The opportunities of growth
Of my recent articles, the one that consistently raises the most contention with readers is advocating for growth. It may be a cultural disposition of change, an innate fear of advancement, or concern for dwindling influence on entitlements. Whatever the reason, it’s volatile – therefore a great subject to continue exploration.
Whether you support government policy, or not, there is a present commitment to grow our population. For the record, I see this as an empirical necessity. Western economies all suffer from a baby-boom hangover. Exceptionally high post-war birth rates resulted in substantial economic expansion. Birthrates have collapsed (P.E.I. projects birthrates to remain at 1.3, which is less than the replacement rate, so we are on a rapid decline curve) and emerging economies supported by expanding populations are today Asia tomorrow Africa.
P.E.I.’s population growth can be attributed to one phenomenon, immigration. This has largely benefited urban centers, primarily Charlottetown. More can be done to improve the dispersion, but this will only occur in an appropriate environment.
The Brookings institute in the US have examined at why most U.S. small towns are languishing, while a minority are flourishing. Not surprisingly, it relates to employment growth. Employment draws people, people draw people (motion creates energy); but with population shifts there are net benefactors and net depleters.
Demographer William Frey suggests the depleting communities are becoming appealing to Millennials who are looking for quieter environments to raise families and less trafficked streets, which are safer for children. Herein lies an opportunity for gentrification.
Accepting Charlottetown’s capital status provides appeal, we can see suburbs of Stratford, East Royalty, West Royalty and Cornwall also expanding. The next evolution is for second ring radial communities to position location benefits for attraction. Centres of Summerside, Montague can support serene neighbouring communities with high-quality schooling and leisure activities, are the radial communities doing this.
The fastest growing small towns in the U.S. are amalgamating with proximity centers. This should be considered for P.E.I. It is not an identify loss, but a collective strengthening and consolidation of redundant resources.
I would argue that communities need to think big, think strategically and think longterm. There are no quick fixes to population decline. It takes 20 years to make a 20 year old. Our ability to vision is lost in the myopia of two-year election cycles.
A small farming community in Vineland, Utah experienced a construction investment in housing and retail development. The consequence was as population boom from 139 people to 4,000 residents. We have parallel communities to Vineland all over P.E.I.
Mayor Daryl Eidinger of Edgewood, outside Seattle, saw his population grow nine per cent last year. He attributes this to high housing costs in nearby centres. The Island as a whole have relatively stable residential increases, radial communities are not experiencing escalation to the same degree as urban centres.
Relative scale is vastly different on P.E.I., but the parallels are striking. We need leadership from rural communities, a willingness to embrace new residents and political alignment at the highest levels to ensure our many communities achieve untapped potential and thrive.