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CONNECTIONS: Perils of population growth

By Tuesday, Jul 16, 2019 Life In the Berkshires 34

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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