Let's work together to make Oregon BETTER NOT BIGGER
We can't arbitrarily put an end to all growth but we can stop subsidizing excessive, superfluous growth with public resources. Exclusion is not the object, newcomers will still be welcome with typical Oregon warmth and friendliness.
Oregon is at a crossroads. Our pro-growth activity has been all too successful and we are beginning to have to live with the undesired consequences. It's never too late to turn our goals around and begin to strive for livability and beauty instead of growth and power, and the health of our environment in place of cashing out our spectacular natural resources for immediate profit.
Attitude is the key to growth in Oregon. The Portland Metro region is expected to add 200,000 plus jobs in the next two decades. Actually it's referred to as a 'target'. What if we target minimum growth instead? When state and local expenditures are combined we are currently spending hundreds of millions of dollars annually subsidizing industrial growth.
Our governor makes overseas promotional trips to increase growth. What if, in place of our current hucksterism, (what Governor Tom McCall referred to as mindless boosterism,) we tell the world that, while everybody is still welcome, we are happy just the way we are, that we don't need any more people and don't believe our state will be improved by getting bigger.
Nothing is going to stop people from coming to Oregon, nothing can be done to stanch the flow of potential migrants who want to come here. We are an empty, not to mention highly desirable, place in a crowded world. Nonetheless, there is a wide gulf between groveling before and throwing money at corporations, and welcoming individual newcomers with dignity and without fanfare.
Obviously we will grow more if we want to grow than if we don't. Governor Tom McCall's invitation to 'visit but don't stay' didn't stop people from migrating to Oregon. That was actually a time of rapid growth, but it did serve to reduce in absolute numbers and change the character of those who came. People who weren't in the know, whose motivation was exclusively economic or exploitative, stayed away.
Activists and environmentalists, people seeking something new, more enlightened, were strongly attracted to Tom McCall's message. They saw a virtually unique attitude towards growth that wasn't wholly bought into today's overarching ‘grow or die’ mania - growth as the end all and be all of civic life.
My personal attitude about and understanding of growth has been strongly colored by my decade's domicile in America's two largest cities, New York and Los Angeles. Many times it takes the experience of extremes to fully grasp and understand the commonplace. The faults or inadequacies of a plan, concept, program or life-setting are held in higher relief when carried closer to their natural limits.
The one most important lesson gleaned from my time in America’s two largest and least people-friendly megalopolises is that no matter how big a place is, no matter how difficult, expensive, unlivable or entropic a place becomes as a result of overbearing size, the powers that be invariably want to make it bigger.
A mid-sized city that strives to grow culturally rather than just economically can provide an enriching experience, if not necessarily complete in every detail. Moreover, an argument can be made for the benefit of a small city getting bigger; arts, culture, opportunity, diversity all increase as a city grows.
But after a certain point, in my opinion about one million, it's all downhill and subsequent urban growth degrades livability, greenery, friendliness, accessibility and comfort. Everything costs more, trips take longer; tension, stress and angst increase exponentially.
Now if the people of Portland actually wanted their city to emulate megacity life that would be another thing. If the people, not the leadership but the people of Oregon actually thought it was a good idea to increase population then our leaders could be applauded for the great job they are doing. I believe a great majority of Oregonians agree with me that growth is only good if it actually improves our life in ways that count more than money; that increased population in and of itself without meaningful mitigating factors is not beneficial to our state.
On the other hand my personal experience of living and traveling in Asia also indicates that enlightenment and happiness are entirely possible, though of course no where near as easy, in very crowded countries. Population growth is not the worst thing that could happen to Oregon, especially if we are able to devise healthier ways of growing and our cultural diversity is enhanced. We could live with it, (though undoubtedly many of us would start looking elsewhere for our homes), and the people who come would consider it a lifestyle improvement.
Regardless, in the final tabulation there is nothing per se that we can gain by having more people. We are all working - unemployment figures are low - so why do we need more jobs? Our great success at attracting jobs has caused a jump in property values, filled the landscape on our fringes with tacky new developments, infilled our wonderful single family neighborhoods with cheap ugly snout houses, and caused a dramatic increase in traffic congestion. Except for bankers, developers, businesspeople and landowners who want to sell, it is a lose-lose proposition.
If more people
come the jobs will follow. If times are bad and we have to use public money
to subsidize jobs, that is a different story and we can respond as the
situation requires. Today we are fools for throwing money at corporations
who often import a large proportion of their workers from outside Oregon.
Let other states spend the money and pay the social price for excessive,
unnecessary and unwanted growth. Whatever we might gain in individual material
wealth we will lose in livability and in the degradation of the environment
we all share.
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