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No political party discussing American West population explosion

[Source: Froma Harrop, Houston Chronicle and reprinted in the Arizona Republic] — There’s a burning concern in the American West — almost an obsession — that Democrats did not touch in their convention here.  Nor will Republicans in St. Paul.  It is the U.S. population explosion.  The West is feeling the brunt of it, as flowing lava of housing developments and big-box crudscapes claim its cherished open spaces — and increasingly scarce water supplies.  The U.S. Census Bureau now expects America’s population to top 400 million by 2039, far earlier than previously forecast.  The 300-million mark was hit only two years ago, so if this prediction is correct, the headcount will have soared by 100 million people in 33 short years.

America’s fastest-growing region has been and will continue to be the Intermountain West.  Its megalopolises — centered on Denver, Phoenix, Las Vegas, and Salt Lake City — are set to add 13 million people by 2040, according to a Brookings Institution study.  This would be a doubling of their population.  Hyper-growth still brings out happy talk in some circles.  The Brookings report looks at the population forecasts for the urban corridor on the eastern face of the Rockies, spreading from Colorado into Wyoming, and enthuses, “Such projections point to a huge opportunity for the Front Range to improve on the current level of prosperity.”  There are challenges, it says, but they can be met — and you can almost hear local hearts breaking — by new roads, bigger airports, more office parks.

And where oh where are they going to find water?  Every county in Colorado was declared a federal drought disaster area in 2002, when the population stood at 4.5 million.  It is expected to approach 8 million by 2035.  As former Colorado Gov. Dick Lamm notes, the region is so dry that you can still see the wagon wheel trails laid down in the 1840s.  “This is an area that plans to add 13 million people?” Lamm said to me.  “Crazy.”  [Note: To read the full opinion piece, click here.]

Arizona part of “region on the brink”

[Source: “A Region on the Brink: the Southern Intermountain West,” Brian Krier, Next American City] — The Southern Intermountain West encompasses Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, and Utah, a massive region facing a considerable population boom and a rapidly evolving economy, neither of which are expected to slow down in the next few decades.  According to the report, the Mountain megas’ population and job base could very well double by 2040, a rate that will drastically outpace the rest of the country.   The report concludes that growth in the region will have “tremendous implications for the built environment and regional construction activity,” estimating that the current housing stock will need to be nearly doubled and non-residential space would need to increased by a total of 9.4 billion square feet.  Future expenditures for this alone would push well into the trillions of dollars.

Geography will also continue to play a key role in the development of the region.  Because the federal government remains the region’s principal landowner, the policies that govern these areas have significant impact on what is leftover.  With much of the densely populated areas tucked neatly inside mountain ranges or sprung up from deserts, a number of quality of life issues have sprung up that need addressing: access to public transportation, reducing automobile dependence, and improving urban spaces.  All of these concerns, of course, pale in comparison to the most critical issue facing the West: water management.  As development continues throughout the West, water access and management may very well determine whether this current boom can be sustained.

In order to face these issues head-on, the report calls for a “new federal-state-mega partnership that will allow the region’s pivotal megapolitan areas to surmount their common challenges and assert their leadership in the nation and the world.”  [Note: To read the full article, click here.]

Idea of the Day: Commuting Alternatives

From time to time, we’ll throw out an “Idea of the Day” culled from sources here in Arizona and elsewhere.  The following idea, well actually several ideas, revolve around alternatives to driving in this new era of $4-plus gasoline.  The Arizona Republic article, “Employers work to ease commuting costs to offset gas prices,” by Betty Beard tells what it’s all about:

“High gas prices have done more than suck away consumers’ cash.  They also have led many bosses to approve four-day workweeks, telecommuting options, flexible schedules, and mass-transit subsidies.

Call it sticker shock.  This year’s pump prices stunned employers and employees alike into realizing that commuting alone to work could become prohibitively expensive for many workers.  Over time, consistently high gas prices could forever change how we work, experts believe.  Avondale has followed the State of Utah’s lead and switched to a four-day work week, and the State of Arizona is considering doing the same.  Other major employers, including Intel Corp., Salt River Project, APS, and the City of Phoenix, already offer public-transportation subsidies, flexible schedules, or telecommuting.

U-Haul also has about 500 employees working at home in sprawling metro Phoenix.  After this year’s run-up in gasoline prices to $4 or more a gallon, more companies are expected to institute similar programs.  If that happens, experts say, workplaces could change in ways unimaginable, with huge growth in home offices and telecommuting, fewer big-building headquarters, and less need for office parking garages, unless public transportation increases dramatically or vehicles become a lot more fuel-efficient.

Even though gasoline prices have come down somewhat, flexibility to help workers deal with gas prices, especially raising mileage reimbursement, has become the workplace perk of the year.  “It definitely has become a huge concern… as it centers around general satisfaction and ability to recruit and retain workers,” said Steve Williams, director of research for the Society for Human Resource Management in Alexandria, VA.  “They (employers) realize that long-distance driving to work is past becoming a hassle.  It has now become an economic issue, and the companies are addressing it by giving employees options,” he said.

Alternatives, summarized below, are detailed in the full article here:

  • ‘Green Fridays’
  • Monthly stipends
  • Company perks
  • Transit options
  • Telecommuting”