Is it really grow or die?

The world has changed, and so must we. The idea of growth as something that must be induced through large public investments in infrastructure needs to go away. Not only is it not true, we've made ourselves broke proving it. We could't do it much longer if we wanted.

For at least two generations we have adopted the idea that a community needs to grow to be successful. How many times have we heard?...Grow or die....If you are not moving, you are standing still...If you build it, they will come.

In our current economic desperation (the term "desperation" kept in context by recent events in Haiti), we see a number of cities and towns growing increasingly frantic that they have only these two choices - grow or die. Since they are no longer "growing", they must be heading the other direction.

Perhaps we need to broaden the idea of "growth"?

If we were to drive across the country today, we could easily identify "growing" communities. Those would be the ones that:

  • Had bulldozers and earth moving equipment running full throttle, turning dirt and building new stuff.
  • Had major, visible infrastructure like newly-paved streets or a new water tower.
  • Had new private-sector investments, like strip malls, convenience food shops or big box retailers.

Let's ponder some other, not-so-visible types of growth that may be happening in a community. How about:

  • A new business launched in the study of a private home.
  • A house modified to have a rental apartment in the basement so the owner can lease that space and use the money to stay in their house.
  • A person moving into a basement rental unit, now able to afford to live and work locally.
  • A stay-at-home parent getting a college degree online.
  • An established business that develops a new product or service that they can sell virtually.

By committing our towns and neighborhoods to the maintenance of bloated and inefficient infrastructure systems, we have put a heavy financial burden on ourselves that threatens our future prosperity. In this time of economic transition, we need to step back and ponder the long-term ramifications of continuing to develop in this way. The only way we are going to grow Strong Towns is to trade the approach of growing bigger for one that has us grow better.


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