Tuesday, May 6, 2008


Several months ago I was eagerly devouring Mary Renaults’ series of novels set in ancient Greece. I posted an entry about Greek cities and my opinion that our Greek and Roman ancestors would look at many of our so called cities, scratch their heads and go “?” followed by “I don’t know what this is but it’s not what I’d call a city.” Their cities were built around public market places where citizens could gather. There’s little left of the public market place left, it’s been strip malled to death. And the first time one of us agreed that we needed a permit to speak in what was left of public space; well that put the rest of the nails in the coffin

Which brings me to high fuel prices and more than fifty years of “do it your way.” It isn’t just a matter of big rigs with terrible mileage ratings. It’s decades of live here, work there, and shop in four other places. Decades of land use decisions that encouraged sprawl, starved mass transit, trucked in food from across the country and allowed our rail lines to decay.

 I haven’t done any research, but I suspect that many of the so called strip cities in the south west don’t have any kind of mass transit capability at all. Too few of us asked the right questions when decisions were made thirty years ago. Too few of us realized that the business and civic leaders praising a certain type of development may have had vested interests in their success.

Too many of us didn’t ask questions when we were told we could live anywhere we wanted to if we could afford it, we could have beautiful green lawns in the middle of a desert, we could have fresh oranges or grapes in December because it’s summer in Australia or Chili, a couple can have twelve or thirteen kids and few eybrows are raised; we could have anything wewanted and any attempt to question those wants was an infringement onour “personal liberties.” Too many of us didn’t seem to notice that the ones telling us about our trampled rights were the ones with their hands in our pockets and that the pea was never under the cup to start with.

There was an “oh shit” moment on The Weather Channel’s Forecast Earth a few weeks ago. Part of a segment focused on huge development being built in Arizona or New Mexico; more than five thousand homes. In an area that’s near desert to start with and has been in moderate to severe drought for nearly ten years. Trouble is, we don’t have records that go back all that far, and what we’re calling normal may have been unusually wet. What we’re seeing now may actually be normal.

Anyway, one of the prospective buyers, an older man, was asked if he was worried about water being available. His reply made me mad enough to spit. “There’s no water shortage as long as you can afford it.” His companion, presumably his wife, had the grace to look a little embarrassed but her comment was almost as bad. It was basically “well, they wouldn’t build it if everything wasn’t ok, would they?”

Honey, yes they would if they figured they could get away with it. The builder will have the money and be looking for more sheep to shear. As for you folks, you’ll be left holding the bag.

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