Monday, November 19, 2007

Home Towns and Economic Development


Last week Auntie wrote about home towns and how they change. I replied that if our home towns didn’t change we probably wouldn’t have left them.

I grew up in an idyllic town. There were old homes and old businesses and old families of several generations. It was a town where as a resident you probably knew just about every resident and most of their phone numbers. You knew every ones name and their relationship to others in town and where their parents worked.

My town was changing as I grew up. It was inevitable because all towns change, but for me there was a limit to the amount of change I would accept. The 90s was an era for great change. The old houses were being destroyed and being replaced by banks and stores. Every month another local historic land mark was destroyed to make way for the new. Our town grew by 25% in a couple years with a population of Condo Dwellers. A simple bicycle ride became a dangerous activity. I had to leave and seek a new area in which to live.

I found Astoria. Back then aside from gas stations the only franchises in town were a McDonalds, Dairy Queen, Safeway, Sentry, and Radio Shack. I could live with that. Astoria had that small town charm and a sense of community that felt welcoming.

When I moved here I supported only local businesses when furnishing my home and filling my cupboard. I bought automobiles and machinery here. I bought books and music and art here. I hired local professionals. I still do most of my business locally.

It is this local shopping that builds communities. I appreciate seeing local businesses thriving.

Oddly there is an internal conflict I have when I have to process the idea of leaving things as they are and economic development. I’m not one who welcomes change, but at the same time I don’t feel I have the right to tell people they can’t do what they want to make a living or even grotesque profits from their investments. My former town was in an economic boom when I left.

I was at a party recently, really I was, no lie. There were people there who were talking about economic development and about the benefits of increasing the logging operations and building new buildings here and there and bringing industry into the county. Yes, there were a lot of Republicans there. I was out-numbered, but I started getting a sickening feeling that they truly believed that this vision of growth was a good thing. No one brought up the point of where and when it was all going to end and what we would look like in twenty years. The premise was that it was good for the community and it will give the children a reason to stay in the area.

I’m sure that vision is fixed for them, but in reality if you want the kids to stay here they should stop development right now. It was development that made me flea my home town and not want to return.

I wish that these visionaries could see the benefits of staying small and the possibilities of down sizing. Bigger is never better. When we get bigger we need to add more infrastructure to support the society. This means more government, more social programs, more schools, more jails, more police…it never ends.

There was a time not all that long ago when the Jail pictured above was the right size for this area. (By the way, for you out of Towners, that is our old County Jail and it was used in the film "the Goonies.") Would you prefer to live in a world where a Jail of this size was sufficient or in a world where we need a County Jail that can house hundreds? Uncontrolled growth and economic development will make us bigger, not better.

9 Comments:

Blogger Beth said...

My old neighbourhood/town is full of mini-mansions, large malls, condos and (of course) all the farms have gone.
Bigger is definitely not better.

7:52 AM  
Blogger RobbKidd said...

Wow,

I just did a presentation for my Environmental Ethics class how the town had changed dramatically overnight. I must be on the same wave length as you. The town, we came from is no longer but a faceless bedroom community for New York City. When I hear politicians speak of creating jobs by encouraging development I shrug with horror.

Robb

10:02 AM  
Anonymous walter richards said...

I disagree (strongly) with your premise that we NEED more infrastructure when we get bigger. I think the correct statement would be we GET more infrastructure, whether we need it or not ... and whether we even want it or not, when we get bigger.

As to an industry that could bring in "family wage" jobs, without bringing in "industrialization" ... healthcare. The coast is growing in popularity as a retirement area, and more healthcare professionals (nurses, CNAs, etc) are desperately needed. Yet there's a nationwide shortage, not to mention the shortage is small communities like ours because the workers out there prefer big cities.

11:51 AM  
Anonymous gearhead said...

Guy Smiley said:
>>>Oddly there is an internal conflict I have when I have to process the idea of leaving things as they are and economic development. I’m not one who welcomes change, but at the same time I don’t feel I have the right to tell people they can’t do what they want to make a living or even grotesque profits from their investments.<<<
You cut and pasted this from the, "Are you a closet Republican?" quiz ;now didn't you?

12:21 PM  
Blogger The Guy Who Writes This said...

Beth, isn't like it's all OK and then suddenly it isn't?

Robb, I'm glad to old enough to get a feel for what a loss it was to lose the magic of the old town.

Walt, you are right, need is never considered, just assumed, but we do get more of everything. It seems unavoidable.

No Gearhead, I am registered as an independent so my politics are moved by my moods rather than party doctrine.

12:56 PM  
Blogger Little Miss Curious said...

There is a lot of talk in Vermont also about how to get young people to stay here. A number of politicians are convinced that we need to bring big business to Vermont so that young people will stay for "good jobs". Really, the young people that stay or return to Vermont, do so for the quality of life that small communities offer. If strip malls and industrial parks began to dot the landscape, instead of thriving main streets and barns, there wouldn't be much pull to stay or return. Different coast, same issues.

5:20 PM  
Blogger The Guy Who Writes This said...

LMC Thanks for checking in. You are getting pretty good with spinning, girl. I'm proud of you.

I wonder what it would be like living in a place that didn't change for the worse?

7:47 PM  
Anonymous Columbiacontrolfreak said...

As someone born in an inner city mid California area I look at development far different than someone born in a small idyllic town. To me development means more jobs so people are standing in line for food boxes. Small isolated rural towns are great if there's ways for people to make a living.

I spent some time in the forest service in a very isolated area and saw the same poverty I did as an inner city kid but worse because there was no infrastructure to help. Even those people not hard up for cash suffered for the lack of services, mostly medical, and the kids lost a lot of educational opportunities.

I saw a whole lot of people trying to survive without any industrial jobs standing in line when the government surplus truck pulled into town.

Maybe where you guys grew up was great and wonderful, but maybe you need to take off the rose colored glasses and see what wasn't so great.

10:38 AM  
Blogger The Guy Who Writes This said...

My town had family farms and businesses were passed down from generation to generation. Most are now gone due to big box and franchise enterprises. Where children could once take over the family business, they are now doomed to being employees. I saw things clearly when I moved.

8:42 AM  

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