Rural vs Urban The growth management act after COVID
Editor’s Note: Local writer and volunteer contributor to water issues and The Fourth Corner has a take on our current pandemic. Thanks Molly Crocker.
Author Molly Crocker
I am blessed with what I believe is a sanctified optimism. I wasn’t able to buy non-perishable foods yesterday when I went shopping, but I’m pretty sure I’ll be able to do that soon. Grocery stores are having a great March!
Why Rural Dwelling is Essential for Everyone
There’s a push to move everyone out of the country and pack us into steel-and-concrete structures with asphalt outside and linoleum inside. The prevailing policy is that all of the country should be returned to the wildlife and maybe the farmers who raise our food, and a few first residents (aka Native Americans). It is as though they are some kind of wildlife that could be observed on an eco-tour.
That’s a very bad idea. But it’s the philosophy behind the Growth Management Act and a larger campaign to demoralize us all. Let me explain.
We’ve seen, since the arrival of COVID-19, that living in close proximity to others is a bad idea. In centuries not long past, when plague or disease came to Europe, those who owned country estates abandoned their city homes and moved to the country until the plague worked its way through the population. Of course, the poorer folk whose only dwelling was a tight tenement in a large city bore the brunt of plague with their lives.
We’ve also seen that cities are largely unnecessary. A great many of us learned how to work from home during the pandemic. There are now large companies looking to downsize their corporate work areas and unload some office space. Who wants to endure commutes any more? We now have the technology to support life away from concentrated population centers. Look at the price of housing in less populated areas. There is now a great deal of interest in owning a place in the country. What is the wisdom behind that?
Us rural dwellers have always known this wisdom, but we’re not always good at telling why rural life is just better. Let’s look at some reasons.
Rural dwellers have skills and tools. When a family with three kids is squeezed into a 2-bedroom apartment for $2100 per month, there’s hardly enough room for a knitting basket or a drill motor. When anything goes wrong there needs to be a phone call to fix it. It can take days to get the professional there to stop the leak, repair the roof, clear the road, take down the fallen tree. Remember David Holston from Coeur d’Alene, Idaho? He was 18 years old, owned a landscaping business, and drove his truck with its snow plow on the front to Seattle to see if he could make some money during the February 2019 snow storm. He made $35,000 in a week clearing driveways and parking lots. I don’t know anyone living in an apartment who has a snow-plow attachment in the garage for their truck. I could be wrong.
Rural homes have room for shops and she-sheds. Those shops and she-sheds…
pass on skills to the next generation and to others, including archaic skills (spinning, weaving, forging, refining) that may have to be put to use should the power go out for an extended period. Those steam engines you see at the farm display at Berthusen park in the summer don’t go home to apartments.
have tools for solving every day tasks, like hanging a picture frame or updating a light fixture, or repairing clothing. They have tools for occasional tasks like laying a new floor, or installing a door for the family pet, or putting up a fence.
are sources for micro-manufacturing, where new ideas and tools are created or tested. These could be sources of income, either a main or supplemental income. Apartment dwellers are confined to whatever jobs they can find outside their home.
have room for developing hobbies and interests, especially things that don’t require a device with a screen, except for looking up how to do something. This kind of education is just as significant as sitting in a classroom. For everyone, not just the kids.
What shop and she-shed owners learn and innovate benefit us all. These are alternatives to big-box stores that are often supplied from distant sources. When those sources become disrupted by disaster or politics, those local manufacturers can help fill in those gaps.
Rural dwellers hold the keys for surviving change that is inevitable. Besides tools and skills, rural dwellers keep animal varieties that don’t much interest big agriculture. Micro farmers keep alive animal breeds and their gene pools. Those gardeners like to explore heirloom varieties of seed. Those would disappear from the seed catalogs if not for those gardens. These animal and seed varieties could be key to surviving climate change in a future world, but they won’t exist without care and breeding by micro-farmers and gardeners. Rural dwellers aren’t just benefitting themselves with their chosen lifestyle. Their lifestyle is preserving that which is necessary for us all to survive.
