As I walk with my daughter under the canopy of hardwoods to the Moscow Public Library and back, I am immersed in the feeling of belonging and privilege that comes with living in the Fort Russell Historic District; I wish the feeling to be replicated for others.
That kind of imagination and bond with community that planners had at the turn of the 20th century is no longer relevant; the charm of a bygone era. Along West Palouse River Drive we find the relevancy of bulldozers busy scraping the last vestiges of anhydrous ammonia to make way for a new housing development. Called Edington Subdivision, 105 lots to start with: designed to be sterile, inoffensive, yet with curb appeal galore.
The imagination conjures up a real estate agent in pressed jeans and a seersucker sport-coat standing at the foot of the newly poured driveway jangling a set of house keys in front of a hopeful, jubilant young couple who qualified for their first mortgage with a little “seed money” from their folks. “You can just about smell the fresh chocolate chip cookies in the oven,” the agent titters, handing over the keys.
What is wrong with this scene? Well, not a thing if you are convinced this is the look and feel of economic progress and a higher step on society’s ladder; fallow land in need of mankind’s oxen and plow (or Cat D8 to save some time). The glories of a manifest destiny and all that tripe. More jangling of house keys and progress is in the Moscow air — 82 acres to the north of town: Woodbury Subdivision. The initial plat map shows 74 “low density residential” lots. Certain to be investor-friendly, this tract of sport utility homes are to feature heavenly vistas of Moscow Mountain and are not for the financially meek.
Cynicism aside, the Moscow City Council is expected to give their stamp of approval to this colossal misallocation of resources, otherwise known as a “balanced response” to a chronic housing shortage. After all, the financial argument is compelling: a sizable bump in the property tax rolls to pay for municipal services that will cost more and infrastructure replacement (think sewer lines).
Woodbury, and developments like them, provide a safe haven and market for the urban flight of relatively wealthy work-from-home post-COVID-19 refugees. And then there is the argument that home construction provides jobs aplenty if, that is, willing and able subcontractors can be found! And when Harold and Lorraine settle into their mini-estate, they will no doubt be donning straw hats and whimsically injecting dollars into the local economy for honey and fresh daffodils at the Moscow Farmers Market.
We’d be remiss to overlook the lament of local developers. Along with the high cost of raw land in Moscow are the permitting fees. With these upfront capital costs coupled with the increases in materials costs and infrastructure build-outs in their spreadsheets, these projects don’t pencil-out with a profit unless they are able to expand the square footage and market them at a sales price that only Harold and Lorraine can touch.
In what appears to be competing interests as to how this “inevitable” housing growth will manifest, there is a pervasive, unifying drive: financial gain. In fact, ever since the great American Suburban Experiment was launched six decades ago, the financial sector has driven the economy. Those with the money make the rules — hand-in-hand with a complicit government. (And some were naïve enough to believe this charade would end with the subprime crisis!)
Rather than act according to an economic reflex, Moscow City Council has an opportunity to now reflect. In addition to the 340 additional single-family homes recommended in Point Consulting’s Moscow housing study done a couple of years ago, there was some important advice: there needs to be “a shift in the paradigm of how housing is built.”
That paradigm shift requires vision, and a well-formed vision relies upon a clear set of values. Above all else, is it the car we value, and the “drive-in utopia” represented by Sonic fast food and Dutch Bros coffee? Are we building for the community as a whole or for the high-salaried university staff and faculty demographic? And ask our children what they want!
In the final analysis, fast forward 30 years and imagine your own kids and grandkids strolling through the housing development before you. Are they sensing a feeling of belonging and community? Are they saying, “I really care about this place”?
After years of globetrotting, Todd J. Broadman finds himself writing from his perch on the Palouse and loving the view. His policy briefs can be found at US Resist News: www.usresistnews.org/