Spring is nearly here, and the stand of slender wattles just beyond the orchard is bright yellow. Those trees stand tall in a space that, ten years ago, was a grassy paddock. Wattles come up from nothing; wattles are fast. They make a good starting point for our spring theme: Growth.
Careful readers of the last two Bush Prof series may have noticed that I seldom use the word growth. When I wrote about rural economies, I spoke of secrets to success; when I talked about grassroots development, I spoke of positive change. My language was vague, and this was intentional. Success and positive change are place-holders, fill-in-the-blanks for each reader to fill for themselves, because – as we know from our last series – development looks different depending on who you are.
I wasn’t ready to tackle the growth question, yet: not with an audience that was just warming up. But now we’re in spring, the sun is out, and the wattles remind me that it is time. Growth is out there, it is powerful, and it influences how almost everyone thinks about regional development in rural regions – whether they realise it or not.
For many people, development is all about growth. Regional development = regional growth, plain and simple. If a child or a tree develops, it is growing; the same goes for rural regions and their economies.
For other people, however, growth is problematic. Trees and children grow only so far; why should economies be expected to grow forever? Questioning the sustainability or desirability of growth has led to a range of counter-narratives about development, from ‘small is beautiful’ to ‘degrowth’.
These debates about growth run deep through the history of development policy and practice. And they regularly surface in practical conversations about how to define and measure success in rural regions.
Is success about growth, or is it about something else?
Or perhaps there is a deeper question here:
If we are seeking to grow our region, what is it, exactly, that are we trying to grow?
Let’s explore this question in our Spring Series. Welcome aboard!