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CONNECTIONS: Perils of population growth

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By Tuesday, Jul 16, 2019 Life In the Berkshires 17

About Connections: Love it or hate it, history is a map. Those who hate history think it irrelevant; many who love history think it escapism. In truth, history is the clearest road map to how we got here: America in the 21st century

Vermont has a recruitment program to pay those who can telecommute and live wherever high-speed Internet is available to move to Vermont. The state is paying up to $10,000 over two years. Some—a reported 87 people—have accepted the enticement and moved to Vermont.

Vermont wants younger people who are employed and have families. The goal is to repopulate the schools and bolster the tax rolls. Many in Berkshire County want the same thing.

In the Commonwealth, Senate Bill 208 would establish a similar program called “the Western Massachusetts remote worker relocation incentive program.” This plan to relocate the American population and move them from overcrowded urban areas to our area is supported by many. They say everyone benefits. We want more population, and those who move here want to live where there is less crime, less traffic and less pollution.

Here’s the thing: More crime, traffic and pollution are caused by more people. Move people from there to here and the problems come with them. It is not about bad people; it is about the number of people. The culprit is population. Therefore, the two goals are mutually exclusive.

According to the Population Media Center: “Both domestic and global population growth is adding to conflicts over water, energy, food, open space and wilderness, transportation infrastructure, school rooms, and numerous other problems…large family size is a major cause of poverty and poor health.”

In an area where there is a burst of population growth, “the biggest threats are deforestation and loss of biodiversity.”

In turn, loss of forest contributes directly to climate change.

Municipal planners point out that the needs of different age groups differ widely. Older folks may need assisted-living housing; families need schools. If an aging population, as in Berkshire, seeks to attract a younger population, the community needs both.

Progress and preservation, land use and conservation are simultaneously cross­-supportive and at odds. If we accept that change is inevitable and, at the same time, acknowledge that preservation and conservation are parts of sound planning, we have not arrived at a solution, we have only defined the problem.

The problems are oxymoronic. For example, those things that maximize the tax base can destroy the things we wished to purchase with the gain. The things that attract young telecommuting families are changed by their coming, and in an effort to accommodate them, we create the things they travelled here to escape.

Can you oppose fast food chains, oppose destruction of historic buildings to make way for parking, support open spaces, and oppose deforestation and still create sufficient housing? Can you widen the road for the increased traffic and still oppose pollution and the destruction of trees?

We have to think about what we are hoping for and what the consequences are if our wish is granted. If Berkshire County encourages population growth, it must prepare for population growth. Consider the width of our roads, the capacity of our sewers, waste disposal systems, our water systems, and the size of our police and fire departments. Consider what would be necessary to service a mushrooming population. There is no absolute right answer, no single road ahead. No point is asserting without doubt any one course.

These are the complexities and internal contradictions inherent in population growth. It calls for sober contemplation. We might find we are very lucky to be small and out of the way.

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17 Comments   Add Comment

  1. concerned says:

    Poverty is created by Greed,not by large families,We are over taxed and underpaid,and not looked as equals,Women are Paid less then Male counter parts. Poor health? Even The Elderly have it rough, Because of high Med./Dental,Costs. And Then there is the Fact Find a Full time Job,with Benefits….Employers hire Pt.Time as they Don’t want to pay Benefits, Parents having to work 2 and 3 jobs to make ends Meet….Tariffs that are not suppose to affect us … Let me tell you they do….Oh and Have a nice day!

    1. Jep says:

      And greed is born out of the competition created when you have nearly 8 billion people all vying for the planet’s limited, finite resources. Try to see the bigger picture.

  2. Jim Hall says:

    Building high speed fiber communication networks will not trigger a major population shift to the countryside but it may slow the ongoing shift away from rural communities. It may allow some people to telecommute and settle here instead of shuttling back and forth between urban and rural homes. Population centers are created primarily by the availability of jobs, not because the roads are good and the internet is fast. Those infrastructure assets are secondary. Rural high speed internet is an information highway that opens up the possibility for many good things. It is not a solution. It is just one piece of a puzzle to keep small towns from shriveling up.

