Years ago my father told me something I’ve never forgotten. He said, “The secret to happiness in life is to find out what doesn’t work for you, and don’t do that.”
In recent months, we’ve learned a big lesson on what doesn’t work. Looking at statistics for the incidence of Covid-19 around the world, two conclusions leap out with crystal clarity:
- Viruses thrive in areas of high human population density
- Viruses are deadly in humans who have existing health problems
These are two things that obviously don’t work well for humans, so according to Dad’s aphorism, we shouldn’t do dense human populations and poor health.
So, why is it then, in our local community of Santa Cruz County (as well as most of the rest of the world), local government encourages increased population density, and our culture encourages poor public health?
The County of Santa Cruz and the incorporated municipalities in our county: Santa Cruz, Capitola, Scotts Valley and Watsonville, all have Economic Development Departments (EDDs), Planning Departments (PDs) and Public Works Departments (PWs), all of which are busily engaged in increasing population densities in our county and communities.
… we’re passionate about supporting a flourishing and expansive local economy. Santa Cruz City EDD
One of the greatest challenges of living in Santa Cruz County is the cost of housing, one of the highest in the nation. Because Santa Cruz is a desirable coastal destination, our economy is based on tourism, and our housing stock is largely dedicated to second homes, vacation rentals, B&Bs, hotels and motels. During the Covid-19 shelter in place, many of our homes stand empty, while many of our residents lack sufficient housing. There is no lack of housing in the county, but there is a lack of affordable homes for the people who live here.
Local government responds to this condition by falling back on the age-old economic principle of supply & demand, that is, build more housing to lower the per unit cost. But in a tourist destination, this principle doesn’t work. There are millions of people just over the hill who want a house here to either come to on vacations or to use as an investment to make more money so they can afford to vacation in exotic places.
Since Santa Cruz is largely built out, there is little undeveloped space available to build more single family housing, so the answer is always to build up. This, of course, greatly increases population density in developed areas, thus creating an ideal breeding ground for the transmission of viruses.
In the face of what we’ve learned about spreading viruses, after months of (ineptly named) “social distancing” and mask-wearing, do the people of Santa County really want to risk our health by creating even more high population density? What would it take to not do that?
Global Covid-19 statistics clearly show that humans with existing health problems have compromised immune systems that make them more susceptible to the virus and its resultant disease. The majority of deaths of individuals tested positive for the virus have underlying unhealth conditions, such as cardio-pulmonary disease, obesity, and diabetes all of which add to the lethality of the virus-born disease. Whether or not death is caused by the virus, or by other causes exacerbated by the virus, underlying ill health has contributed to the Covid-19 death rate throughout the world.
It obviously doesn’t work to have a large percentage of the population at risk due to general ill health. So, what would it take to not do that?
Lessons to be Learned
As we begin to contemplate an end to the Covid-19 pandemic, and lifting of government edicts on how we live our lives, now would be a good time to pause, contemplate the lessons to be learned from the pandemic, and think about how we want to live from here on out.
- Would it be wise to continue to increase local population density?
- Would it be wise to encourage local population growth beyond what can be sustained with local resources (think, water)?
- Would it be wise to return to “nonessential” business and activities?
- Would it be wise to continue to live far away from where we work and drive personal automobiles there and back every day?
- Would it be wise to continue to encourage unhealthy diets, sedentary live styles and frenetic daily activities that interfere with sleep.
- Wouldn’t it be wiser to encourage eating good, nutritious locally grown food, more local exercise, less travel and more engagement in local, meaningful work that supports the community?
Wouldn’t it be wiser to learn what doesn’t work and don’t do that?