Does it ever seem like there are just more people around than there usedto be? There are — and there will be more. Five decades from now, theU.S. population is expected to jump by fifty percent. That predictionis leading to increasing interest in how to manage all that growth. TheGreat Lakes area isn’t facing as strong of population pressures as someparts of the country, but those pressures still mean the face of theregion could look very different fifty years from now. The Great LakesRadio Consortium’s Emily Harris reports:
Does it ever seem like there are just more people around than there
used to be? There are — and there will be more. Five decades from now, the
US population is expected to jump by fifty percent. That prediction is
leading to increasing interest in how to manage all that growth. The Great
Lakes area isn’t facing as strong of population pressures as some parts of
the country, but those pressures still mean the face of the
region could look very different fifty years from now.
The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Emily Harris reports.
The growing interest in actively managing urban growth is driven by
economic concerns, according to Joel Hirschorn, who has researched the
subject for the national governor’s association.
“If you don’t deal with the impacts of rapid economic growth, you will
stifle future economic growth.”
Hirschorn says a number of trends have accelerated with the
economy — from crowded roads to disappearing open spaces. So
looking toward cities again. That’s a change US Senator Carl Levin can
agree with. The Michigan Democrat says plenty of Great Lakes cities are
ready and waiting for a new boom.
“We have a lot of vacant lots in the city of Detroit for instance or Pontiac
or Flint. And we have infrastructure, we have sewers, we have roads, we
have sidewalks which we have paid for already, which are not being fully
used. We have downtowns that are partly empty.”
(Sound of traffic report)
One of the most common complaints Levin hears is about traffic. More
people have moved out of the city, increasing the pressure on rural roads.
And the Great Lakes Region has a great deal to lose from this
According to the preservation group American Farmland trust, Pennsylvania,
Michigan and New York rank near the top of the list of states losing a
significant percentage of farmland each
year. But unlike on the US coasts, the pressure in the Great Lakes Region,
at least so far, is not all due to a jump in population. Ralph Grassy is
president of American Farmland Trust. He says the people already there
just taking up too much land.
“Take metropolitan areas like Chicago for example. Over the twenty year
period from 1970 to 1990, the population of the metropolitan area only grew
by four percent. And yet during that
period it consumed fifty percent more farmland for urban uses.”
The US Department of Agriculture says the country’s food supply isn’t
threatened by disappearing farmland. But Grassy says farms produce more
than just food.
“The people who talk about the commodities are thinking in a very traditional
mindset, that what farms produce are food and fiber commodities. And in fact
that’s true. But farms produce scenic vistas and open space and wildlife
habitat. They produce water quality — well managed farms are great filters
for water runoff. There are many other values that are really farm
Five Great Lake states have farmland protection programs that pay farmers
to not sell to subdividers. Of the three that do not — Illinois, Indiana
and Minnesota — Minnesota has the strongest zoning laws, according to
planners, who see both types of programs as useful management tools. But
Stuart Mack, a senior researcher with the American Planning Association in
says the Great Lakes states have trailed much of the rest of the nation,
particularly the West, in actively using planning laws. He says part of
that has to do with how land is valued.
“If you talk to people in Oregon or Washington or Montana or Wyoming // they
have a much different view of the land. I would have to say it’s almost
spiritual in nature. Certainly a sense of stewardship. Their attitude
toward land is that land is more of a resource than a commodity. I would
say in the Midwest we don’t really have that kind of attitude toward land.”
Zoning has traditionally been a responsibly of local governments in the
Great Lakes area, although leaders at the state level are becoming more
active. For example, Wisconsin’s so-called Smart Growth Law offers local
governments incentive money for following state land-use guidelines. In
November, voters across Ohio will decide on a four-hundred million dollar
bond issue to preserve open space
and protect water sources, and clean up and redevelop former industrial
sites — sites known as brownfields. On the federal level, there is growing
interest in trying to help out. Michigan Senator Carl Levin.
“One thing we can do is handle our highway funds in a way which encourages
sustainable growth, for instance, putting a larger percentage of those
funds into mass transit. Another thing we can try to do is deal with the
Senator Levin says those kinds of federal actions will be slow coming —
slower than growth in Great Lakes communities, managed or not.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Emily Harris in Washington.