A Challenge to Tucson’s Growth

by Bob Cook
August 3, 2006
Many Tucsonans have forgotten that Pima County experienced zero population growth in 1990. The growth machine stopped as out-migration equaled in-migration due to negative economic factors. We are kidding ourselves if we base all of our “so-called sustainability” plans on the assumption of continued 2% annual growth and not face up to emerging economic trends.

A growing number of serious analysts are forecasting irreversible energy scarcity starting in as few as five years as conventional world oil and natural gas production peaks and then declines. To underscore the gravity of this situation, there are no economic substitutes to mitigate these shortages within the next decade and a half. Under these conditions, Tucson’s population-growth driven economy is certain to contract. Sustaining the existing city will require all of our attention and effort to succeed. While other cities across the country are engaging in Peak Oil planning, we in Tucson haven’t even begun to talk about it.

The model for sustainable planned communities is Tucson Solar Village, later renamed Civano, which many of us worked on 15 years ago. While Civano did not decrease single passenger vehicle trips and miles traveled (which we originally intended) it did include higher performance standards including energy used in buildings and water. These standards are enforced in the City’s permitting process. Any Planned Community District Ordinance should incorporate similar enforceable high performance standards for resource use. Otherwise, we will be perpetuating an unsustainable development pattern that will only add to economic liabilities in the not-so-distant future.

In addition to resource consumption, each house that is built in this city generates a stream of demands for public infrastructure and services lasting many decades and it begins even before the day people first move into the house. We have a horrible record of recovering the public costs of growth — and for proof, just look at all the areas where we are unable to fund standard levels of infrastructure and services.

Why has the City of Tucson still not undertaken the total cost of growth analysis to guide planning and cost recovery as required in the voter-approved General Plan Amendments of 2001?

How are we ever going to cope with public deficiencies in our existing city if the growth machine stops in five years or even less?

While you mull over these questions, I would like to distribute for your consideration the City of Portland’s Peak Oil Resolution adopted this year. Thank you for listening.

Prepared Statement for City of Tucson City Council’s
Environment, Planning, & Resource Management Sub-Committee

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