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Several strands came together to bring about the growth management movement. First was the rush to suburbanize after World War II. People moved outward in metropolitan areas partly to obtain relief from central- city conditions: to breathe cleaner air, to be less crowded, to be safer, and to be closer to nature. The person who has made such a move would in many cases want to be the last person who does so—thus the "I'm on board, now pull up the ladder" syndrome. No one who was active in suburban planning at the time was unaware of such motivations.

These motivations were joined by the growing environmental consciousness that began around the early 1960s. Growth-control proponents could gather strength and respectability from a general climate of environmental concern. Proposals to limit growth could now be supported on environmental grounds. At a local level it is hard to refute such arguments, since it is undeniable that any development, whether residential or commercial, will have some adverse environmental impact.

Whether environmentally based opposition to growth can be justified when the physical scale of analysis is expanded is another matter. If a town takes some action that keeps a particular area in, say, low-density residential use when it might otherwise have gone into high-density residential use, it has unquestionably reduced the environmental impact on that area. Fewer trees will be cut down, less ground will be covered with impervious cover, fewer sources of air and water pollution will be present in the area, and so on.3 However, it is obvious that much of the growth that was prevented will be displaced elsewhere. In that case one cannot say, a priori, whether the total effect of the growth limitation has been to decrease or increase environmental impact. The environmental impact argument is commonly used by proponents of growth limitations, but the issue of displacement effects is less often discussed.

Regardless of the displacement effects issue, there is no doubt that the growing environmental consciousness of the 1960s and 1970s lent much strength to the growth management movement. Even global concern with overpopulation lent strength to the growth-control movement because of the superficial resemblance between planetary population control and local population control.

Undoubtedly this [local effort to stop population growth] has much to do with the new Malthusian concern with the consequences of unlimited population growth at national and world levels. Some seem to think that the place to start controlling the nation's population growth is at the level of their city, metropolis or state. Others hope that, as the nation moves to zero population growth (ZPG), so will their communities. Both these views are misleading half-truths.4

Ernest F. Schumacher's book Small Is Beautiful and similar works that railed against the increasing scale and complexity of modern life also lent strength to growth-control movements.5

One of the first and best-known growth management programs in the United States was that enacted by Ramapo, New York in 1969. The town, located about 28 miles northwest of midtown Manhattan, felt itself on the verge of being overwhelmed by new development. The town was at the very fringe of what was then commuting distance from Manhattan but was within easy reach of masses of new commercial development in the outer portions of the New York metropolitan region located in southern New York State and in adjacent parts of New Jersey. Ramapo was already zoned so that only single-family development was permitted, but it then added rules that made it possible to turn down development proposals that met the zoning requirements if the development did not have enough points for such infrastructure as sewers, nearby recreational facilities, public roads, and proximity to a firehouse, all items keyed to the town's 18-year capital improvements program. Opponents of the plan saw it simply as exclusionary zoning carried to a new level and took the town to court. On a split decision by the state's appellate (appeals) court, the town was sustained. The ordinance, which seems very primitive by today's standards, and which probably would not be sustained today, has since been rescinded. But it did mark judicial approval of growth management.6

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