Now Is the Time for Long Term Thinking

One of the interesting consequences of the economic…whatever it is…has been a shift in conversations about what to do with the mill site. Not that long ago, everyone seemed very proactive with big plans and schemes, and a lot of that seems to have dropped off the radar. People are less ambitious and less sure about what they want to do with the site. I think this is both good and bad.

The good is that most of the plans being proposed for the site were really bad plans. The main idea seemed to involve doubling Fort Bragg’s housing units and building ‘a new downtown,’ I guess just abandoning the old one to the wolves because who really needs a downtown, right? I thought all of these plans were horrid then and I think they are horrid now and I hate walking past the giant poster in the library showing a proposed plan for the mill site that consists of row on row of cookie-cutter houses and shops. No, thank you.

So I think it’s good that people are starting to rethink these plans. They were bad from so many perspectives. They weren’t sustainable, they involved fundamentally changing the character of the town without really thinking about it, the issue of where all the water for this development was going to come from wasn’t addressed, and to be blunt, architecture right now makes me want to scream and the thought of building scores and scores of structures that would be cheaply built and ugly as sin offended me on a purely aesthetic level.

The bad thing is that the change in direction means that people aren’t thinking in the long term. They are thinking short. They are thinking ‘what will happen in the next five years’ and not about the extended future. And this is bad because people thinking short term tend to make poor choices. Their decisions are predicated on what is expedient now, rather than what would be good over time for people in the future and for the community as a whole. A certain selfish aspect tends to come up, where people want what is best for them and push for it without really stepping back to think about that the community itself might need.

The development plans I saw didn’t really address the problems the town has now. We already have a lot of vacant lots in town. If we want more housing units, we should build those up, especially since some of them are in high density zones. We already have a lot of vacant houses in town, for that matter; we should probably think about getting those occupied. We have a big homeless population that is being very poorly served. A lot of people are living in poverty. Businesses are failing because the local community doesn’t have the money to support them. The education system is flailing. We already have a downtown and it could really use some support.

The mill site represents tremendous possibilities. Right now it’s an open space. It’s a blank slate. A heavily contaminated blank slate, yes. But the way I see things going down, I suspect that the mill site will be turned into a playground for people who have money, while people who do not will be left in the same conditions they always were. There’s not going to be affordable housing out there, or low rents for people just getting started with businesses who need some help. There isn’t going to be a push to create neighbourhoods friendly to homeless folks. It’s just going to be artificial ugliness as far as the eye can see, an extension of the town without any meaningful attempt to extend the town’s services as well.

The services issue is a big one. We can’t even provide adequate services to the people who are already living here. Do we really want to radically increase the size of the town and hope that services will magically appear? Do we want to waste this amazing open space by covering it with houses? I’m not so sure we do. I’m not so sure what we should do with the mill site since I strongly suspect that my ideal scheme, of creating a nature preserve there, isn’t going to happen. Even though that would actually be a reasonably sound thing to do if Fort Bragg wants to position itself as a tourism destination. Creating a walkable nature park in close reach to town’s amenities would be a pretty good decision if what you are wanting to do is attract people who want to come here for the natural beauty.

Adding a marine science centre wouldn’t be too terrible either. It would be useful for research and it could also have a public outreach component. Why not establish an aquarium here? It would attract tourists (since that’s what people seem to want, although as we know, I am not a fan of the tourism industry), it would create more of a place for research, and it would be a facility for educating and reaching out to the community, as well. Why not create a resource actually geared at people who live here, instead of yet another reminder that we, the people who are already here, are of no interest because we don’t have money and we just want to live our lives in peace?

I suspect I am going to end up hating whatever happens with the mill site because it’s going to be driven by people motivated by short term greed. I know some folks are actually trying to push for more long term thinking and are advocating for some interesting and exciting things, but I am willing to bet they will get steamrollered by the calls for more money, because that’s what always wins in the end.