..and when the sun rises again tomorrow, we'll see how far we've come ...

..and when the sun rises again tomorrow, we'll see how far we've come ...

... just to remind myself why I'm doing this ...

Depending on our personalities, the world can be a crowded place or a very lonely one. For those who seek comfort in numbers, there is no shortage of hangers on, but for those who avoid that circus, keeping thier own counsel can leave them feeling quite alone and disengaged from the mad place we call home. Life is a trade off and most of us choose how we live it.

For me, I'd rather work things out as best I can, using my own thoughts and feelings to sort things out. Following the crowd has never been a temptation to me, but that has its price, one that I'm totally comfortable with every day I get to stand up and be the person I aspire to be. When I sometimes lose track of who that is, I come here to remember, to reconnect and to resume my quest.

These posts are a reflection of some of what matters to me and it's a privilege to have the opportunity to collect these thoughts as they form in my head, as they prepare the way for my life, as it evolves from one day to the next. They re-inspire me when things seem to be floating about, with no particular aim or purpose, and it does happen from time to time.

So, today I had these thoughts that I think are worth writing down for the future me to look back on when I need to ...

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Growth... the faster way to die

Today, after thinking about many things connected, and not, I asked myself if what I think about growth is real, smart or even supportable, or if it's just an idea that's rolling around up there and not making much sense. Well, let's try to find out.

The whole impetus for the question is my belief that so many communities continue to struggle with their problems that seem to only get more difficult, because they don't know when they've got it just right. Many forces are at play as a community wrestles with infrastructure issues, finances, unpredictable economic shifts, business and economic volatilities, population changes and demands, political infighting and a particularly difficult one - development pressures. There's even more but this gives us the tone of what affects the community day in and day out. The default, by far, is to believe and accept without reservation, that growth is the Holy Grail of municipal health. Without growth, you begin to die. Well I think that's way too monolithic thinking. Sure, growth is part of the living process and probably is next to impossible to arrest fully but is it an essential ingredient or is it an inevitable byproduct? I think growth takes us closer to death than not growing. Growth becomes a maturing process and that maturation can only lead to decline and death. The slower the growth, the slower the maturation and the slower the decline.

Now, that's not to say that we can simply do nothing to facilitate growth. On the contrary, we need to maintain what's already here and "renew" on a regular basis, as well as when needed beyond that. Simple analogy - an apple tree starts by planting a single shoot. It grows, and eventually matures to a point when it begins to develop blossoms and bear fruit. Of course, it wants to keep growing, but good practice, if you want it to bear good fruit for some time, is to prune, to cut back the unnecessary growth, the DNA driven growth, the growth that uses valuable resources that are otherwise directed to fruit production. Growth makes a bigger tree, yes, but does it provide more or better fruit? Not so according to the apple-wise. So we have the restriction of natural growth and as a result we maintain an arguably healthier tree and produce. We also prepare for the time when we have to "renew" the original tree because it will eventually need too many of the resources to simply continue to live and produce its fruit. That replacement is also a form of renewal and can never be achieved by the growth that was curtailed throughout its lifetime. In fact, its lifetime was likely extended by curtailing that instinctive need to simply grow. Had that growth been allowed to remain or continue, it would have eventually created a situation where the available resources would have been insufficient to even maintain a healthy existence plus ever more growth. So, my point is, growth, while it may be the natural thing to do, may not and likely is not, the best solution for a healthy existence.

A tree can't know about the availability of resources at any given time or in the future, so it simply acts on what is at hand. That means it grows when it can and slows down when things are not favourable. That means an external guidance system is essential to a healthy future. That guidance can determine the optimum conditions for growth and for existence, given the vagaries of its environment. It can also determine the optimum size to which it should grow in that environment. Absence of such guidance assures a return to the simple and natural instinct to simply grow when it can, just in case anything interferes down the road and threatens its existence. So, to guide growth requires assessment of environment and future possibilities. It also means flexibility is an important factor to be included.

