Over the past couple of days the trees have completely leafed out, turning the forest into a seemingly impenetrable wall of green. The birds awaken us at an ungodly hour, in full chorus, then the males settle into periodically defending their territories. Given we are at the end of May, much of the pressure to secure and protect territory is subsiding as are the veracity and frequency of male’s vocalizations.
Last night Jennie joined a large group of folks at Planning and Zoning; they were there to express their opinions about the proposed downtown mall redevelopment. Few people doubt the mall needs to be redeveloped, but there is a large, and growing opposition to the project as planned. The biggest issue is the city’s decision to allow the developer to exceed the current building height maximum by almost four stories, throwing even more of the downtown into continual shade, and threatening views of the waterfront. Much of the new space would be residential, including much-needed student housing, but also offering the specter of more penthouses for the ultra wealthy.
Our community governance, like many across the country, is in the hands of developers who seem more interested in accruing more wealth, and supporting their cronies, than in creating sustainable, livable communities for all. It is not surprising, therefore, that the present conflict has divided the city, although those divisions have occurred along sometimes surprising lines. For instance, a group of environmentalists support the redevelopment, and other local projects, that would dramatically change the small city quality of Burlington while increasing gentrification. They cite the necessity of concentrating people in the urban core, while discouraging suburban and rural growth, with its concomitant destruction of critical farmland and wildlife habitat. Unfortunately, this stance threatens to reinforce the perception that environmentalists are largely from privileged groups, not concerned with the lives of marginalized peoples.
Sadly, the discussion, or now, I guess, debate, is drawn along “either/or” lines and largely lacks nuance. Developers and their allies push ahead with their visions for the city, largely ignoring the concerns of low and moderate income groups, and those environmentalists who are concerned about the quality and structure of urban ecosystems. The threat is that the needs of many will be sacrificed to the personal visions and gain of the few.
Also lost in the discussion are the voices of our small Native community. We have tried to speak for the land, and for the knowledge and life-ways of the Native people who lived here long before the settlers took over the valley. Yet our concerns are ignored by both the developers and those who push for a densely settled urban core. No wonder many Native people around the world mistrust environmentalist as much as they do developers.
As was prophesied before the arrival of European settlers, we humans now face grave choices as communities and as a species. We are the most creative, and destructive, of all species currently alive on the planet. In our hands is the future of innumerable species, and our grandchildren. We must, if we are to build a good Dream for our descendants, think creatively at the ecosystem level, navigate the needs of all beings, and curtail our personal and collective greed. This begins at the local level and, so far, we are not doing very well.