What Are We Planning For?
A Sustainable Tucson Issues Paper March 2012
Since Imagine Greater Tucson’s initiating phase began more than three years ago, Sustainable Tucson has been engaged with the IGT Project at many levels, participating in the steering, community values, outreach, and technical committees. Imagine Greater Tucson has consistently requested input and Sustainable Tucson has tried to contribute ideas in order to make IGT a more relevant and successful visioning process for the Tucson region.
The following text summarizes seven key issues which Sustainable Tucson has previously presented and which the IGT process has yet to address. This document concludes with four specific requests to modify the Imagine Greater Tucson Project.
1. There has been no step or focus in the IGT process to sensitize and ground the community in the context of the emerging future. The impacts of climate change, resource depletion, food security, water use, conservation of our natural environment and economic and financial crises were all avoided.
Problem: Without a grounded understanding of the emerging context, how can we realistically connect our values to a preferred future for the region? IGT views the problem of addressing growth as disconnected from the unprecedented challenges facing us. What does it mean to envision the future with our eyes closed and our heads in the sand?
2. Every IGT scenario is built on doubling population and the purpose of the visioning process is to determine the preferred way this growth should happen.
Problem: If this doubling of growth does not happen, IGT will have left us less prepared to adapt to any other possible future. Planning on the basis of doubling population growth constrains the investigation of what is best for the Tucson region. Population may or may not grow as current trends are showing (See Appendix A) and far different scenarios follow from those different assumptions. In planning a sustainable future it would be prudent, considering issues of climate change and resource limitations, to be considering population “build out” or planned decrease. A doubling population may make it impossible to decrease carbon emissions enough to limit uncontrollable climate change effects – important since Tucson is frequently described as “ground zero” for the worst effects of global warming.
3. IGT is intended to inform the 10-year comprehensive plans of the regional jurisdictions.
Problem: If IGT is only concerned about how we shape and support growth and if growth does not happen in the next decade (See Appendix A), then what value does IGT actually offer to inform the 10-year comprehensive jurisdictional plans? Worse still is the diversion of time and energy away from addressing the coming unprecedented challenges in what may be the most critical decade of our region’s history.
IGT has surveyed the region’s “values” but again not within the present context of changing eras. These survey results can be used by the jurisdictions but they will not reflect the community’s response to what is important in a coming period of unprecedented social, environmental, and economic change. The elephant in the room that IGT does not address is how to restructure our economy without population growth being the primary economic driver.
4. The scope of IGT is limited to how we shape the land-uses and infrastructures for the addition of one million future residents. It is true that the existing community was asked what we value and how we should shape this future addition. But existing residents had no option to define what land-use and infrastructure options we want for ourselves.
Problem: How can we define a preferred future without including the desired changes the existing community would like to see in its mix of infrastructures, especially given that becoming more sustainable and resilient requires significant changes in existing systems? Are the existing residents’ needs and preferences for urban form not an important part of the region’s future?
5. The impact of debt restructuring and credit availability were not included as key indicators.
Problem: Preparing for growth and preparing for sustainability both require significant public and private investments. How can we plan for change without estimating availability of funding, especially given the unprecedented local and global credit contraction ongoing these past three years. Population increase, development, economic growth, and protecting our natural environment will all be constrained by credit availability.
6. Scalability of scenario features was not included as an indicator or evaluative criterion.
Problem: Regional investment capacity is inherently constrained regardless of population growth level. So it is important that for each level of actual growth, a balanced approach is taken to ensure that all infrastructure categories are adequately addressed. If the investment approach is not balanced, some systems become over-built with excess capacity and others suffer with insufficient investment and capacity. Worse yet is the lack of financial planning for maintenance and repair of both existing and newly planned infrastructures. An obvious example of the latter is our crumbling regional and neighborhood roadways described by Pima County officials as “rapidly deteriorating”.
IGT staff response to the problematic construct of doubling population has been that if this doubling growth doesn’t happen we will simply scale the implementation of the final “preferred” scenario to what actually happens. However, if an infrastructure cannot be “smoothly” or “linearly” scaled, investment in such infrastructure may preclude other critically-needed system choices should growth not happen as projected.
Thus, the scalability value of features in the alternative scenarios should be presented so that community participants can choose their preferred scenario, in part, by the characteristic of scenario features to be scalable or adaptable to lower growth levels.
7. The 3 IGT scenarios compare indicators with the reference projection or “trend” scenario, not with current conditions.
Problem: Because the reference scenario is constructed in such a way as to demonstrate the unsustainability of continuing “business as usual”, the alternative future scenarios automatically show “improvement” over the reference scenario.
Not comparing the 3 alternative scenarios to current conditions – conditions that people can experience and verify now – obscures the very real possibility that for important indicators like greenhouse gas emissions, the values will actually get worse not better under what becomes the final “preferred” scenario.
In the case of greenhouse gases, the goal of regional climate change mitigation planning is to reduce emissions by at least 80% below current levels. It would appear these reductions cannot be met by adding population, even at greatly improved infrastructure efficiencies.
Bottomline Conclusion: The intent of the IGT project to educate the community about “smart growth” concepts and how they can be applied to jurisdictional planning is by itself a worthy effort. Unfortunately, this should have happened 10 to 15 years ago when the region was experiencing the pressures of rapid growth. Further, these concepts have not been re-calibrated to embody new constraints such as current greenhouse gas reduction targets.
The biggest challenge now is: how do we maintain prosperity and quality of life and environment without continuous population growth and how will we adapt to the unprecedented sustainability challenges in the coming decade.
We invite other individuals and organizations to join us in requesting that IGT:
1) Directly address and facilitate greater regional understanding of the unprecedented challenges which we face including climate change, peak oil, resource depletion, food security, water use, economic crises, and conservation of our natural environment.
2) Augment its future scenarios to include at least one scenario that considers population stabilization or “build-out” at no or low growth levels.
3) Broaden the scope of participant choices to register “optimal population levels“ along with their scenario preferences.
4) Compare indicators of the alternative future scenarios to actual current conditions, not hypothetical projections.
To support and add your endorsement of this proposal, please post a comment below.
Appendix A: Evidence that a new era without growth has begun
The IGT Project’s assertions that regional population “is projected to double in the coming decades” or more recently, “is expected to grow by as many as 1 million people during this century” are misleading and not substantiated by any facts. At recent rates of change, our population would not even double in a hundred years – a timeframe that climate change and resource depletion research indicate would likely be unfavorable for growth.
For many decades up until five years ago, Arizona and the Tucson region did double their populations at rapid rates: every 20 and 35 years respectively. A major task for every jurisdiction was to manage the pressures and impacts of this growth dynamic. But the rapid growth era has ended as we find increasing evidence that the factors governing growth have indeed changed.
For four years, Americans have been moving less, driving less, and in great numbers, walking away from homes worth less than the mortgage obligation. The 2010 US Census shows that the Tucson region had less population in 2010 than the 1 million 2006 population estimate. CNBC News recently named Tucson, “The Emptiest City in America” because of high apartment and home vacancies. UA economist Marshall Vest recently revealed that the Tucson region lost net population in 2011.
Declining regional home prices have erased ten years of gains and experts conclude that the local housing market will never return to past levels of activity. All of this points to the likelihood of a “growthless” decade ahead, perhaps even longer.