Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Hoist Up the Gangplank!

Arrgghh! My home computer went down several days ago, and I've had it in for repairs, and I haven't been able to blog easily (it's just too much effort to go to one of my kids' computers or something), and it's been such a target-rich environment out there! Finally I've figured out a way, and I must comment on an amazing juxtaposition of two opinion pieces that appeared on the editorial pages of the two main Salt Lake dailies in the last few days.

First, the piece by Bruce Wilson, retired CIO of Universal Studios who moved to Washington, Utah (just north of St. George), which appeared in the Trib on Sunday. Mr. Wilson laments the rapid pace of growth in Washington County, and figures that much of it is happening because local officials welcome and invite it. "Such growth could not occur unless many residents were rolling out the red carpet and inviting one and all to move to Washington County. ... The welcoming committee is headed by elected and appointed county and city officials."

"But why do they think that rolling out the welcome mat instead of putting up the stop sign is a good thing for Washington County?" he says.

The solution, according to Mr. Wilson? "Growth in southwestern Utah needs to be managed by tough minds, not soft hearts. Washington County will not be able to soft-heartedly satisfy the demand without destroying everything that made it so attractive in the first place."

Hmmm, interesting. Lots of thoughts come to mind on those comments, the primary one being, we call that the "gangplank syndrome." That is, "I'm aboard, now hoist up the gangplank and don't let anyone else in."

Now consider a piece by Thomas Sowell, senior fellow at the Hoover Institute at Stanford University, that actually appeared the Thursday before in the DesNews. Mr. Sowell's column is titled, "Left talks equality but practices elitism."

Sowell writes, "Monterey County in California is a classic example, though by no means is unique. A recent story in the Wall Street Journal quoted residents of that coastal community as saying how much they liked its lifestyle and ambiance -- as a justification of laws that make it nearly impossible for anyone with less money to live there. First of all, laws forbid building anything on three-quarters of the land in that county. Existing residents who support such laws don't own that land, but they can politically keep others from living on it, which is the whole point of much rhapsodizing about "preserving" this and "saving" that. Land prices skyrocket when the supply of land is artifically and drastically reduced (and demand remains strong), which means that housing prices become astronomical."

Now there is a lot that Mr. Wilson in Washington, Utah, says that strikes a chord within us all -- all that growth changes the very things we like about the community and makes it not so desireable any more. That is what has been part of the challenge in planning. But to simple shut the doors and not allow anyone else in?

Lots to think about in these two editorials. Read 'em and weep, friends.


At 7:47 PM, Blogger Utah Peaknik said...

Of course, "growth" (i.e. sprawl, or those wacko environmentalist lefties might even call it - *gasp* - rape) can't go on forever in Washington County. What happens when all of the privately owned land in Washington County is built on, IN ADDITION TO the federal land that they're proposing to sell off for development? Will the government then have to sell off more land? How many houses can be built in Washington County before there simply isn't enough water to keep building? What would happen if all of those Washington County residents could no longer afford to motor around St. George and have their food trucked in from so far away?

I'll tell you what, I do not want to be living in Washington County when the crap hits the fan. Where I'm living now isn't perfect either, but the climate and soil are both a lot more conducive to local organic agriculture.

At 7:51 AM, Blogger vagabond said...

Every community where I've lived or worked, in Utah, has the same "gang plank" mentality as the one mentioned in southern Utah.

It's disgusting and wrong.

As a planner, I can't describe the number of times I've heard truly awful comments, in a public forum no less, from residents who describe how the "rural" nature of their completetly urban/suburban town will be destroyed if any more houses are built, or anything with more than 3 units per acre is allowed, etc.

There is a very serious disconnect with reality everywhere in this regard. As long a people keep making babies and wanting a roof over their heads, there will be growth and it is immoral and ignorant to expect that growth will occur "somewhere else but here".

As a planner, this is unquestionably the most disturbing aspect of the job -- dealing with prejudice, bias, ignorance and apathy. especially among the elected officials who "allegedly" run these communities.

My personal experience is that most elected officials have high aims and goals and for the most part want the best for their communities. However, when it comes to land use, virtually all of them wimp out and cave into the public clamor against new development that in effect represents any change from the status quo.

What really kills me about planning in Utah is how Envision is hailed in other areas of the country as a model for public/private planning cooperation, and yet is so reviled within our own borders.

By all means, let's just keep our heads in the sand.

At 8:05 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

In response to utah peaknik, who cares about the bad stuff that may happen down years down the road if folks can't afford housing now? Yes, balance is necessary, but things tend to equilibrate when they approach breaking points. I believe it's best not to try to be too proactive because it's difficult to know the exact contours of a problem and it's silly to stretch too much to fix as yet undefined problems.

At 9:54 AM, Blogger google_PEAK_OIL said...

I have to say I share peaknik's foreboding about the Washington county area. For this place to exist, lots of energy, water, and other products and resources have to flow into the area in trucks, pipes, and wires. What economic resource flows out of Washington county to pay for it all? Oil and gas? Minerals? Farm and ranch products? Manufactured goods? What?
Is the economy based on anything more than retirees and golfers and passing motorists and the money they bring with them? What would happen to Saint George in an economically difficult era when discretionary income dries up?
Peaknik and I tend to dwell on a particular scarce and finite resource. An even more scarce and finite resource is retired executives of Hollywood movie studios. I wouldn't advise betting a region's future well being on them.
Mr. Wilson may get his wish. An economic downturn could put the brakes on Washington county growth, allowing him to enjoy what remains of the surrounding natural environment.

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