livability. Drinking water is the next big problem - where will this water come from? A polluted Willamette River?

When the serious energy crunch (the end of significant supplies of oil) hits sometime in the next 10 to 20 years, how will we then cope with the demands of an overcrowded area?

Certainly, you can't legislate against people moving here, but you can create a finite area within which development can take place. The urban growth boundaries created many years ago would do just that - until the decision was made to expand the boundaries when necessary.

Sprawl and overcrowding spread over a long time in the long run is no different than if it were allowed to occur in a shorter span of time - sprawl and overpopulation is the end result either way. Why should we continually pay more in taxes to subsidize the continued degradation of our livability?

As an example, suppose you had an island on which 5,000 people could live in comfort. Should the island be destroyed because 15,000 more people want to move there?

I know that many companies have been given tax breaks to relocate in the metro area. This is absurd. Companies should want to locate here because of what the area has to offer; they should be glad to pay their fair share of taxes. These companies want the benefits of being here without paying their way.

I know the argument - the companies will bring hundreds of jobs and increase the tax base. But what isn't discussed is that usually half the jobs will go to people living out of the area so the gain is not what it looks like on paper.

And as for increasing the tax base, the money brought in by new taxes (and taxpayers) will not cover the cost of new roads, bridges, infrastructure, schools, fire and police protection, and more, so in fact we end up paying more in taxes. When was the last time our taxes went down because more people are paying taxes?

What I'm saying in a nutshell is that if our model for the metro area mirrors that of the world in general - a philosophy of continued (and somewhat out-of-control) growth with livability and sustainability relegated to an afterthought - the charm that has characterized Portland for many years will disappear as fast as developers and contractors can plow it under.

Bruce Warner lives in Metzger in Washington County. He works in the graphics arts printing business.