What’s the Population Cap for Charlottesville and Albemarle?

Should there be a population cap for Charlottesville and Albemarle? Who should decide?

If the "maximum" population is X, what happens when we reach X + 1?

Make no mistake, ASAP is a slow-no growth organization; their URL is stopgrowthasap.org, for goodness sakes. That said, there is some merit to evaluating the impacts of growth on our region. I just wish that, with all such matters – politics, transportation, growth – there was a wider recognition that Charlottesville and Albemarle (CharlAlbemarle) are not isolated in the Central Virginia region.

If nothing else, hopefully this report will help people understand that there is more to growth than building houses; lamentably I suspect that relatively few members of the public will take the time to read more than 30 seconds worth of a summary of a summary of the report … and then an equally relative few will be making decisions that impact the lives of so many.

If we ever did implement a population cap, those who own real estate in the area would likely do very well for themselves. People will likely continue to want to live in the Charlottesville/Albemarle area … limited supply + relatively steady demand = rising property values (although who knows who would be able to buy them).

This is a snip from Charlottesville Tomorrow’s interview with Jack Marshall, ASAP’s president. Visit Charlottesville Tomorrow to read and listen to the entire interview and download the PDF with ASAP’s findings.

07:35 – WHEELER: Why don’t you tell us about the methodology.

07:42 – MARSHALL:  For purposes of this research, WHEN growth occurs is not relevant.  First step was to project WHERE the growth will occur.  The City and County were divided into eight sub-areas and various growth levels were evaluated in a computer model.  Current zoning and historical development patterns were incorporated in the model.  Hypothetically, each area is developed to a certain build-out number, and then continued growth spills out into the rural area.  The population number at which no more development could occur in the computer model was found to be 400,000 people.  We have about 135,000 people today.  This build-out population estimate of 400,000 is pretty close to research done by a different methodology 5-7 years ago by the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission (TJPDC).  Next major issue was to assess impact to ecosystem services with population growth using computer software called CITYGreen.

13:06 – WHEELER: You mentioned a couple population numbers, let’s review those again—135,000 people today, build-out population of 400,000.  Were you surprised that matched the TJPDC’s findings?

13:45 – MARSHALL: The fact that it coincides with the TJPDC build-out number pleases but doesn’t surprise us.

14:04 – WHEELER: What optimal sustainable population did this research indicate was a good fit?

14:18 – MARSHALL: You are pushing me to give you specific numbers, but all this research does is show what happens to certain ecosystem services as population increases.  At 125% population increase, which is about 280,000 people, roughly twice what we have now, there is in this model a degradation of ecosystem services, but contained primarily within the designated growth areas.  As growth continues, it spills out into the rural areas, and that’s when we see a whole different level of impact.  This report goes into detail about those impacts on ecosystem services.

16:18 – WHEELER: Let me read a quote from the report and you can react to it:

“If the community wishes to maintain ecosystem services across the study area, a population of roughly 200,000 or less should be maintained, with that growth being focused in the growth areas. If it is acceptable to sacrifice services in the developing areas, a population up to roughly 300,000 could be accommodated.”

Is 200,000 to 300,000 the population range that ASAP was looking for?

17:05 – MARSHALL: You are trying to get me to indicate a number or a range that ASAP wants to defend.  At this point we are not prepared to come out with specific numbers.  This is the first phase of the study focusing on biological carrying capacity.  Once we have the whole range of studies completed this fall, then we will be more inclined to come out with specific numbers.

18:52 – WHEELER: Let’s talk about the population trends.  She identified 200,000 as a population not to go beyond to avoid damaging ecosystem services.  How soon do you think we will reach 200,000 people?

19:20 – MARSHALL: City population is pretty stable, but County has been growing at 2.1% a year for the last 30-40 years.  At that rate, we double our population every 33 years.  Normally I would say you could extrapolate that, but we have slowed growth because of the global economic downturn.  There is no question that temporarily we are growing slower.  I am afraid that might lull our community into a false sense that we have licked the growth problem when in fact it will roar back as soon as people want to buy houses again. 

If we were to continue growing at 2.1%, I think that a population of 200,000 might occur in about the year 2040.

I’ll say this – ASAP realizes the symbiotic relationship between the City of Charlottesville and the County of Albemarle.

* First noted on my posterous last night.

* Is it safe to assume that this report is in the public domain, as it was funded by local governments?

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  1. Shram August 24, 2009 at 09:54

    Interesting, but not realistic, or, in my opinion, a good idea. I live not too far from Boulder, CO, the first (except for maybe Portland, OR) to use land use planning in an attempt to preserve their beloved small town just the way it was forever. It was an interesting experiment: limiting building sizes, capping water permits on the edge of town, buying up land all around the town to create a development-free zone, etc. It definitely made prices in town go sky-high, which perhaps was a side goal, who knows, but the people who can afford to live there now, with the average home price I’m guessing over $500k, aren’t the type who used to be there.

    Boulder’s a strange place now, to me, and they’re still against anything that might disrupt the plan, such as funding any mass transit that might connect Boulder to the Denver area. That’s misguided at best in my opinion, and I wouldn’t want to see Cville become similar. Put rules and limits on development, yes, manage it, but don’t try to stop it.

  2. Pete Murphy August 25, 2009 at 07:21

    Rampant population growth threatens our economy and quality of life. I’m not talking about the obvious environmental and resource issues. I’m talking about the effect upon rising unemployment and poverty in America.

    I should introduce myself. I am the author of a book titled “Five Short Blasts: A New Economic Theory Exposes The Fatal Flaw in Globalization and Its Consequences for America.” To make a long story short, my theory is that, as population density rises beyond some optimum level, per capita consumption of products begins to decline out of the need to conserve space. People who live in crowded conditions simply don’t have enough space to use and store many products. This declining per capita consumption, in the face of rising productivity (per capita output, which always rises), inevitably yields rising unemployment and poverty.

    This theory has huge implications for U.S. policy toward population management. Our policies that encourage high rates of population growth are rooted in the belief of economists that population growth is a good thing, fueling economic growth. Through most of human history, the interests of the common good and business (corporations) were both well-served by continuing population growth. For the common good, we needed more workers to man our factories, producing the goods needed for a high standard of living. This population growth translated into sales volume growth for corporations. Both were happy.

    But, once an optimum population density is breached, their interests diverge. It is in the best interest of the common good to stabilize the population, avoiding an erosion of our quality of life through high unemployment and poverty. However, it is still in the interest of corporations to fuel population growth because, even though per capita consumption goes into decline, total consumption still increases. We now find ourselves in the position of having corporations and economists influencing public policy in a direction that is not in the best interest of the common good.

    The U.N. ranks the U.S. with eight third world countries – India, Pakistan, Nigeria, Democratic Republic of Congo, Bangladesh, Uganda, Ethiopia and China – as accounting for fully half of the world’s population growth by 2050.

    If you’re interested in learning more about this important new economic theory, I invite you to visit either of my web sites at OpenWindowPublishingCo.com or PeteMurphy.wordpress.com where you can read the preface, join in my blog discussion and, of course, purchase the book if you like. (It’s also available at Amazon.com.)

    Please forgive the somewhat spammish nature of the previous paragraph. I just don’t know how else to inject this new perspective into the overpopulation debate without drawing attention to the book that explains the theory.

    Pete Murphy
    Author, “Five Short Blasts”

  3. Pingback: What is Charlottesville and Albemarle’s Sustainable Population? | Real Central VA

  4. Pingback: Keeping Charlottesville Sustainable | | RealCentralVA.comRealCentralVA.com

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