Professor: Sustainable growth is stupid policy |

Professor: Sustainable growth is stupid policy

Aspen and Pitkin County have been wrestling for 30-odd years with the question of how much growth to allow.

Turns out they were asking the wrong question.

Aspen – and places like it – should concentrate on stopping growth, not managing it, if they want to preserve their quality of life, according to Gabor Zovanyi, one of the speakers at this weekend’s State of the World Conference in Aspen.

Zovanyi, a professor of urban planning at Eastern Washington University, said he doesn’t buy into the theory that there can be “smart growth.” It’s nothing more than a first-class way to arrive at the same place as dumb growth, he said.

And Zovanyi said he’s never believed in “sustainable development.” He called it a “moronic oxymoron.”

“If you want to do something meaningful, when a person uses that term, throw something at them,” he told the audience at the conference.

Zovanyi contended that growth management is “very decidedly” pro-growth. It may allow only a certain amount of growth annually, but the cumulative effects are immense.

America, for example, allowed 33 million legal immigrants into the country during the 1990s. That’s the equivalent of adding 33 cities of 100,000 people every 12 months during a decade.

Zovanyi also noted that the number of registered vehicles in the United States topped 200 million in 1998. The projected growth means that gridlock is inevitable. The issue shouldn’t only be how fuel efficient our cars are, but how many there are, he said.

Perhaps most frightening is the fact that development eats up 2.2 million acres of open and agricultural land in the country every year.

Clearly, he said, the country isn’t managing growth, let alone stopping it.

“The no-growth option never makes it to the table, never gets discussed,” Zovanyi said.

He believes that towns and cities concerned about preserving the quality of life for residents must change that. The legal obstacles to simply saying “no” to developers aren’t insurmountable, he contended.

His blueprint for snuffing growth includes forcing the U.S. government to reverse a trend of allowing immigration to skyrocket from 400,000 to more than 1 million annually. But most of his suggestions, and his hopes, lie with local communities.

His suggestions ranged from the standard – working on comprehensive plans that identify how big a town should grow – to the radical – stopping public investment in new roads, sewers and other infrastructure that allows sprawl. He also supported attacking growth by stopping the creation of new jobs.

A comprehensive article by Zovanyi that offers details on stopping growth is available at

Scott Condon’s e-mail address is

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