Virginia County Examines Sustainable Growth Limits

A June 25 Maryland Reporter article discusses how Albemarle County (Virginia) and its city of Charlottesville studied what population limits it should have in order to be a sustainable community.  A study commissioned by the County found that its current population is unsustainable without importing significant resources from other areas and countries.  The study raises the question as to whether many communities throughout the Chesapeake Bay watershed may be overbuilt and not sustainable in the long term.

How many people do we wish to house around Chesapeake Bay?

Forty two years ago a conference convened by Maryland Governor Spiro Agnew concluded we needed to answer this question to manage the health of the estuary.

In a perverse way we did. With one notable, recent exception, the watershed’s 1,600 or so political jurisdictions, from states to townships, effectively said growth is good, necessary and inevitable, and set no limit.

The governments and most environmental groups assumed they could reduce per capita environmental impacts enough that it wouldn’t ever matter how many ‘capitas’ came.

The notable exception is Virginia’s Albemarle County and its city of Charlottesville. Leaders there a few years ago said it was worth examining if there was a desirable limit to population in an area described in a 2004 book as “best place in America to live.” …

That’s projected population. What would be optimum, the best size? A first cut at the answer emerged recently from ASAP’s study. If the region had to support residents’ present lifestyles largely from the local landscape, it would need nearly four times the half million acres it has. Put another way, the region could support about 36,000 peoples’ current demands for natural resources, far less than the 135,000 living there already.

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