A recent guest commentary by Warren Zimmerman offers a seemingly cogent case for growth in Gig Harbor, how be it one primarily espousing increased residential population density as a means to creating economic opportunities for everyone. No doubt everyone stands to benefit from growth, however, there are two sides to this coin. I would point to an increasingly recognized phenomenon recently reviewed in a study on rural development by Indiana University School of Public and Environmental Affairs at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis.
Originally published in 2009, the conclusions were surprising, that of violent crime not necessarily being simplistically linked to inner city poverty. Rather, the study links residential land use as being a key factor in the promotion of crime with generally higher rates in areas of high-density residential developments and commercial property, compared to that in areas characterized by industry, parks and schools. Basically, high population density, even after controlling for overall population, was linked to more crime. Granted, the association was more pronounced in disadvantaged areas, it none the less held true across all socioeconomic strata.
“There seems to be something about (high-density residential) units that is associated with all types of serious violent crime, even controlling for the other factors in the model,” the authors write.
On re-examination then, with regard to Gig Harbor, the granting of development variances containing population density concessions as a tool for stimulating economic growth is much like following the siren song. Downtown Gig Harbor has physical and geographical features limiting development options and existing protections against overdevelopment and overcrowding are codified in laws designed to protect everyone’s interests. Yet, in an open forum where 81 percent of the respondents voiced their opposition, the city’s governing body, obviously supported by the Chamber of Commerce, is seriously considering granting a number of variances to those laws, including a 163-percent increase in population density, which impacts life in the harbor.
Yes, large populations can reasonably be expected to stimulate economic growth, but don’t be fooled. Dense population growth is a known liability and quality of life is not guaranteed by those numbers. The voiced opposition is not about being anti-growth. It’s about the choice of guiding principle behind growth. The existing development statues evolved over decades and protects everyone while affording fairness and equal access to development opportunities based on historical precedent and reasoned socioeconomics. Density on the other hand primarily benefits the endowed few standing to profit from mammoth projects.
In the face of overwhelming opposition, the council’s decision to proceed is stupefying and begs the question if representative governance is operational. That four individuals could possibly override the voices heard presents a significant moral hazard which can’t be ignored. Any development project involving the Gig Harbor Basin needs to be scaled to existing statutes or tabled pending representative revision and the development trajectory of Gig Harbor needs to conform to the time honored principle of rule-of-law, a principle ultimately benefiting all.
Gig Harbor resident Richard Jordan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.