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Caution: Downer Ahead. Why I Believe in Traditional Town Development

The Evergreen Parker discusses his reasons for promoting traditional town planning in the village.

I'm not a pessimist by nature, at least I never used to be. Most days I think things are pretty good as they are and I suspect there's a good chance they'll be better tomorrow, given our ability to learn and grow and adapt.

But in my day job I deal with a lot of people in finance, people who have been participating or studying the capital markets for a long time. When they get worried, I figure it's time for me to pay attention to what they're worried about. They're worried about a lot of things, but mostly they're worried about debt, and what happens with people and governments can't pay back what they've borrowed.

Debt gets spread around to a lot of places. So when there's a default, the effects are felt far beyond the original lender and borrower. People much smarter than I am are concerned about what could happen to the global banking system if, say, European countries like Portugal, Italy and Spain default on their debt. I'm actually a little worried about what might happen if cities and counties and, yes, even states default on debt in the U.S.

Systems are so interconnected these days. A default someplace far away by an entity we've never even heard of can have consequences much closer to home than we might ever expect.

And so I guess it's from this perspective that I think about the future of where we live. I think resources—including money and energy—are going to be more scarce than we have been used to. I think more people in cities will be looking to walk and bicycle and use whatever public transportation is available than drive. They're going to want stores and services that are useful to them close by and easily accessible. For that reason, I see a new development with a giant parking lot as a bad investment. To me, it makes more sense to use the money we have available now to build something we have a pretty good idea will work in the future no matter how we get around. Traditional towns have been around for centuries because they work, and so it stands to reason they will work in the future.

That doesn't mean I'm right. It's just what I believe, and what I believe forms the basis for what I write. So when I write about how I don't like strip malls and how I'd like to see denser, more traditional development it's because I believe that's what will work best. I think 20 years from now we'll look at a town center at the Plaza site and be glad we bucked the strip mall trend. I think we'll look at a strip mall and wonder who's going to fix the cracked and weed-choked pavement.

There are days I wish I'd never started covering finance and met these people concerned about the future. I'd probably be a lot happier just driving to work every day and complaining about how The Man is gouging us at the gas pump. But that's not my reality. I worry about the future, but I don't want to just sit here and worry. There are things we can do now with the resources we have that could benefit us no matter what. We're fortunate to have this platform, Patch, to share those ideas with one another.

Wendy May 02, 2012 at 04:08 PM
Chris, I am in agreement with you on how development should be done. I believe strip malls with big parking lots are a bad way to look to the future. But my agreement with you might not be a good thing as I tend to be in disagreement with what is popular; I don't want a huge house, I don't want an SUV and I believe in quality over quantity. These tend to be things people strive for these days and unfortunately people aren't worried that a rise in gas prices might make it prohibitive to drive in the future. Smarter, denser development just makes sense. More people can walk/bike to the local shops when there is denser development and there is less of an impact on the environment when bucking the trend of "urban sprawl." I hope your articles start a dialogue about development options and what would be best for the future, and not just satisfy that immediate "oh this will work mentality."
epsouthwest May 02, 2012 at 08:12 PM
Wendy--I'm with you. However, I often fear that I'm in the minority in our community on most issues. I think we should start some sort of group to really get people thinking about these issues!
Chris Clair May 02, 2012 at 09:36 PM
Wendy, just by writing you're now part of the dialogue we're seeking. Thanks for reading. "epsouthwest," Sometimes, I think you're right about being in the minority; other times I'm not so sure. Check out this article in the Wall Street Journal about new thinking about development: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052702304811304577370044093629550.html

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