Orginally published on NC Media Watch.
Today the ill-defined notion of a balanced community is almost universally worshipped by all right-thinking people. The other night in Grass Valley the balanced and sustainable community was rolled out during a public forum on growth. Everyone there accepted its obvious merits as they would the sun’s rising in the morning. Yet I find myself in a quandary about the matter and sometimes feel awkward when I remain standing as others eagerly genuflect when the subject comes up in discussion. My friend and blog partner Russ Steele and I have an ongoing dialogue about the, to him obvious, merits of seeking/maintaining a balanced community here in Nevada County.
The proponents of sustainable balance idealize fairly small geographical regions, say, like the towns of Grass Valley and Nevada City, not only to have fairly similar socio-economic demographics, but also that such demographics match the demographics of larger municipalities such as Sacramento or maybe even California. As such balance is achieved, the added attribute of sustainability is thought to attach itself to the community so blessed. In their mind’s eye everyone sees tight knit and stable neighborhoods where the old mix with the young, the richer live next to the poorer, and all things needed are within walking distance. We all remember the pictures of such towns in the books of our youth and movies of bygone days.
And then in a quieter moment when I start re-reflecting on ‘(maybe) that was then, this is now’, the following thoughts always return and demand to be reconciled –
• Historically most people lived in balanced and stable communities in the sense that they were poor and uneducated, travel was difficult and slow, distant goods expensive, and the danger in the unknown was real. Additionally, by today’s standards these communities ‘enjoyed’ a numbingly cohesive culture and almost no political freedoms. Almost all people lived and shortly died within twenty miles of where they first saw light. Subsistence was inefficient but sustainable in the sense of being stable. Progress came when the younger males (and some females) left to seek fortunes that were not available to them at home. Save for oldest son, at no time could young people afford to establish sustainable, let alone comparable, households in the same neighborhood as the generation of their parents. Over the centuries this has been accepted as the natural social force accounting for the dispersion of humans to less settled lands and the resulting accretion of wealth. Even today I know of no young person who has the wherewithal to set up shop next to his/her parents, most certainly I did not. As we shed our pinfeathers we all had to move out to cheaper quarters and become neighbors with others of our generational and financial ilk.
• It appears that the presumed delights of multi-generational communities may have been just making the best of having no other alternatives. Today when we can comfortably travel tens of miles in thirty minutes and contact each other instantly by phone or email, people who have a choice have come to choose grossly imbalanced communities. We have the young professionals living cheek-by-jowl in upscale condos, families living in suburbias with the obligatory front and back yards, older folks living everywhere from mobile home parks to fancy apartments and gated retirement communities, and so on. In short, if they have the means, the last place they want to live is in a balanced community where widely different lifestyles have a chance to grate against each other. And those greedy developers would be the first to pick up on any voluntary trend toward balance by quickly developing neighborhoods that mixed connected housing with large lot houses all at different pricepoints. In reality it seems that such communities could only be brought into being by the fiat of social engineering backed by the police powers of the state.
• Connectivity is perhaps the most visible part of today’s accelerating technology. As most of us have become information workers, more and more can now work from our homes or nearby small offices that are distributed over literally unlimited regions of the world. Also, most workers in the developed countries have no problem with thirty minute commutes, and many spend even more time getting to and from work. I am still puzzled why it is now revealed truth that in Nevada County a public service worker must live within ten minutes of the job site else we will go without police, medical care, and firefighters. And to provide this seemingly facile live/work environment we must bring in the government to manage the housing markets. Wouldn’t the raw economics of the situation naturally correct itself when the idle rich in their sprawled estates begin suffering from unattended coronaries and conflagrations? Wouldn’t their demand for such services be reflected in the prices which in turn would motivate either longer commutes and/or permit such workers to enter the competitive Nevada County housing market (or cause the rich to leave and lower housing costs)? And wouldn’t the developers size up and supply what these service workers were willing to buy, all with minimum intervention by those third parties with police powers.
• There are strong arguments of reason and experience that price is at least the second most equitable mechanism for creating and allocating desired resources. The socialists and totalitarians are forever arguing that they have the best methods which when applied have done nothing but uniformly increase human misery. So it remains a puzzle to me that if Nevada County is such a desirable place to live, why not let market prices determine who gets to live here and the kind of balance the community will have. Other communities in California, Long Island, Florida, Colorado, … have become unbalanced to a fare thee well and people are still clamoring to get into them. What do they know that we don’t?
• And finally, where are these exemplars of balance that the left-leaning media has been keeping from us? Where are the towns and counties of balance where people joyously compose paeans to celebrate their proper demographic proportions and their state apparatchiks who ensure their sustainability?
Please understand, dear reader, that with these words I am not proscribing the fine qualities attributed to life in such balanced and sustainable communities. I just don’t see how a free people desiring to remain free in twenty-first century America can get from here to there, especially if there is no there there.
Orginally published on NCWatch, click to see comments.