Small Town Values

Our pattern of growth is now more of a belief system - a religion almost - than it is an expression of logic.

This line, buried deep in Monday's post on whether or not we have the capacity to resolve conflict when our core values clash, resonated with Internet users around the country. Google Reader tells me this one line has "gone viral", in a modest sense, appearing as a link in many tweets and blogs. While we welcome those just discovering the Strong Towns movement here in our small part of cyberspace, I want to follow up on why this one statement may have attracted a lot of attention.

My chosen profession - and the unique way I work in it - requires me to attend a ton of meetings. Last year I attended over 120 community meetings, mostly city and township government, providing assistance as a planner/engineer. At many of these meetings I will be assisting the community with a planning process, helping them set goals and strategies for achieving an identified, common vision. 

At one recent meeting, we were proceeding through a group exercise to establish community goals and I brought the group to a point where they were faced with a clash of values. What do we do when a new development costs more to provide service to than it generates in tax revenue? In small towns, as you have seen on this blog, this situation is the default occurrence.

The answer is a slippery slope. If we continue to build such developments, there is an implied tax increase in the future (Core Value #1: Low Taxes) where current residents are essentially subsidizing a developer by committing to shoulder the future, unfunded maintenance burden. If we limit such developments, we are imposing restrictions on what someone can do with their property (Core Value #2: Limited Government Regulation), restrictions that many see as unfair in light of what others have been allowed to do in the past.

It is tough to get past this, and most often people will end up rejecting the premise (that new development in our current model does not pay for itself), even though they deep-down understand it is true.

Clash of values unresolved. Our belief system rejects the challenging premise and we can remain ignorant and happy.

For those of us that see this clearly for what it is, there is a religious feel to it. The desire to believe is so strong that anything that questions the core belief is rejected as heresy. As was recently said to me in one meeting:

"Of course it pays for itself - how else would we be here?"

Oh my.

Recently I was part of a panel put together by Minnesota Public Radio to discuss issues of growth and development in exurban communities. As part of the event, MPR presented a video put together by Nikki Tundel. It is brilliant. In a very real, yet charming and respectful way, the video captures many of the value clashes I routinely am trying to resolve in the communities we work with. It is particularly striking since the words are those of the residents of rural Baldwin Township, an exurban community here in Minnesota.

This topic fascinates me, so there will be more on it to come here in the future. For now, take a few minutes to watch this video and make your own mental count of how many clashing core values you hear.


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