“They paved paradise, put up a parking lot,
With a pink hotel, a boutique and a swinging hot spot.
Don’t it always seem to go
That you don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone?”
That’s how Joni Mitchell put it, more than 50 years ago. And her message still resonates to-day, probably now more than ever, as our landscape continues to change and seemingly never for the better. To paraphrase GK Chesterton, if a thing is old, tried and true, “you may be very sure that it is very good.” But change is usually bad.
My colleague, Wayne Howard, recently wrote of the local landscape and how the plague of overdevelopment is everywhere hereabouts clearing trees and land, sweeping away the past and generally being an infernal pestilence. I concur.
Mitchell’s lyrics and those of Carole King often go through my mind whenever I drive by the “Pleasant Valley Sunday” neighbourhood now coming up to blight our nearby area. I won’t say just where it is; only that’s it too close for our comfort. It could be anywhere in America, as countless such examples sadly exist. This particular one is the result of a shady and greedy real estate deal: a damnable thing, albeit not illegal.
“But I want you to know,” as Sheriff Andy Taylor would say, “you cain’t git much closer.”
Certainly it was highly unethical, involving as it did what you might call an “inside track” for selling these tracts of land. Not good. Again as Andy would say, “Not good a-tawwwlll.”
And just down the road in the opposite direction, there are two other new cookie-cutter neighbourhoods on the rise. One is coming up, with dump-trucks hauling dirt daily and the streets already paved, and preliminary preparations are now plainly and painfully under way for the second. Earlier this month, in an operation that took only a couple of days, a vast swath of rich, red earth was gouged out: an enormous expanse––now a treeless, gaping wound; truly an eyesore, stretching to the southwestern horizon. I suspect, based upon the lay of this now-wasted land, that the new neighbourhood will link up with another in similar progress along a nearby major state road.
It’s 50 years now since the publication of Richard Adams’s profound allegory, Watership Down. It remains as timely and poignant as ever in its warnings against mindless growth and senseless sprawl, environmental destruction and man’s insensitivity to God’s creatures. Looking at that gigantic section of wounded earth, Adams’s unforgettable imagery comes to mind. How many rabbits and other creatures were buried alive by the work of the monstrous machines molesting Christ’s creation?
Once, when I was the editor of another paper, I had the unhappy task of covering the coming of a needless road that would’ve wiped out many homes and farms that have been in the same families for centuries. The local citizens unanimously and vigorously opposed said road to nowhere, and the usual suspects––gutless, gormless, godless politicians––were all in favour of it. At the local city hall, protestors carrying signs spilled out into the street, and the local “Dirty Laundry” TV news crews, posturing and self-important, descended like so many buzzards. It was impossible not to sympathise with the ordinary folks who lived in the path of potential destruction, as theirs was the side of common sense.
More than 10 years later, I’m happy to say the road is yet to be built. Fortunately, our state’s Rube Goldberg-style department of transportation––one of the most wasteful, corrupt, boneheaded, boondoggling and generally badly run in the nation––is broke, so the road in question may never be built. But I’ll never forget one greedy politician (excuse the redundancy), who was very much in favour of that road. He’s also a powerful businessman, so it behooves me to tread lightly here.
“The Andy Griffith Show” again comes to mind and the episode, “The Loaded Goat,” from 60 years ago. In it, the comically self-serving Mayor Stoner (Parley Baer) is mad-keen that a highway crew keep blasting away for a new bypass, as his brother’s gas station stands to benefit from being in a prime spot along the roadway.
Said greedy politician was just like that, too. Even worse. And he was a loaded goat in more ways than one. He stood to benefit from the proposed road, as he owned hundreds of acres of land in the area, and we all knew he was chomping at the bit to see ’em developed.
One afternoon, the SOB called me at the office, intent on giving me more than his two cents’ worth on the matter. I’ve never forgotten his words:
“It’s my damned land, and I’ll do what I want with it. I’m a rich man! Haw-haw-haw!”
Good grief, the hubris.
Meet the devel opers
I’ve called them “devel opers” for long years. A good multilingual pun, that. Combine the English and Latin, and you roughly get “works of the Devil.” Very appropriate.
North Carolina is slowly being destroyed. Our state is being forcibly grown beyond all common sense, and our natural resources are being taxed beyond all sustainability. Countless writers, such as Sinclair Lewis a century ago, have long criticised the members of municipal and county councils. Some mean well, and some may even do some good. But most of them, in all objective honesty and in both major parties, are boneheaded Babbitts––moronically myopic and surprisingly greedy money-worshippers who never have at heart the best interests of “the people” they piously and mendaciously claim to represent but only the best interests of themselves, their own pockets and their even wealthier, darker masters who are farther up their filthy food chain.
I’ve covered such greedy, grasping groups and their individual dimwitted denizens for 30 years in half a dozen counties. North of 90 per cent of ’em are utterly vacuous idiots, clueless about the issues and often seemingly incapable of even reading their own agenda packets. Devel opers know that, and they take full advantage of the rubes who make up these groups.
