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Growth is not a noble cause

My View • Metro candidates wrong to promote overdevelopment

In the City Club debate for Metro Council president on April 9, none of the three candidates directly addressed or were asked about the most pressing need in the Portland area: stopping and reversing local population and consumption growth.

Instead, in complete opposition to Metro's charter, each touted himself as the best candidate for creating more growth. And the City Club attendees appeared to wholeheartedly embrace the collective misconception that increasing growth is a necessary and noble cause (Metro candidates putting jobs first, April 15).

On one hand, the candidates all agreed that decreasing our per-person consumption is essential, and they all suggested measures to achieve this, including ones that would require local residents to make major changes in their lifestyles and habits. But on the other hand, while they each align themselves with the myth that growth is something that happens beyond human control, they each proudly described how they would increase the flow of products transported into and out of the region and how they would bring more residents here.

This will bring not only markedly more consumption of hard material resources, but also more buildings, cars, roads and infrastructure onto both already overdeveloped and never-developed lands alike. Of course, all this also will increase our waste streams, our destruction of local and non-local habitats and our global-warming gases. As well, it will continue to worsen our economy, not improve it.

To rephrase an ancient adage, 'Relocalize, relocalize, relocalize.' If attracting more businesses and jobs would improve our economy, the past three decades of using tens of billions of public dollars to do this would have had us Portlanders living among streets of gold and rivers of milk and honey.

Instead, the gap between the haves and have-nots has dramatically widened, and quality of life has fallen sharply, along with real wages. And poverty, homelessness, unemployment, incarcerations and the costs of housing and living have all skyrocketed, with the current recession threatening to be followed by another.

Economic growth has caused all these problems, not stood helplessly by. Competing in the global markets as a region primarily helps the already-wealthy, most of whom don't live in the region. The construction of new buildings on open land is a totally unsustainable industry on every level, and it needs urgently to be replaced. Almost all other kinds of industry, commerce and financing, that in and of itself is not destructive, can and should be taken over by local owners and employees and traded locally, not across continents.

This is true economic development, as it is the only path toward us decreasing our collective footprint and retaining and multiplying wealth amongst us all. Yet it stands in stark contrast to what all three Metro candidates are advocating.

A couple of resources for learning more about relocalizing and improving regional economies are the Post Carbon Institute (http://www.postcarbon.org), and Institute for Local Self-Reliance (http://ilsr.org).

M. Scott Jones is a Portland business owner and a co-founder of Alternatives to Growth Oregon, a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization that was active from the mid-1990s through 2002.