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An old Cherokee is teaching his grandson about life. "A fight is going on inside me," he said to the boy.

"It is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves. One is evil—he is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego." He continued, "The other is good—he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. The same fight is going on inside you—and inside every other person, too."

The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather, "Which wolf will win?"

The old Cherokee simply replied, "The one you feed."

First People - The Legends. Cherokee Legend of Two Wolves. November 16, 2004. [accessed April 7, 2012].

Friday, October 30, 2009

Land-use, Leadership, Elections, and Prince George's County

My county which is named after the Danish husband of Queen Anne of Great Britain has almost 171 square miles of euphemistically described “undeveloped” land. Because of the proximity to the capital of the United States, a major industry, if not the major industry, in the county, is development and is concerned with “developing” the “undeveloped” land. Developing land in Prince George’s County Maryland is the business of leveling forests, paving farmland, and draining wetlands so that greater numbers of people can find work and housing, as well as shopping and recreation at a lower cost to the developer than would be had if the focus was on re-developing already disturbed and degraded areas.

There are at least three types of property owners in the “undeveloped” area: those whose families have lived and worked the land for several generations, those who bought the land to escape urban living or those who invested to profit speculatively on a near term land sale. The first group looks to work with a developer to develop his property to realize an inheritance and in many cases to find away to escape the hardships of the land for a better quality of life elsewhere. The second group comes from the city having made enough money to sustain the rigors of “country” living, while the third is interested in the maximum immediate value to be gained in a sale.

Because the leading economic force in the county is development there is little impetus to find a more sustainable program for building wealth in the county. As long as there is cheap land why encourage other redevelopment or creative reuse projects which may cost more? This leads to development which tends to move people further away from mass transit, into new communities that need strip malls to provide a platform for basic necessities all of which must be supported by ever increasing infrastructure such as roads, schools, and emergency response facilities and personnel. The initial capital for these infrastructure additions comes from the development project cost calculations. However there is little long term maintenance support built into the initial outlay so on going long term maintenance and upkeep must come from the existing tax base which cannot afford to maintain its own infrastructure let alone new challenges. The social Ponzi scheme works well until the land is exhausted.

The result of this process is that investors and developers instead of asking politicians to create incentive zones for employment and construction in areas already ecologically compromised, instead find ways to allow the design and possible construction of shopping malls in flood plains next to nationally recognized wildlife critical areas adjacent to ill-advised future waste transfer station sites. The speculator who purchases such a property of course wants to recoup and maximize the investment at the expense of the general public using the claim of helping the public. The fact that few would want to shop next to a waste transfer station is not brought up in the hope that the public will not notice.

Adding to the morass of conflicted motives is the idea that clean water, clean air and functioning ecosystems will cause developers to flee because the cost is too great or because buyers may be adverse to a clean environment. I know it is presumptive of me, but were I the county executive, I would be focused on quality of life for those already here. I would be tilting at the wind mill of our school system, and working to create legislation that would encourage renovation through development and revitalization of our transportation hubs. Above all I would focus on bringing jobs to out existing communities rather than building more communities we cannot support. This of course is a platform for election defeat as the only economic development plan for the county would pull out all the stops to label this idea the raving of an unqualified and irresponsible visionary.

The idea that a functioning ecological system is an anathema to development is rooted in practices and cultural expectations of the past. It is not an either or proposition but a question of sustainability for land is not infinite and we are dependent for basic services such as drinking water and waste filtration on these land based systems. We cannot keep building storage facilities and dumps in our communities labeling them opportunities. Since the end of World War 2 the citizens of this county have heard over and over again that quick development of open spaces and warehouse construction will bring wealth. It may have, but where does this wealth live? Development has to be a balance between the immediate needs of investors and the long term health and welfare of the residents left behind. We need to envision incentives that encourage reexamination of our existing infrastructure through private public partnerships in our established areas. We need to find away to pay a fair price to those who want to leave the undeveloped tier while making it clear that here is no more extension of infrastructure support for dense construction into that region. We need to build new libraries and schools in our already existing communities not build more communities in the rural tier so that we have to find funds for new schools there. (we do need to maintain our schools and support in the rural tier none-the-less)

I would propose for our established communities an incentive program for businesses that create at least 25 net new full-time positions and pay a minimum of 150% of federal minimum wage and would allow, in special circumstances, a company to create as few as 10 new full-time positions paying at least 400% of the federal minimum wage. This is the kind of legislation that we should be discussing, not how to do a last minute development end run next to nationally recognized wetlands in the rural tier.