The WAY I see it: The way to grow is not always expansion

OPINION – Just about every candidate running for local political office is going to say something about the necessity of the community to expand.

The question that should come to our minds is “why?”  The broader question is “Why is it necessary for a community to expand?”

Screen-Shot-2013-07-12-at-8.14.57-AMAnswers that are dropped willy-nilly from local power broker’s lips range from “economic vitality” to the ever popular need to “keep children close to home.”  I don’t begrudge anyone for wanting to have a vitalized economy nor wanting to keep their children and grandchildren close.  However, both reasons are somewhat self-centered if not selfish.

With over two decades of firsthand experience in municipal planning and management I can reliably state that expansion of a community brings with it equal doses of benefit and burden.  Communities grow and crime grows as well.  In one small community, eager for economic expansion, the city council chased a national fast food restaurant with enticements to open in their town.  A year later the same governing body was complaining about the expansion of sandwich wrappers and food bags blowing around in the breeze.

Screen Shot 2013-07-12 at 8.14.13 AMWith the expansion of population inevitably comes the broadening of social views which are initially outside the spectrum of acceptability by the established community.  That does not mean that either is fundamentally flawed.  It does mean that social change and disruption occur with expansion.

Resources, such as CommunityMatters, are valuable assets to assist cities through meaningful growth as opposed to sprawling expansion … just to expand.

One issue particular to Washington County is access to water.  The demand for residential and business expansion increases the demand for more water.  The cost of developing more water resources will always exceed the revenues available to pay for the expansion.  The argument against my premise is that the local government will use impact fees to develop the newly needed water resources.  Impact fees, though designed around intricate formulas to determine real impacts, are never fully accurate.

Screen Shot 2013-07-12 at 8.11.33 AMFollowing on the same train of thought as the water impact fees to portend a solution to the zeal for expansion has been augmented theories and formulas to assess “economic impact,” “environmental impact,” “social impact,” “and “educational impact.”  These are all combined with impact fees for sewers, sidewalks, streets, recreation, et cetera unto the nth degree.

Do not misinterpret what I am saying to be an indictment of growth.  In fact, it is anything but an indictment.  My accusation is toward politicians that gravitate to the idea that sound governance is achieved through community expansion at any cost.

Communities do not need to expand in population and government resources in order to be sound communities.  The old adage from the 70s that “bigger is better” is simply not so.  I was there in the 70s and I am here in the 2000s.  Most of the intervening time I spent working with local government.  I have witnessed few situations where bigger is actually better.  What I have seen are examples where “better” facilitates bigger.

All across the USA there are small communities that survive and even thrive while remaining modest in size.  They do not create millionaires or great national political leaders, but they are sound communities.  They band together.  They celebrate the virtue of their history … together.  They did not need to grow to remain great cities.

This all reminds me of an old cliché, “a rolling stone gathers no moss.”  I have sat on mossy stones wedged into the banks of slow moving streams in over a dozen tiny towns, watching the quiet water flow gracefully past.  The moss was a kind and welcome resting spot in an otherwise frantic world rumbling forward with expansion, only because it was a talking point.

In Washington County we ought not to focus so much on the expansion of community but rather on the preservation of community.  Growth will come, there is no doubt.  But, wisdom would have us first become fit for the larger size.

In conclusion I share a short vignette.  While living in Maryland our home had a tall row of cedar trees separating us from our neighbor’s lawn.  For years the trees had grown with shallow roots because of frequent but short rain storms.  The water never really soaked in too deeply.  A hurricane came through and uprooted half the trees because they had no strength of depth.  When the winds grew to an unusual velocity what had once been attractive lay as piles of broken branches.

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William Way is an opinion columnist. The opinions stated in this article are his and not representative of St. George News. Additional writings may be found at wwwjr.wordpress.com.

Email: wwwjr@stgnews.com

Twitter: @STGnews

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2013, all rights reserved.

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8 Comments

  • Bender July 12, 2013 at 7:16 pm

    Well said. Bender likes the cut of your jib.

  • William July 12, 2013 at 9:01 pm

    Bender: Thanks. I’ll try not to run aground with that thar jib. But, I assure you I will occasionally sail in rough waters. 🙂

  • Tyler July 12, 2013 at 11:31 pm

    St. George needs to grow and diversify with more life and real people. Amen!

  • Zeke July 13, 2013 at 7:27 am

    Please elaborate on this comment. Are you saying we have too many zombies roaming around and we need more live people? Still not sure what you meant.

  • Roy J July 13, 2013 at 12:31 pm

    Expansion cuts more than one way: the average working citizen in this area stands to benefit greatly from more competitive wages and better job oppurtunities. Actually, that is the case in any community with working citizens. This may not be a vital concern for citizens who worked elsewhere, or do not need to work, but choose to retire or to vacation here in St George. These citizens may find the idea of community preservation more appealing. Perhaps they value the peace, quiet and leisure oppurtunities which they can enjoy, rather than the competitive job market they do not benefit from. At any rate, how this question is currently being decided ultimately determines how community policy will proceed, or attempt to proceed. I do not see why the answer cannot include both, although I think the working citizen more important to the community, since they have more at stake. Ideally, every city official would recognize that the well being of their community depends upon the well being of every citizen in their community. Ideally, city officials would make that well being the foundation of all their practical policy. I don’t have anything to say about small towns celebrating the virtue of their history except that the term makes no sense whatever. History is not a virtue; history is a chronicle of human events, typically a written chronicle. Wisdom is a virtue; sadly it is not a practical one, though suitable for philosophers. In city planners I prefer an violent and benevolent cleverness. The author rightly points out that growth is sometimes a metastasis. I would like to point out that preservation is often lymphedema.

  • Chris July 17, 2013 at 3:58 pm

    Bravo, William! This is a point of view rarely expressed in this area of the country where growth for growth’s sake is a sacred cow. You say that you ” have witnessed few situations where bigger is actually better.” I will go a bit further and say that bigger is never better. We must all come to realize that we can have prosperity without growth.

  • Jake October 3, 2013 at 4:17 pm

    If people want to live in a bigger city, why don’t they just move to a bigger city?

    And if number of people or size of the city meant it was “better,” then Mexico City would be the best city in the world!

  • Lisa November 5, 2013 at 6:09 am

    Way’s got it right, and citizens would do well to read Eben Fodor’s “Better Not Bigger” that details the growth myths that are used to convince citizens (taxpayers!) that growth is absolutely necessary. Reading the book gives citizens info to counter what the growth faction is putting forth. I think all citizens would do well to sit down and make a list of the pros and cons of growth in their lives. My pro growth list is very short; while my con list grows. If citizens agree that excessive growth is needed, then so be it. Remember, we will continue to grow. What’s in question is how much and how fast.

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