Why Plan?

Aerial image of downtown Nanaimo BC with Newsc...

Image via Wikipedia

Dan Appell — October 11, 2010
One of the key components of the draft plan for the Newcastle+Brechin Hill Community is a recommendation that residential zoning be changed to accommodate a population that far exceeds all projections for growth.

The zoning recommended would allow for a population of between 12,000 and 20,000 people. If we use the cities own projections (8% every five years) that population range won’t be achieved until we approach the next century. There is considerable margin of error here, and we are assuming unlimited economic and natural resources are available to support this population growth.

We must ask ourselves: Why are we planning for such a large population? And why are we projecting such a plan so far into the future?

I image, one argument would be to insure the infrastructure is in place to accommodate these numbers of people when they arrive. We wouldn’t design a bridge based on present traffic loads, we would build a bridge based on projections of traffic loads 10, 20, 30 years into the future. In the case of Newcastle+Brechin Hill we must plan for an extreme eventuality.

However, our population projections suggest that we would not have to make any significant response to this increased population for, at least another 30 to 50 years. It’s not like these people are going to show up all at once. If 9000 to 17,000 people did show up all at once, we wouldn’t have the resources to execute this plan anyway. We are not building a bridge. There is no reason to believe that infrastructure capacity cannot continue to be increased incrementally to accommodate the relatively slow and incremental increase in population. So, the question remains: Why plan for such a large increase in population?

Another argument might be that the city plans to increase the population in this area at a rate faster the rest of the city. Currently, the city is growing by 8% every five years. Newcastle+Brechin Hill is growing at a rate of about 2.1% every five years. This is using Stats Canada numbers which are updated every five years. For those of you who prefer to use annual growth rates; Nanaimo has an annual growth rate of about 1.5% (give or take), and Newcastle+Brechin Hill is growing annually at about .5% (give or take).

This would mean more people moving to Nanaimo would have to decide to live in these two neighbourhoods. Or people would have to move to this part of the city, leaving other parts of the city empty. Either way, this represents a very significant restructuring of the whole city. This would require some very draconian, undemocratic, measures to achieve. Again, there is no evidence to suggest that this scenario is desired, possible or otherwise likely.

The question remains: Why plan for such a large increase in population?

The third argument is a simple; “why not?” A plan for 20,000 people would be just as good for a population of 10,000 people. Why not plan for a huge population when it would suit a smaller population just as well?

This argument is not supported by experience. The amenities available to a population of 20,000 people are very different then the amenities available to a population of 10,000 people (assuming, of course, that the distribution of wealth is the same). A plan for 20,000 people has little or no relevance to a population of 10,000 people. For example, if a person wanted to locate a corner grocery store in a neighbourhood, the choice of location would be dependent in large part on the size of the neighbourhood. And if the population that was needed to support a corner grocery store would not be available for another 100 years, then only a fool would locate a grocery store in such a neighbourhood. This is a relevant example because on a map in the draft plan for Newcastle+Brechin Hill there are located three corner grocery stores.

Typically, what happens when we plan for an over estimation of growth, the plan quickly becomes irrelevent. Its like making a financial plan based on winning the lottery. Planning becomes a waste of taxpayer’s money. And because all the tools for coordinating the development and improvement of the community are handed over to developers, these plans actually achieve less then nothing for the community.

Again; the draft plan for Newcastle+Brechin HIll is for a community that might exist in 80 to 120 years: Why?