In today’s New York Times a story tells of a grand plan to make Spring Hill, Tennessee, an economic and entertainment destination (“In Tennessee, Grand Plans for a $750 Million Theme Park Raise Great Doubt).
It appears to be nothing more than a wannabe scam.
But why do people fall for this? Why would people want this?? Cut up 1500 acres of open space for acres of pavement, hotels, and a theme park? Think of the development that would follow a venture like this. Bigger, more congested roads and highways; strip malls and fast food joints; and a service industry to support it. For an example, look at central Florida surrounding Disney World. Soon the only orange juice you can buy will be at McDonald’s.
Of course this nightmare of land misuse would only occur if the plan succeeded. Many of these schemes don’t add up, and sadly that isn’t discovered until the damage has already been done.
I smugly say misuse of land resources because it is both telling and unnerving that the mayor of Spring Hill would start to promote this plan without knowing much about the people proposing it.
It appears that the developers haven’t the experience or resources to do much. Which probably is a good thing because if the local government does so little checking and planning before any real plans are drawn, do you expect them to be smart planners down the road?
Sadly it seems that we learn by bad examples. Our cities and landscapes everywhere are littered with poor development choices. It is suburban sprawl, but it also can be misguided industrial and commercial development incentives plunked down in the middle of nowhere in the name of economic growth.
Minnesota’s former governor, Tim Pawlenty, had his failed JOBZ, for example, but he was not alone among political leaders for proposing government sponsored waste and mismanagement. Tax incentive “enterprise zones” are common examples of bad planning that plague the country. (Some of these incentives DO make a lot of sense, however; they tend be in urban areas where infrastructure and people exist to fill an economic void. Many cities, large and small, have used this tool effectively.)
We have a responsibility to use our most valuable resources — our natural resources, such as land — more responsibly. Economic, blindly pursued, is not inherently the best choice for our resources. Cheaper is not always better. Moreover, sacrificing a resource because it does not optimize a profit can be very short-sighted, indeed. We seem to be slipping back to a frontier mentality when it comes to land resources in this country.
Here in Minnesota there is a push to build a new bridge across the St. Croix River connecting the Minneapolis/St. Paul Metropolitan Area more conveniently with west central Wisconsin. Many people in Minnesota are pushing for the idea, including many politicians concerned about Minnesota’s economic health. It isn’t yet clear to me how a bridge encouraging growth in west central Wisconsin will economically benefit Minnesota, but what do I know? (I’m still waiting for someone to tell me.)
Economics is one issue and it is closely tied to another, our environment.
Former Vice President Walter Mondale, who as a senator in 1968 co-authored a bill to protect America’s rive
rs, correctly argues that the bridge circumvents the environmental law. The law is in place, in part, to protect the river from economic interests. The private market has no incentive to protect the river when it becomes more profitable to pursue economic interests that outweigh the economic opportunities possible from protecting the river.
We choose to create these laws because we recognize that our natural resources are shared resources which will outlast any of us. These resources are our true legacy for future generations. We need to be stewards of them, not destroyers.
On the one hand I am confused by people who don’t share my aesthetic and values when it comes to land, land use, and planning. I suppose that’s a matter of values and experience. But then I don’t understand how people can be so gullible to fall into a boondoggle without any apparent forethought or fact-checking whatsoever. I believe if we were smarter and more cautious, regardless of your values, the better off we would all be in the end.