Growing Your Region: Myths and Possibilities

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This post is part of the series Growing Your Region. Read the full series here.

Growth is one of those shiny words that always seems to mean something positive. Children grow, plants grow, and when we learn or stretch or extend ourselves, we say we grow. And what about the places where we live, the places that matter to us? Can our regions grow, too?

In the last post, we identified nine different kinds of growth. All are different – yet all are relevant to rural regions. Here they are again, this time in a picture:

Recognising that there are different kinds of growth makes it clear that growth is not one single, shiny thing. Nor is it necessarily good or bad. Rather, we need to ask the question: What kind of growth? And who benefits?

When politicians or policy makers promise regional growth, what do they mean, really?

Recognising that there are different kinds of growth, that interact in different ways, can give us the tools to challenge some common myths about regional growth.

Here are some of them:

  • Myth #1: Population Growth will Solve All Problems
  • Myth #2: Economic Growth will Grow Everything Else
  • Myth #3: Regions NEED to grow (the ‘If you don’t grow, you die’ myth)

Over the next posts, we’ll look at these myths, starting now with #1:

Myth #1: Population Growth will Solve All Problems

Let’s start with population growth. For rural regions, population growth is often presented as a solution to regional problems – even, as a synonym for regional development. Yet this is not necessarily the case. Population growth simply means that there are more people in a region. This does not lead automatically to other kinds of growth.

How does population growth relate to other kinds of growth? The answer is… it depends!

For instance, population growth can lead to employment growth, if new residents use local shops and services. But if new residents spend elsewhere, growing population is unlikely to lead to more employment. It may even increase competition for local jobs.

Population growth in a region can increase local amenity, when there are now enough local people to support a bank, a footy club, or a university campus. But growing the population can also decrease amenity, when roads become clogged and views blocked by houses.

Population growth can grow investment in the region, if new residents come with money to invest. But ultimately the effects depend on what they invest in. Investment in businesses may have flow-on benefits to employment and productivity, while investment in houses may have little impact… or even drive housing out of reach of locals.

Growing population can build community capacity by adding new skills and networks into the local region; but only if the newcomers join in – and are accepted – as part of the community. Growing population can just as easily lead to fragmented communities.

In the end, population growth on its own is nether good nor bad, and it is rarely a stand-alone solution. Population growth can bring benefits, and it can also bring problems. Its relationship to other kinds of growth depends on the speed of population growth, and its nature. It matters who comes to the region, and why they are there. It matters what do they do when they get there, and how others in the region respond…. Because population growth is ultimately about people, not numbers.

Published by The Bush Prof

Professor Robyn Eversole is a practical regional development academic based in rural Tasmania.

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