A More Intelligent Way to Manage Growth

This is a scheme I proposed, and then elaborated with Sarah Levison, some years ago when we sat on an economic development advisory board for the City of Longmont.

I follow Thomas Malthus in that proposal.  He famously said that population growth will always tend to outrun the food supply and that betterment of humankind is impossible without stern limits on reproduction. (Thanks, Wikipedia.)  Differently stated, a biological system will grow until it hits the limit of its first necessary resource.  Wouldn't it be nice to approach such a limit in a rational fashion?

Rather than say "Let's limit growth to so-many percent a year", instead say "Of resource X, we have Y amount of headroom remaining.  What fraction f of that headroom are we going to spend this year?"  X stands for such eventually limiting items such as water, energy generation, acres available (for whatever reason) to expand into, landfill, library, recreation, traffic capacity, and the like.

The first step is to delineate the limting factors as and to quantiify the remaining resources.  Then determine a time horizon -- say 50 years.  If we plan to use up our headroom on a linear basis, then every year we would permit the use of 2% of the present margin.  Or, to run onto the shoals of that limiting resource more quickly, every year you might use up 25% of the then-existing headroom.  But whatever curve you choose to follow, you don't allow yourself to exceed the comfortable headroom.

To me, that makes a lot more sense than saying "Two percent a year is managed growth."  You look at your resources and explicitly plan to stay within those limits.