Glad for people who see the light; sad for those who don’t

In The Fresno Bee on Oct. 17th published was an article (fourth article in the grouping) bearing the following title: “Do you want to improve Fresno streets and transit system? This agency wants your ideas.”

I must say I was intrigued.

Now, based on what I read, I cannot help but feel – and perhaps fear – that the way in which California’s 5th largest city (now with more than half a million residents strong) will develop and grow going forward, will vary little if at all from the style of development and growth the metropolis has followed since the time of its birth in 1872. What we’re talking about here is more of the same ol’, same ol’ pattern of outward horizontal sprawl, with a corresponding traffic increase along with a further degradation in the quality of local air, what’s practically a foregone conclusion if this by now well-established 20th century building model keeps on keepin’ on. Fresno, in case you don’t know, has some of the country’s most polluted air.

So, let’s get real here. Fresno’s population had been growing at a rate of roughly two percent per annum. Based on current trends it is a population that is projected to double, reaching upwards of a million people in 30 years’ time. On top of this there is absolutely zero indication that this seemingly perpetual outwardly coursing horizontal development, pushing urban boundaries farther and farther out, will see any let up anytime soon.

Danielle Bergstrom, furthermore, in the above-mentioned Bee report writes: “After the passage of SB [California Senate Bill] 375 in 2008, there’s been more focus on making sure local transportation projects help Fresno County reduce carbon emissions to support the state’s climate goals.” What’s more, according to Bergstrom, cars and trucks are responsible for better than 50 percent of all emissions in the county. More public transit use and active transportation options like biking and walking are programs encouraged by both climate and city planning authorities alike as ways to lower those emissions.

It’s sentiments like these that bring out the optimist in me.

But, absent seeing the performance indicators verifying that significant and notable progress in any of the aforementioned areas has been and is indeed being made, then quite honestly, all that can realistically be done here is to take such with a grain of salt.

Moreover, the notion that this latest chapter in the development paradigm story will, all of a sudden somehow be a departure in the sense that there is a course-correction coming and one dramatically different from those that preceded it; well, you’ve heard the expression “I’ll believe it when I see it”, right? So, yeah, that.

Minnesota suburb

Indeed it’s a sad state of affairs that this true “on-the-ground” situation is what it is; what should properly – and could best – be described as being “par for the course,” which, by the way, is another familiar line. Just know that a cycle of this nature is hard to break when those who are caught up in it just don’t know any differently.

Meanwhile, confounding is it how human nature can be at times. A lot of the parcels of land that now have homes built upon them, were, at one time, prime and prized agricultural ground. Imagine if the farmers who had owned this land that, in many a case, remained intact and in their families for generations, had just held onto it if for no other reason than in the spirit of NIMBYism (that is to say, not in my back yard, in this instance meaning “no way, no how;” a stance that many modern-day home and property owners have taken). Had that been the case, nary a single such farm or ranch would ever have been converted.

Now, about these NIMBYs to whom I’ve alluded, to try to convince, let alone suggest, to them that installation of neighborhood high-quality, high-capacity transit like light rail is worth backing, one would almost certainly have better luck squeezing blood from a turnip – you get the idea. On these matters, it is their voices that are heard first and loudest in their opposition to such.

On the other hand, approach them regarding the building of a similar housing project, for example, right next to the existing tract they’re living in which, by the way, would in all probability, result in more valuable farm, ranch or grazing land being turned over for development purposes which is sure to lead to more driving and traffic and hence, the corresponding air pollution that comes on account of that, well, unbelievably, you never hear a peep from these people, no such disapproval ever being there.

Central California fog as seen from Terra – MODIS satellite in space

And how this sprawl and the development that defines it ever gets environmentally cleared, I will say this: Though I know or so I’ve been told that there are seven wonders of the world, that which is described above I would deem as the world’s eighth: as in how, I wonder, could such approval ever be given?

As for Fresno, just in the time I’ve lived here since the late ’70s, the city has expanded by leaps and bounds: where I live a fig orchard once stood. However, if still more proof is needed, one need only consider the phalanx of Fresno area highways and roadways to get a sense of what has literally and figuratively happened on the ground. Travel any of these and that truth will quickly become evident.

And if that isn’t enough, what’s more remarkable still about Fresno and the San Joaquin Valley in my view and that I have personally discovered, is that with all that’s been detailed above including that of a locally changed climate, speaking of on the ground, you would think conditions there by now would have been adjusted to try to get and keep the upper hand on this – to try to not be behind the curve.

Sadly though, that’s the situation exactly.

Images: Minneapolis Star, collection of Minnesota Historical Society (upper); Jeff Schmaltz, NASA (lower)

– Alan Kandel

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