Ashford, Medland or Something Else
Suggested Citation: Kerr, Andy. 2000. Commentary: Ashford, Medland or something else. Ashland Daily Tidings. May 4. p. 4.
By Andy Kerr
Another one million people are projected to live in Oregon in 2025. That is 4.3 million people—about one million more than today. That translates to two more Portlands, six more Eugene-Springfields, or thirteen more Medford-Ashlands. The majority of the projected increase is expected in the Willamette Valley, but one or two of those new Medford-Ashlands would be in the Rogue Valley.
In 1999, Jackson County grew at 1.5 percent annually (Oregon grew at 1 percent). If such continues, the population will double in 50 years. Inevitably, the time will come to rename the place Ashford or Medland. Is that what you want for your grandchildren? Perhaps excellent land use, transportation, air quality, and water quality planning can mitigate the worst effects of this growth (look how well it has done so far!), but any way you measure your quality of life—commute times, air quality, classroom size, water purity, potholes, taxes, salmon, natural habitat or elbow room—quality of life decreases as population increases. This specter doesn't have to be. A recent poll found that 65 percent of Oregonians think the population is just right; 29 percent think the state is already overcrowded; only 2 percent think that the state's population is too small. This two percent must be the developers and their chorus-bankers, suppliers of asphalt and house parts, media moguls who want increased circulation or viewers (so they can charge higher advertising rates), and most insanely, chamber of commerce- and booster-types drawn from the ranks of downtown small independent retailers who promote growth to the point that the megabox stores locate on edge (for now) of town and blow them away. A WalMart is in Ashland's future.
While boosters say the economy runs on development, and if growth stops the town dies (a cancer cell operates under the same philosophy)—some economists speculate that population increase accounts for no more than 10 percent of the economy. No one knows for sure, because society has been afraid to ask these questions. If the grow-or-die thesis is correct, then we have an economy that measures success by the rate we foul our own nest. The growth machine isn't necessary for economic health.
Western Europe and Japan have a comparable quality of life without population growth. Whatever amount the economy is dependent on population and consumption growth, let's identify and convert it to sustainable economic pursuits. The developers of forests and farmlands can be made into redevelopers of downtowns and neighborhoods where people come before cars.
While these population projections need not come true, they are based on the assumption that government will do everything it can do to not only accommodate, but encourage growth. That is exactly what government is doing now. The average new house in Oregon receives at least $33,000 in tax subdues that aren't paid back by the developer or owner. Rather than paying to foul their own nests as they are now, taxpayers could feather their collective nests by buying up all the undeveloped land scheduled for development and dedicate it to parks for people and nature preserves for fish and wildlife. It would be less expensive than subsidizing growth, not to mention maintaining and improving the current quality of life. Growth management is the equivalent to giving painkillers to a patient. While it is very important to relieve symptoms, it is as, or more, important to treat the cause of the disease. Only the end of growth—not slow growth—can maintain quality of life.
Why is growth happening if 94 percent of Oregonians don't want it? You get what you elect and pay for. Elected officials facilitate growth because they are not held accountable for growth at the polls. They dole out tax dollars to developers because developers make campaign contributions. Growth is neither desirable, nor inevitable. Tax dollars that subsidize growth can be redirected, or not collected. Elected officials that encourage growth can be ousted.
Ashland is on its way to a Palm Springs with studded tires. Instead, it could choose another path that we can see, that we know to be better, but will take some courage to take. The only thing more radical than not growing is growing.