Friday, September 18, 2015

More dots to connect

I imagine, and hope, that most of you are familiar with this quotation from Aldo Leopold's A Sand County Almanac :
“There are some who can live without wild things, and some who cannot. These essays are the delights and dilemmas of one who cannot.”
(If you haven't yet read that grand and glorious and sensible book, please put it on your "to do" list for the near future.) As another one who cannot live without wild things, I've recently noticed that it's more and more of a challenge to find places that can be shared with them. I even have pictures to prove it.

When we moved into our current house many years ago, the "ridge" at the south end of the road was undeveloped. It was occasionally visited by sandhill cranes who foraged along the side of the "ridge." Later, just prior to the "great recession," development began on the top of that "ridge," shortly after sewer and water were extended to accommodate a major industrial development nearby. Following the custom of those developers who name subdivisions for what they eliminate, the development is called "Wilderness Ridge."

a residential subdivision, rural "progress"
a residential subdivision, rural "progress"
Photo by J. Harrington

You probably remember how residential development pretty much tanked several years ago, during the great recession. The ridge top sat "empty" for those several years. Cranes, like the one below, occasionally visited the grasslands along the walking / biking path.

a sandhill crane near a hillside path
a sandhill crane near a hillside path
Photo by J. Harrington

They even followed the mostly unused path themselves from time to time.

three sandhill cranes near the start of the path
three sandhill cranes near the start of the path
Photo by J. Harrington

Within the past year or so, the housing market has started to "come back." The houses below are behind the same tree the crane in the second photo stood beside. As I drove by yesterday, I saw four or five cranes along the path. How much more development do you think will be needed before they look for pastures that are just as green, but less crowded?

new house overlooking the path
new house overlooking the path
Photo by J. Harrington

I'm writing about this not because I'm against development, but because I'm against "growth" as it's come to be accommodated.  The subdivision in question is in the midst of what used to be farm fields, some of which are still in that use. I know how that works. When I first moved to Minnesota, I bought a house in a northern suburb of the Twin Cities. Our lot backed onto the city boundary and on the other side of the boundary was a cornfield. Privacy in the back yard for awhile. That backyard cornfield isn't there any more, just as the "ridge" is no longer anything like a wilderness. And yet, there's still an abundance of ready to be serviced land between the subdivision pictured (and the one I lived in before) and "The Cities." The county in which we now live, where the subdivision is located, is outside the seven-county metro area. The Metro Council regularly prepares regional development plans for the 7-county Twin Cities Metro Area.

Now the Citizens League is undertaking (I hope that's not a prophecy) another study of how well the Council does its job. On behalf of the cranes and the truly rural folks who live near me, I hope the League's study includes lots of emphasis on unintended consequences of "urban growth boundaries" that leak like sieves. [Full disclosure: I worked for the Metro Council for more than a decade, beginning shortly after the first land planning act local plans were submitted.] This is going to become a fascinating issue as the need to respond to climate change becomes more critical and more people learn that the most energy efficient "green" buildings still require lots and lots of energy to get the occupants to and from it. Meanwhile, sandhill cranes keep getting evicted because we allow (not plan for or design) "growth" the world can't support. That might have worked before most of the world's population became "urban" and we began to regularly set new heat records. The time has come when we need much better cities and urban regions, ones that accommodate humans and wildlife with minimal conflicts and even less energy consumption.

Eve's Design

By Moira Linehan 
Then there's the Yemeni legend   
of Eve in the Garden knitting   
a pattern on the serpent's back,   
the snake unfinished like the rest   
of creation, the first woman   
thinking to add design, a sheath   
of interlocking diamonds and stripes   
along that sensuous S,   
knitting giving her time to learn   
what's infinitely possible   
with a few stitches, twisting cables,   
hers a plan to mirror the divine   
inner layer that can't be shed   
no matter what it rubs up against.

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