Quality development in small towns
As economic development reaches small towns and creates new opportunities for many of its existent residents while attracting new residents, more often than not we find that it also entails the birth of a large amount of problems that where originally non existent.
How can a small town walk the fine line between maintaining its integrity and absorbing a world view? The question is rhetorical but reflecting on this does not exclude the possibility of new understanding for recurrent situations.
Upon reflection we can begin to see and understand many of the problems that growth carries with it. Upon further reflection we can accept our inability to do the opposite. In other words it is much harder for us to “imagine” how great a town can become and much easier to notice all the arising problems. It is even harder for us to imagine how great a town can become not only for us but for others too.
What are our thoughts when we create new things for a place and its people?
Are our thoughts sensitive to this generation?
How about the generation after this generation?
How about 7 generations from the present?
More often than not our decisions and thoughts are short termed. Unfortunately short-term decisions, or rather a lack of vision or imagination tends to create problems down the line.
It does not take studied intellectuals to suspect that careless draining of sewage water into the ground, rivers, and ocean, will create issues once a town’s population reaches a critical mass. At that point we find ourselves with a big problem.
Usually it is the norm that big problems are dealt with by means of big solutions. Contrary to what we believe, big solutions tend to create bigger problems.
A large amount of untreated sewage is dealt with by means of a large water treatment plant. Large water treatment plants create a larger problem once they decay, leak, and can no longer sustain the rate at which sewage grows. In other words large problems and large solutions tend to be rather inflexible and unable to adapt.
We can imagine it would be easier to take care of our waste as a society, if we are taught a way to take care of our waste as individuals.
But for some reason we have put at risk the health of nature for the sake of the health of our economic development. We are only quick to react on an issue as water quality, if and only if, this issue directly affects the health of our economy. This is a bit backwards upon reflecting that the very health of nature creates economy.
What would be the lessons if we were humble enough to accept nature as our teacher?
Maybe its lessons can help us foster places, towns, and cities that are simultaneously alive as communities as they are economies.
So in the prior question, who exactly am I referring to when I include the word “we”.
Most towns are succumbed to the forces of two enterprises, the interests of the public forces (any detached centralized form of government) and private forces (any detached centralized form of capitalism or economic enterprise). In some cases there is a third force which can be a religious organization that may or may not serve in the best interests of the majority of a town’s members.
“We” refers to neither of these but rather to a town’s community or group of communities.
It is important for us to understand that if a town is to become something great, it is most probably going to become great because of the members of its community rather than by the private or public forces. I will add to this by saying that it is most certain that a town will manage to sustain itself as a great place only because of its community or communities rather than by the private or public forces.
“The indispensable form that can intervene between public and private interests is that of community. The concerns of public and private, republic and citizen, necessary as they are, are not adequate for the shaping of human life. Community alone, as principal and as fact, can raise the standards of local health (ecological, economic, social, and spiritual) without which the other two interests will destroy one another. By community, I mean the commonwealth and common interests, commonly understood, of people living together in a place and wishing to continue to do so. To put it another way, community is a locally understood interdependence of local people, local culture, local economy, and local nature. (Community, of course, is an idea that can extend itself beyond the local, but it only does so metaphorically. The idea of a national or global community is meaningless apart from the realization of local communities.)” Wendell Berry, Sex, Economy, Freedom & Community. Pg 119-120.
Then as a community or group of communities becomes the voice for a place it can set a course for the stewardship of this place and its health. Community members will speak of development under different terms than those stated by public or private interests. You will most probably here a community member visioning more parks, libraries, schools, and cleaner streets, rather than more high rise condominiums, busier roads, and rising food and land prices.
Under this light it would appear that there is an inevitable dualism between development and identity. We have an ongoing war of sorts between community members and developers or law officials. This dualistic vision is again a product of short sightedness since there are plenty of developers that will intend to make a place better and plenty of community members that will not resist change but rather embrace it.
The possibility of a symbiotic or synergetic system between the members of a community and the forces that have the power to change it is a rare but plausible occurrence; If and only if a community has a clear image or imagination of what it wants to become and in effect sets the standards that will lead them along this path.
In short a developer will benefit from selling condos in a vibrant healthy community rather than a community with sewage contaminating its waters in the same way a community will benefit from new members that have come to enforce and enhance what a place is and stands for.
A synergy of this sort will begin a trend towards what we can temporarily name “quality development” or a development that has veered away from extreme or limited interests. A development rooted from a more complex or natural essence.
This is not to be mistaken by a utopian view of what a town may be. Utopias are top down plans that centralize and synthesis all that a town, place or idea may be. A characteristic of a utopian view is that it is all encompassing and pre planned, thus making it inflexible in nature and imposing as things change over time.
We are speaking of a more self-organized development that is the result of the constant standards and imagination of a community and its members to the ever-changing and ongoing growth of a place.
There can be no overall plan for a development of this sort, just a set of commonly agreed and protected values. In other words the values of a place and its people behave as a DNA of sorts for the unfolding of all the structures and decisions that take place as development occurs.
Other social models have found ways to embed these values or community plan into their storytelling, song, dance, craft, and even buildings. It allows for a more flexible town planning and creation that is tied directly in one form or another to all the members of its community.
The result is a social group or town that is able to maintain a steady state and more-or-less constant balance in a changing and growing environment.
“The concept of homeostasis can be transferred without difficulty from a molecular context to ecological, economic and cultural contexts. In each area we have the unexplained fact that complicated homeostatic mechanisms are more prevalent, and seem to be more effective, than simple ones. This is most spectacularly true in the domain of ecology, where a typical stable community, for example a few acres of woodland or a few square feet of grassland, comprises thousands of diverse species with highly specialized and interdependent functions. But a similar phenomenon is visible in economic life and in cultural evolution. The open market economy and the culturally open society, notwithstanding all their failures and deficiencies, seem to possess a robustness which centrally planned economies and culturally closed societies lack. The homeostasis provided by unified five-year economic plans and by unified political control of culture does not lead to a greater stability of economies and cultures. On the contrary, the simple homeostatic mechanisms of central control have generally proved more brittle and less able to cope with historical shocks than the complex homeostatic mechanisms of the open market and the uncensored press” Freeman Dyson, Origins of Life. Pg.72
Although Dyson is a bit too optimistic of the homeostatic capabilities of a free enterprise he is able to expose the inflexibility present in top-down centralized planning.
Community planning is a bottom-up development force that when able to attain some cohesiveness can drastically affect the quality of a town’s development. This is not wishful thinking but rather a fact.
So if people coming together for a common cause seems as to simple of a solution for the betterment of the quality and balance in a town or place, then at the very least, next time you are encountered with someone from your community remember there is the opportunity to see your place for what it is and imagine what it may become rather than indulge on what it should have not.