    1. Barbara says:

      While population growth does create the very problems people come to avoid, Owens ignores the fact that several areas of the Berkshires have experienced a significant population decline. Schools are underfunded and employers can’t fill critical positions. Medical care is unavailable to an aging population that needs it most. A relocation program should receive careful consideration.

      1. Jep says:

        It seems it would be counterproductive to breed more babies just to fill government coffers, have full classrooms and caregivers for the elderly

  3. Richard Allen says:

    This essay exudes pure selfishness.

    1. Susan Fisher says:

      It certainly does!

    2. Jep says:

      What could possibly be more selfish than breeding vanity projects?

  4. Ken Werner says:

    Population of Berkshire County 1970: 149,402
    Population of Berkshire County 2019: 126,348
    I think what people are trying to do here is to reverse the decline, not create another urban center. If the Berkshires were 100 times as successful as Vermont, and added 8,700 people, we still wouldn’t be back to 1970 population levels. It seem unlikely this would require widening roads, more fast food chains, or the others in the parade of horribles Ms. Owens mentions above.

    1. Tim Newman says:

      Thanks Ken. The population statistics you cite make the point clearly that it would take an implausible increase in our population before the blight Ms Owens predicts would come to pass. Her argument seems, well, terminally flawed.

      1. Jep says:

        Implausible? Our population has doubled in the past 40 years.

  5. Tim Newman says:

    In her own words …

    “Here’s the thing: More crime, traffic and pollution are caused by more people. ”

    “Move people from there to here and the problems come with them. It is not about bad people; it is about the number of people.”

    “Progress and preservation, land use and conservation are simultaneously cross­-supportive and at odds.”

    “The things that attract young telecommuting families are changed by their coming, and in an effort to accommodate them, we create the things they travelled here to escape.”

    “We might find we are very lucky to be small and out of the way.”

    According to Ms Owens, we should be thankful that our schools are struggling with shrinking enrollment.
    And that our young people have to leave to find work. Or work 2 or 3 jobs to make ends meet.
    I could go on but I think most of the readers of this publication can recite the challenges.

    My takeaway from Ms Owens essay is clear: “newcomers, you are not welcome.” I think this is a terrible message.

    1. Jep says:

      Reading comprehension is fundamental Tim. The author didn’t say anything of the sort. She simply pointed out that which many of us child-free folks have been saying for decades. If you think it’s bad now needing to work 2-3 jobs to make ends meet, what do you think is going to happen to those jobs when AI takes over? Where do you suggest millions more of the babies you want to see born will work? What sort of planet will they be inheriting? A dirty, polluted, sick environment from the air, to the water, to the food. Try looking beyond the border of your boudoir and use your brain to think critically, instead of your loins to breed more unnecessary human parasites.

      1. John Hart says:

        What happened to the comment I left. Cyberspace gone forever?

      2. John — Try posting your comment again… it didn’t go through.

    2. Robert H. Jones, Jr. says:

      I’m not certain we read the same article. The conversation re: Population, economic growth, cultural impact, jobs (or the lack thereof) has been going on for as long as I remember. There are concerns about restoring train service to the Berkshires… Will it be a benefit us, will it have a negative impact given easier access to the area? These are conversations that take place every day between concerned citizens, and a myriad of opinions abound. Given that they do exist, I thank Carole for energizing those conversations. Bringing attention to the fact that change can bring about unwanted results seems to me to be a reasonable assessment. To personally demonize the writer seems to me to be more than a little off base. And a distraction.

  6. Joseph Method says:

    As others have mentioned, in the Berkshires it’s not about population, at least not until we get back to 1970s levels. It’s about density and car use. We have fewer people but we use more space than we used to, because everybody has to live in a single family home with a few acres and people site businesses in places that can only be reached by cars, requiring large parking lots. One thing that GB has going for it is that it has capped off some development along Route 7 by signing agreements with farmers to not develop their land. If you want to preserve the land you need more regulations against sprawl at the same time that you encourage more multifamily housing.

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