It’s always the same clumsy dance and the same tired tune: “Growth is good! Tax breaks! We’ll ‘partner’ with you and give you pie in the sky and a chicken in every pot! Blobbity-blah, and goobledy-goo!”
Thus bedazzled by the money-minded monkeyshines of myriad maddening macaws, Councilman Lowbrow, his eyes ablaze with dollar signs, says, “Sounds good! Give ’em whatever they want!”
And this sort of thing happens all the time, with a depressing regularity. Shame on ’em. Some day, their grandchildren will curse them. Ah, well. Montana looks good. Or Idaho. But for the rest of us, suffering from the Charlotte Effect, God help us.
The Charlotte Effect
As the Queen City grows, and Mecklenburg runs out of room, devel opers look with hungry eyes and greedy hearts to the outlying bedroom communities in nearby counties.
Just why is development so bad for the environment? Urban development creates countless environmental problems, including air and water pollution and of course the sad loss of wildlife habitat. Urban water run-off, filled with poisonous contaminants, causes water pollution.
When we moved here four years ago, this place was charmingly rural and pastoral. To-day, it is less so, and I fear the problem will only get worse. My sister just sent me a photograph of three deer eating plants in her backyard in suburban Raleigh. God help them, these creatures have nowhere to go.
And there are other devilish disadvantages, re growth. Commenter Nic Haag recently weighed in on The Herald’s Facebook page, lamenting the effect of out-of-control growth on public education:
“The uncontrolled growth is stealing from people already here. People with kids heavily consider school districts when buying homes, and when a new development comes along and kicks you out of a district you specifically bought into, it’s stealing. The (county) commissioners should consider the people that vote for them, not the Yankees moving here.”
A stockbroker acquaintance––a Republican, mind you––told me a few years ago that it’s absurd to think that a bubble can somehow be grown and grown endlessly without eventually bursting. Whether you’re talking economic growth or the real estate racket (and of course, they’re both umbilically linked), there’s such a thing as reaching a common-sense plateau, and there should be a moratorium on both.
Charlotte is a textbook example of what not to do. And since we live in the Charlotte region, let’s take a look at it.
Just two years ago, writer Ely Portillo of the University of North Carolina at Charlotte Urban Institute wrote about the problems of growth and their environmental dangers. Air pollution, run-off and sediment in local waterways, disappearing open space and development chipping away at the tree canopy are among the problems by which Charlotte is plagued.
“About 18 per cent of land in the city is considered ‘vacant,’” Portillo writes, “and that number is shrinking as development roars ahead. The city recently changed its tree canopy goals, discarding the 50 per cent coverage by 2050 standard, as age and construction consume more trees. And air pollution, mostly driven by the region’s automotive-dependent development patterns, remains a concern. The side effects of growth are a regional problem, one that crosses city, county and state lines.”
Portillo also interviewed Catawba Riverkeeper Brandon Jones.
“The largest environmental challenge facing Charlotte is its rapid population growth,” said Jones. “As more people move to the area, pollution increases, and ecological services are strained. For the Catawba River, this problem manifests as increases in run-off, sewage and water use. When it rains an inch on a one-acre parking lot, almost 30,000 gallons of water run off of it. This water carries whatever was on the asphalt. Trash, automotive fluids, brake dust and cigarettes are all washed unfiltered into the nearest stream. Additionally, the volume and speed of this run-off cause flooding and stream erosion. As previously forested areas are developed for new buildings and parking, this problem will intensify.”
In spite of the ongoing Second Great Depression, the Charlotte region is flush with cash. But when you empty your toilet, you may not be flush with success precisely.
“When you flush, waste goes into the sewer system,” said Jones. “Charlotte Water maintains more than 4,000 miles of sewer lines. Each year, ruptures and clogs in the aging infrastructure send thousands of gallons of sewage into Catawba basin creeks. Please do not flush ‘Wet Wipes’! More people generate more waste and increase the chances of clogs.
“Each day,” he continued, “about 120 million gallons of water are withdrawn from the Catawba for municipal water. (They are taken out of Mountain Island Lake.) This is the water we use for drinking, washing, flushing and industry. Another 123 million gallons of water are withdrawn from the river for power generation. If you get a bill from Charlotte Water or Duke Energy, you are using Catawba water. These numbers grow proportionately with the region’s population and are expected to double by 2065. While the river generally has the capacity to provide this volume, it makes us less resilient to drought.”
Man is a mighty destructive animal. And he can have a tendency to blight nearly all he touches. He is perhaps less Vishnu, the preserver, than Shiva, the destroyer.
More than 20 years ago, I touched on that in my poem, “The Devel Opers.” Its concluding lines still haunt me:
“And somewhere in Heaven, Mother Nature’s heart breaks,
For once there were things known as woodlands and lakes.”
---The views and opinions expressed in “A Conservative Point of View” are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Lincoln Herald.