Rural dwellers DO know their neighbors. They know who has that attachment for the tractor or the front of the pickup that could get them out of a jam. They wave and say hello and keep tabs on folks who are struggling with illness or old age. They step up with meals for the new mom. They will take on lawn mowing for a neighbor who temporarily can’t do it. What is it about tight city dwelling that makes people afraid of each other? I’ve seen how a neighborhood that decided to be open and friendly eliminated a drug dealer. People learned to smile and wave at cars while they walked, and those driving in to make a drug purchase realized they were being noticed.
Rural dwellers are generous people. Remember David Holston who made $35,000 plowing snow in Seattle? He donated 20% to charities. Those she-shed owners made and donated perhaps millions of masks to health care workers during the pandemic. Gardeners everywhere donate to food banks on a regular basis.
Rural animals whose manure is managed do not pollute streams. Quite to the contrary, ruminants (cattle, sheep, goats) and horses that graze actually generate soil. Ask any farmer – there cannot be too much soil. Look at the stacks of potting soil at any garden store. People are paying for dirt! Animals that graze are vital to the health of soil, which is vital to the health of forests, which are vital to the health of rivers and the wildlife in them. There are significant observations by Allen Savory and Dan Daggett that suggest that when grazing animals generate soil, that soil health may also be associated with higher ground water levels and healthy wells and drinking water. Wild animals cannot generate enough soil by themselves. Herds that are managed by people do a much better job. There cannot be too much soil! Soil grows food that feed everyone, including wildlife and city dwellers.
The Growth Management Act of Washington needs to be rescinded. It has been a wonderful tool in the hands of the environmental litigation industry to stop any kind of development anywhere. It has been one of the campaigns by our leaders to demoralize us into believing we should have no children and that humans are bad for the earth.
Humans are not a scourge upon the earth. Humans are the earth’s best, most precious natural resource. Should a disease or a natural disaster threaten a population of wildlife, it won’t be the whales who save the eagles, nor will the tigers cultivate the elephants. Only humans have been commissioned to do that. Only humans will be able to turn the earth into a habitable environment for all.
Instead of jamming us into steel and concrete, our gold standard should be a home on ½ to 3 acres, enough room to grow kids, a shop or she-shed, a garden, a small forest, and a few animals. In Whatcom County we have many homes on 5 to 40 acres, mansions that often hold just a few people. They were built that way because banks often will not lend on a property where the improvements (buildings) are worth less than the property. Subdivision restrictions under the Growth Management Act prevent these idle acres from adding homes. Many are too small to be adequately farmed, or don’t have terrain that could be farmed. These could be made into villages by subdividing those into parcels from ½ to 3 acres, along with the possibility for the accessory dwelling unit for the grandparents and a few duplexes or quad-plexes. There could be space for a community building that could house a school, and space for the occasional retail show for those shop and she-shed owners who have goods to market. If we planned well, those villages could be connected by a trail system that runs along streams and the edges of farms. People could get outdoors without much driving, see and learn to appreciate what farmers do, and enjoy the wildlife we have.
It’s been observed that the best way to turn a Sierra Club member into a true environmentalist is to be sure they have a little property to care for. They quickly realize they need equipment to keep the weeds down and a 6’ fence to keep the deer and bunnies out of the garden. They have to learn to live with the bears and the cougars and teach their kids to be cautious. But they can park their lawn chair out under the trees and watch and listen to the birds instead of a screen somewhere, see the eagles playing in a breeze and screeching out their family disagreements. If they sit still long enough they might spot a bobcat. The song of the coyotes is something to hear! In the spring they’ll learn what temperatures will bring up the spring peepers. In the fall they’ll learn to watch for the geese and swans that overwinter here.
We do NOT need cities any longer. We need to spread out and get our toes into the soil. It really is better out here, and healthier for us all.