Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Shrinking Rich

A dying city is a wealthy city. Education boosts earnings but slows birth rates. In terms of population, why it is better to be a busttown than a boomtown:

For much of the nation’s history, a booming population symbolized economic vitality and growing influence in the world. But environmental groups have questioned how many more people the nation can support, fueling a push for “sustainable” communities that encourage conserving green space and relying less on autos.

“Population does not necessarily equal economic growth anymore,” says Bill Fulton, vice president for policies and programs at Smart Growth America, a coalition of environmentalists, planners and others working to slow sprawl.

He points to Las Vegas’ population boom, which created low-paying jobs that disappeared when the housing market collapsed. By contrast, he says, cities such as Pittsburgh lost population but household wealth went up.

Emphasis added. Population growth matters, but not as much as conventional wisdom contends. Last Friday, I wrote about how the most successful US cities are net migration and net income losers. That flies in the face of brain drain hysteria. If talent leaves, then something is wrong with the region. This line of thinking is backwards and reactionary.

Bill Fulton is also guilty of fetishizing population statistics. There is no such beast as "sustainable" growth. Regions have to manage a boom or a bust. Density can help address either problem. We need to move the discussion away from population data.

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