I think growth has to be about optimum, instead of maximum. While there may be potential for growth, the value of that growth may be far too little to consider allowing it to proceed. Some growth is needed to replace damage or decay through a variety of reasons and that's part of the assessment process that should be always at the forefront. That's good MANAGEMENT. Management is the key to successful existence, and well-controlled and guided growth. The absence of good management simply allows the uncontrolled forces of nature, the power of DNA, to take over and chaos eventually takes over and tries to overcome all obstacles, using limited resources that would otherwise support a healthy existence.

All of this is a metaphorical way of explaining my perception of growth of a municipality and the community it sustains or attempts to sustain. A municipality is likely far more complex than an apple tree but in the final analysis, is it? A municipality can have its roots in one sole inhabitant at the beginning of its life, and it grows as the necessary resources come available and continue to be so. It can change depending on its environment and its output. The parallel can go on in every way and the results are equally comparable in so many ways. Of course, we can immerse our thinking in the minutae of municipal management and loose sight of the whole analogy but from outside, it remains quite clear and quite appropriate.

One of the most problematic challenges for any organism is disease, that goes for trees and it goes for municipalities. The medicine cabinet, though, is quite different, but there are similarities upon which we should draw to effect the necessary cures. Municipal "diseases" come in many forms and of varying strengths, and cures can be elusive. That's one good reason to restrict the growth that leads to such unmanageable diseases right from the start, instead of letting things grow far enough to require impractical or almost impossible intervention. Restricting growth known to cause such conditions may seem unconventional but given the option, could be the smartest one to choose.

In my way of thinking on this, I see the development industry as the natural, the DNA force behind unrestricted growth. That doesn't make it evil; it just makes it something that needs to be channeled properly, and municipalities have the tools to do that. They don't necessarily use those tools to the level they should in most cases, |I'd speculate, because the "rewards" for restraining themselves appear too lucrative at the time, to decline. The fact that there are always already so many other pressures at play means that any reward that helps to deal with them at the moment are attractive enough to suspend good judgement in dealing with the rewards being offered and their hidden costs that manifest later on. Politicians being the creature they are, today's brush fire is far more pressing than the forest fire it MAY ignite later. The development industry knows this and uses it to its fullest advantage. That's its own DNA, growth = profit = more growth = yet more profit. No amount of medicine will cure that condition, and because its an eventual crippler, it should be looked upon as a disease. A disease without a manageable cure. It's a disease that can only be checked through prevention, not through treatment. It resists treatment like a bacterial infection that develops immunity as it evolves. And it takes an enormous amount of restraint and willpower to keep it in check, but it can be done. It has to be done if a municipality hopes to contain the spread of all its other problems beyond its ability to cope with on its own. As proof, just look at every city in this country, and listen to their pleas for help from bigger government, which ironically has the same weakness choking it into unconsciousness.

The development industry is an essential part of municipal "RENEWAL". It doesn't have to be dependent on growth alone. Renewal can be a far better mainstay of development but it does require more work, more effort, more consciousness, more foresight and more goodwill than greenfield  razing and virgin conquests. Municipalities can redirect developer energies into renewal by making it more lucrative than new development. The fact is, they already have the tools to do just that. They just avoid using them because they're afraid the developers will simply take their money and seek even greener pastures and purer conquests. That has to change, and it will take politicians with a strong sense of right, a longer view and the guts to act responsibly, regardless of the political cost to themselves. We have seen them, just not that often and not long enough to establish a beach-head from which more such visionaries can set the trail for those following to navigate the way to successful communities that are truly sustainable and great inspiration to others as examples of successful management and municipalities that are the most attractive places to live fulfilling lives in every way.

All it really takes is a willingness to see the picture, the desire to make it happen and the guts to see it through. I'm convinced this is more than just a thought rolling around in my head, It's a compelling idea for the well-being of municipalities as their challenges outpace their ability to cope with them.

Hello....anybody out there...hello....

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