Local politics started boiling over again, in my town. The issue was whether to annex a parcel of adjacent land on the north side of town so that development could proceed with city services and especially, city sewer lines. Annexation would have guaranteed the protection of the watershed for the city's emergency drinking water, a billion-gallon reservoir, by ensuring the sewer line hookups. (See www.greenseniors.org "Green Hero Erv Klaas" for the story of the creation of Ada Hayden Heritage Park.)
My understanding is that the long term planning done by the city favored development in other directions for sensible reasons like cost to the city to provide services. However, the country club and golf course are north. The very reservoir needing protection, with its lovely park, is north. Hence, people able to afford luxury homes want to live north, and developers already own the land. If homes are built there even with the best septic systems, the ground water will eventually get to the lake and cause eutrophication.
For once, many environmentalists lined up with developers on the side of annexation, but the measure did not pass due to a 3-3 vote. At least two of those dissenting were voted onto the Council by Smart Growth advocates who were in disagreement with some previous Council land use decisions. Very likely, it may have been wise to compromise and vote for annexation, but it didn't happen, and the town is unhappy.
I am not an adversary of development, only of development as is commonly done today--move out to fresh farmland where construction is cheap and build such that private vehicles are the only means of transportation feasible. Make dwellings with the largest environmental footprint imaginable. Add some CFL bulbs and upgraded insulation and use Energy Star appliances, and call it green enough. If only it were that simple.
However, this is still overwhelmingly what Americans dream of having. Lacking federal and/or state regulation, if developers want to stay in business, they have no choice but to build for today's customers. I should say, today's affluent customers. My city needs more affordable housing but that need is mainly addressed by Habitat for Humanity. Their noble efforts aren't quite to the scale needed.
I responded to a editorial in my local paper entitled "How Will This City Every Move Forward" with the following letter, printed today, July 20. Excerpts are shown below with a few minor changes. The newpaper editor seemed to think our city was going to hell in a handbasket for its lack of will to grow (as developers wished) and I wanted to counter with the good things we already have here.
The July 17 editorial column set forth a complex situation concerning possible city annexation of land to the north. Disappointing? To some, certainly. Disturbing? Hardly. Democracy is messy, but the alternative is forgetting about elected representatives applying their best judgment and letting the monied interests run the town. I want Ada Hayden Heritage Park protected as much as anyone, but I can understand the differing viewpoints of council members...
...Except for winter, this is one of the best places anyone could live, and I've lived quite a few places. My neighborhood is attractive, safe, and friendly. When I ride my bicycle around town, people I don't know wave to me and smile. Motorists watch out for my safety. There is an abundance of cultural and intellectual stimulation. The people I know aren't so shallow as to care where I shop. From my perspective, everything here is so easy. Appreciate the goodness of our city that money can't buy."
Regarding the expansion of land protection programs, Babbitt says progress may not come easily in the short run. "History, however, instructs us that the trajectory of environmental protection is moving ever upward over time, even as the trend line occasionally breaks downward." (pp. 95-96)
The trajectory may move upward over time, but its speed, or lack thereof, is cause for alarm. The news of yet more of earth's ecosystems in rapid decline, or crashing, is as grave as every new piece of information on global warming. Perhaps by the time the earth heats up beyond what any existing ecosystem can handle, humans will already have destroyed them. Can we implement the tragedy of the commons over all of earth by greenhouse gas production, or will we trash the planet first? For that is the race we are currently running.
As a nation, and as a city, we have to do better. How will we move forward, indeed?