This is an update to my earlier post concerning the beginning of the decline in the population of Volusia County, Florida and its ramifications for civic engagement around growth.
As the enclosed chart indicates, the decline in Volusia population has continued for three straight years after the peak in 2007. As I stated in the summer of 2009, this trend is not going to reverse anytime soon, despite hopeful predictions. While the population of the State continues to grow, albeit at a much slower rate, all of this growth will be in the major cities. I also stand by my prediction that this will lead to a crises in our local economic and policy systems, which are founded on rapid growth through real estate development.
Certainly the crisis had already come in terms of government finances, which are anchored on rising real estate values. Also, since I first posted on the subject the state’s political atmosphere has turned strongly against its own governmental entities (the defeat of Amendment 4 being just one aspect of this) and, led by a new Governor, has begun to dismantle Florida’s growth management commitments and policy implementation systems. Within a few years we will be both without signs of population growth and without government at any level with the ability to spur new economic activity.
Population decline has taken some of the pressure off of the destruction of the region’s natural environment. I am sure many environmentalists and smart growth advocates applaud this, at the moment it is about their only hope for preservation of what is left undeveloped.
Essentially, we are still in a moment of pause between the free-for-all frontier that is the history of Florida population growth (especially in the less-dense counties like Volusia) and something else that will come. That something else may be stagnation and decline or it may be a transition to a new economic engine, perhaps even a more sustainable one. The difference today is that government is removing itself as a player in this future. So that leaves only individual citizens, citizen groups, universities, and other non-profits to work with businesses and their interest groups to determine our economic future.