Tag Archives: Infrastructure

Davenport Farmland: The Irony of Publicly Funded Projects

Iowa FarmThere is a nice stretch of farmland between my in-laws neighborhood and the highway just outside Davenport that will soon be gone. It is the type of farmland that you picture when people talk about Iowa. Like one of the scenes from a holiday movie, it was a beautiful snow covered vista yesterday morning. Soon the government funded sewer project will commence leaving this lands’ future uncertain. The trouble with this lovely stretch of farmland is that we, as in the collective wisdom of our society as prescribed within our zoning laws, have declared the agrarian character of this land obsolete and in waiting. It has been reduced to “developable acres”. The irony is that there is certainly many more acres of infill parcels and parking lots sprinkled throughout Davenport that could add up ten fold what this farmland would throw off in taxes as a Walmart Super Center. Why are we not investing in projects that support long term stability in our communities?

Davenport received $2,000,000 for the West Side Diversion Tunnel Project that will inevitably lead to the demise of this farmland and the new development of 20 square miles of property. But, at what additional cost? Certainly, the rural character found in this area of Davenport will be lost forever. Once the tunnel is completed the burden of this infrastructure’s upkeep will fall fully upon the city. This cost will most likely be far above estimates leading to higher taxes or unstable infrastructure. Neither being good for citizens. At first look, the blame for this environmental catastrophe could be pointed at the shovel ready requirements of government funding. This is not the case. The sprawling outcomes of the ARRA and other public programs is only the result of a much larger systemic problem.

Davenport as well as hundreds, if not thousands, of communities across the county need to grow a pair and pass legislation that is based on long term, common sense thinking. Where does a community grow its food? Can its citizens get around town inexpensively? Can the government afford to operate its infrastructure in its current form for long? Getting smart about Davenport’s zoning laws, growth boundaries and farmland preservation should not be a seen as a problem, but as an opportunity for future stability. With some smart zoning language attached to an aggressive city wide masterplan focused on sound economic growth the beautiful farmland that still surrounds the city will be saved. Couple this with some technical training for local builders on the practices of urban construction and Davenport could catapult itself into a citywide renaissance that, by the way, costs less to maintain, uses less energy, attracts young people and provides better community for all rather than the Super Centers and strip housing that will take the place of such iconic farmland.

Are the Suburbs Modern Frontier Settlements?

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Spending the holidays in Florida has left me wondering about the wild west. I realized the suburbs are the modern equivalent of the frontier town. Sprawling out across the landscape consuming resources as if they were kids in a candy store. They may not have been built as quickly as the gold rush town’s of the West, but the modern suburban development performs under strikingly similar principles.

First, profitable natural resources spark hysteria (after 1848 it was Gold, recently it was cheap land & gas). Second, the masses built as quickly as possible to consume and capitalize on the resource. Third, society turns a blind eye to the lack of civility present in these places (then it was gun fights in the streets, now it is half hour drives to buy milk). Fourth, the resource is consumed. Finally, no further financial growth occurs and investment into the infrastructure specifically design for harvesting the natural resource deteriorates. Ghost towns, prairie outposts and, luckily, San Francisco were left in the wake of the Gold Rush. What will we do with the suburbs now that the resource of cheap land and easy mortgages have come and gone?

Frontier development is inherit to American culture. By reframing our view of the suburbs as the modern equivalent of a typical America typology, frontier development, are we able to better forecast the proper course of action for the future of the suburban landscape now that the boom is over? How will the end of this cycle change the perceived permanence of sprawl development? This temporal manifestation of capitalism must be accepted as a frontier experiment. Will the deeply rooted opposition to change and growth that exists in the exurbs of America today be able to accept the urbanization of these places? The suburbs are either the first step for the establishment of a new settlement or the are the begin of the modern ghost town. 

I hope our governments current stimulus package takes into account the grand retrofit of suburbia that will have to occur in the coming decades. Instead of building bridges and highways, why not build parking structures and public transit systems that will support the compact development a sustainable future requires.