Break Off Our Love Affair With Growth
It seems to me that every decade has its "buzz" word. It's slipped into the fabric of countless articles and often presented to us as something wonderful and just what everyone had been hoping for.
The "Buzz" word of this decade in Moore County is "growth," and I guess we all are supposed to feel good about it. I've spent a lot of time trying to find something positive about this wonderful future heading our way, and I always come up empty-handed.
I imagine if you like a plethora of shopping malls, growth is great. If you buy into the story that growth lowers taxes, it sounds marvelous. If you're a Broad Street merchant and believe it means more commerce coming in your door, so much the better. If you're jobless and believe growth will land you a high-paying position -- well, bring it on.
Growth, in reality, brings staggering taxes. It brings higher crime, congestion and pollution, and it has caused the death of many wonderful downtown shopping areas. Who on Broad Street can compete with the cluster of big name stores in a Super Mall?
As for jobs? If you're not trained for a job at present, no amount of growth will provide you with a lucrative occupation. Growth only assures you that there will be more people competing for a position you might want.
And what blight will growth inflict on the natural beauty we treasure -- the long stretches of green highway and open farm lands that welcome residents home and induce tourists to make the turn into our town? Does our tourist industry really believe travelers and golfers are attracted here by the southern part of U.S. 1 or the growing acres of development housing? Growth levels the small-town atmosphere and destroys every single thing that most residents moved and/or stayed here for.
What about our ability to sustain this growth? Have we forgotten the drought that affected us only a few years ago? Do we somehow believe that this was an isolated phenomenon? Are we foolish enough to think that a water supply that could barely sustain a population the size we had that summer, will somehow magically multiply so that it can provide for the population we will have in the future?
What about our valuable farmlands? The Eastern Seaboard is blessed with some of the most consistently productive farmland in the nation -- farmland that is being cemented over at an astounding rate, and that can never be reclaimed in our lifetime.
We have created a world filled with uncertainty. Our ability to survive the changes we may have to face rests, in large part, on our ability to be self-sufficient. Without our prime farmlands, there is little chance we can preserve or protect the way of life that has blessed America for so long.
The idea that growth equates with progress may have been true a hundred years ago, when a growing population assured tradesmen of all kinds and perhaps a scheduled stop by the railroad; but in 2006, growth does not mean progress for towns like ours. The East Coast of the United States is littered with the remnants of small towns that have been swallowed up and lost in the urban mire that growth produces.
Our explosive development does not fulfill any public need. It performs no service, and it is unwanted by the majority of citizens living here. It destroys our ability to produce food at the same time it destroys a way of life. It is driven by greed and justified by a shortsighted and selfish view of the world.
Furthermore, development is inherently unfair to existing residents. Not only do they lose their town with its surrounding open spaces, but they are also left with the responsibility of paying the tax bill while the developer walks off with the profits.
I keep wondering why we continue to destroy the things we treasure most -- and why, when we have precious areas, we fail to act before they fall prey to the disease of land speculation and development.
Development has flourished because our laws have allowed it to flourish. Laws don't change unless there is a public outcry that demands change. We need policy that is backed by legislation in order to develop a zoning plan for Moore County; and part of that legislation should make the developer responsible for any increase in taxes directly attributable to their development, including the need for building and staffing schools.
But what is needed most of all is a demand for an immediate moratorium on all development in order to have time to search for a better way to safeguard our very source of life: our environment. If we fail at this, we will have failed the generations to come.
In the end, surrounded by the mess we have created, we will wind up with the same question that has plagued countless other small towns that have bought into this idea of bounteous growth: "How did we let this happen?"
Growth is only wonderful for the select group that profit from it, and far from wonderful for the vast majority of us who pay for it. It's one buzzword that should "buzz off."
Linda Ticehurst Pierce lives in Southern Pines.
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