"Growth for the sake of growth is the ideology of the cancer cell."
Edward Abbey, writer, essayist, novelist (1927-1989).
This is the first in a series of weekly blogs, which hopefully can stimulate some public discourse on something that affects each and every one of us: growth and development in our town. But because it happens in slow motion, or rather in fits and starts and possibly because the pace of modern life leaves less and less time to consider the big picture, there seems to be less and less public involvement in planning the kind of town we want to leave for our children and their children.
Unless, that is, something comes along that might affect us, usually adversely, and then we come out and protest but just for that development project. If we add to this mix the financial motivation of developers and their ecosphere, their deeper pockets and their greater understanding of the somewhat arcane rules and terminology of development then there is little surprise that the outcome is largely determined by a narrow section of the population.
The , is to broaden the participation by the citizens of Yorktown, and surrounding communities, into determining the shape of our town for the future. We will achieve this goal by a number of different routes including public education, specifically demystifying and publicizing the planning process, learning from other communities and applying the lessons learned and most specifically, shining a spotlight on major development projects planned for Yorktown.
If necessary we will provide “the other side of the story” from that spun by the narrow and financially motivated group typically proposing the development so that Yorktown residents can gain a more balanced and nuanced viewpoint. You can find more about YSG at our website.
Which brings me to the quotation at the head of this piece. We are not against growth and development in Yorktown. We understand that there is a segment of our population that is opposed to any development and while we respect this view we do not believe the future of Yorktown is to freeze the status quo and become a kind of living museum to (frankly rather unlovely) 20th century development. In particular we believe that some kind of commercial development is critical to the vibrant future of this community and not to mention our tax base.
That said, there is a pernicious and somewhat lazy, short-term thinking view of development that is making the rounds among elected officials and others who would seek to profit from projects. It goes something like this: “The economy is in the doldrums, we need jobs, we need to secure the tax base and therefore any development is good for us right now. We cannot afford to lose this project.”
We believe that at a time of economic and social vulnerability we have to be especially vigilant against poor planning decisions that are championed in the name of temporary expediency. It just takes a drive around Yorktown to see the detritus of prior planning decisions: empty big box stores, a moribund mall, unfilled luxury condominiums, and all this while the downtown areas gently fade. And while you are driving you may well experience the greatest downside of poor planning: traffic, the direct result of spreading development around all over the place!
And the current answer to this situation in the roster of major development projects in Yorktown’s in-box? Another Big Box store in an already jammed major east/west traffic corridor and more luxury condominiums (coming in under the stealth coverage as “senior housing”) in an area that was recently set aside to minimize development. Neither of these projects follow the vision laid out in the recently adopted Comprehensive Plan, something hundreds of Yorktown residents contributed towards and which the town paid hundreds of thousands of dollars and spent nine years to produce.
We should beware of cancer cells.
Submitted by Jonathan Nettelfield, Yorktown Smart Growth member.