Growth is often in the headlines and is a key metric of a successful economy. A growing economy is seen as successful economy.
But is it always good?
Growth requires significant planning and investment in infrastructure in order to maintain an appropriate level of service. Growing populations have a negative impact on their environment and over time encroach on their natural surrounds. The residents living in areas experiencing growth often deal with increasingly poor air quality, traffic congestion, rising costs of living (without necessarily the higher salary) and are often forced to live further away from the centres of employment. So why do we always seek growth, and what is in it for the individual? Is there a case for not seeking growth in all areas all the time?
Globally there are examples of cities growing to extreme sizes. Melbourne is approaching 100km wide and is expected to grow past 8 million by 2050, and yet it is currently not in the top 100 largest urban areas in the world. The largest urban area (a continuously built up land mass in a labour market regardless of administrative boundary) remains Tokyo, with over 38 million people. American research on city size and the happiness of individuals showed that happiness generally decreased as the size of the city increased (including density), particularly when the population reaches hundreds of thousands of people. However, the vortex of large cities continues to pull in more people for jobs and opportunities.
Obviously in New Zealand the numbers are not so large, however there are areas in "Godzone" that are experiencing significant levels of growth which challenge our industry. Growth is occurring at a rate that means that our ability to plan for greater capacity of infrastructure, public transport and behaviour change initiatives, are very much on the back foot. The challenges of providing built infrastructure are becoming progressively more difficult and expensive. Furthermore, the journey we are embarking on as an industry, to provide realistic alternatives to private transport and to encourage people to make smart travel choices, is a slow one.
Transport planners, other infrastructure professionals and the wider planning fraternity need to work closer together to provide a foundation for growth, in order to manage travel demand and infrastructure requirements without having to play ‘catch up’. There has been much talk over recent years about moving towards smarter, more compact and sustainable urban forms. However there is little evidence that this is happening in New Zealand, or at least occurring at a rate which does not worsen the strain on already over-burdened infrastructure.
As transport professionals, we continue to support the planning and design of facilities for alternative travel modes, champion effective travel demand management initiatives and engage with the wider industry to seek better transport outcomes. Despite these initiatives, are we ever going to keep pace with growth without a different attitude towards growth, in our increasingly congested urban areas?