Where's The Lorax When You Really Need Him?
Development doesn't usually bother me. The great economic engine that powers the city, county, state, and our nation I think makes it more or less inevitable. I can't say I'm a huge fan of the multiple steel-and-glass apartment complexes that seem to be springing up all over downtown, but I'm not going to join protest groups like The Coalition Against The Shadow to protest Mordor's plans to build a tower on the edge of downtown. While Wal-Mart isn't my favorite corporation on the planet, I laughed at the whole STOP IOWA CITY WAL-MART thing. (Not because Wal-Mart wasn't shitty at the time- my impression is that it treats its workers marginally better now, but because Champagne Socialists and White Liberals always, without fail, come down on the side of performative activism instead of wanting non-rich people to have an affordable place to buy food.) And if you really want to throw it all the way back to way back in the day, it still amuses me that the First Avenue extension (all 1500 or so feet of it) that seems so normal now took a ballot initiative to actually happen.*
(While I tend to view Iowa City's mixed history of anti-development protests with the appropriate amount of cynicism and amusement, having driven down Newport Road a few times, I understand why those folks can be so militant about development up that way. It might be the most beautiful drive in the entire county.)
Middle Spawn has a standing appointment with a chiropractor once a week and our usual route takes us up Dubuque Street. Just before you get to Lake View Drive, there was a house that sat on top of a hill that overlooked a gorgeous stretch of land. Thanks to the magic of Google Maps and screenshots, I can show you that it looked a lot like this:
My sense of time is still fucked up thanks to this pandemic, but a while ago- I want to say a year, but it might be closer to a year and a half, I noticed it was up for sale. I checked the price and if memory serves it was about $1.5-$2 million. One of those properties that had we won the lottery at the time, we might have gone all-in on. Beautiful, old school house with gorgeous views of the land so full of trees and scrub. I mean, look at the screenshot! Go and play around on Google Maps and see how beautiful it looked- big oak trees, nice views, and everything!
And of course, a developer snatched it up.
I drove past it yesterday and I don't know what I expected I wish I would have pulled over to get a picture because I'm not sure how I can put it accurately into words. It looks awful. They've gutted and stripped it. Trees are gone. There was a sign (which I didn't get to read, but we're pretty sure was noting the fact that three, century-old oak trees had fallen to the developer's chainsaw) but that was the only sign of protest we saw.
Development, as I said, is probably inevitable. Lord knows, the housing crisis in this country isn't going to fix itself and that entire stretch of Dubuque Street- especially in and around Liberty High is going to get developed like crazy over the next five to ten years. That's just going to happen. I don't know what it was about this particular tract of land- maybe it's all the trees they tore out. But some lucky farmer just up the road has cashed out and they're developing the hell out of a field up there near Liberty High and that hasn't bothered me a bit. This does.
Cheap appeals to nostalgia won't help. Pontification about 'what we've lost' and 'green spaces' won't help-- but if we can't build more houses while preserving the character of the land itself, what's the point? Maybe that's just my blinkered view of the world- may be in other parts of the country, this is just what the engine of almightly progress looks like- but it looks like a giant claw has come down and just tore the shit out of a beautiful stretch of green land. It looks like pictures I've seen of mountaintop removal mining in places like West Virginia.
I'm sure in a year or so when a paltry number of obscene expensive houses are built there, it'll look nice and green and well-groomed again, but... damn.
There's a lot to be frustrated about with this state. The water quality is shit. We're a farming state and we're losing insane amounts of topsoil. I don't know much about factory farming, but I know it's not good. I don't know much about agronomy or growing anything at all I have the brownest thumb I know, but I know that acres and acres of corn and soybeans in the name of processed foods and ethanol probably isn't all that great for our land over the long term.
I'm not immune to the other side of the coin either. While what passes for 'affordable housing' is largely laughable and merely performative nods toward 'solving the problem' in Johnson County, more housing is needed. Granted the people that really need the housing help (see: former residents of Rose Oaks, current residents of Forest View, anybody living in a recently brought-out trailer park) will undoubtedly end up getting screwed because housing for 'the poors' doesn't make any developers money. But at the very core of the argument: we need more units of housing. This will undoubtedly add more units of housing and perhaps that's a good thing, I don't know.
I guess I just wish someone would have spoken for the trees on this one. I wish that developers would have to plant five new trees for everyone they tear out in the name of boring and overpriced McMansions that no one can afford. The engine of progress is probably inevitable, but if homeostasis is what we need to aim for to be in balance for the environment then good regulation demands that for whatever is taken, we give something back in return.
Development doesn't usually bother me. But this one did. Maybe I'm getting old.