Per Capita Davis: Paso Fino and Dalhart, Texas

By From page A4 | September 04, 2014

Re=purposing vacant land: Done right, increased density via infill development can be a boon to residents by creating the conditions for neighborhood-oriented businesses within walking or biking distance. But if there aren’t businesses within a reasonable walking distance, then increasing density in suburban settings really only increases car traffic: more greenhouse gas emissions instead of less.

I spent some time recently with neighbors of the proposed Paso Fino development being discussed for a small plot along Covell Boulevard. They’re concerned that the proposed increase in density on this property will have lots of negative impacts, including poor traffic circulation, the removal of lots of trees and the city ceding a greenbelt to the project.

It’s hard to argue with that. It appears to be an increase in density that will not increase the walkability of the neighborhood, but instead will just increase car traffic.

Some time ago, in a previous column, I wondered about a “mother/daughter” approach to grocery stores. As I listened to the neighbors it occurred to me that perhaps instead of increasing housing density, the location could instead be re-purposed for small-scale commercial development. One or more grocery stores would be the “mother stores,” and a building on this site would be the “daughter store.”

Instead of driving to buy groceries, residents of the neighborhood could order and pay for groceries online, the mother store would deliver them in an electric mini-truck to lockers in the daughter store, and residents could walk to the site to pick up their groceries.

The property also could be configured to offer other benefits to the neighborhood, such as a space for a food truck that would be on site at designated times, as well as a meeting space for quilters, Scrabble players and kids’ clubs; a drop-off location for CSA boxes from local farmers; a location for delivery of online purchases similar to the “Swapbox” program in the Bay Area; perhaps even a coffee shop.

Figuring out how to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in existing residential neighborhoods is a tough nut to crack. It’s unusual to have a vacant parcel in the midst of an existing neighborhood, and it offers the city the opportunity to think out of the box in meeting its greenhouse gas reduction goals. This, it seems to me, also could be an opportunity on other sites, such as the school district’s property on Grande Avenue in North Davis.

The Dust Bowl as prologue: Timothy Egan wrote an amazing book, “The Worst Hard Time,” that the New York Times labeled “a classic disaster tale.” The book is about the Dust Bowl. It’s an amazing story. I had no idea how bad conditions actually were. Nor did I know that this disaster was the predictable result of government policies and farming practices and could have been avoided had people heeded the warnings of scientists and others.

One part of the story is about how even at the peak of the disaster, some people refused to acknowledge its adverse affects. One “denier’ (here comes the connection to climate change), the editor of The Dalhart Texan newspaper, refused to acknowledge the disaster and excoriated anyone who said or implied that conditions were bad and getting worse. In his view, only positive news would do; bad news just drove people away.

Perhaps the most extreme expression of this was his initiation of the “Last Man Club.” He badgered folks to sign a pledge that they would never leave town; they would suck it up and stick it out. All the while, residents derisively labeled “Exodusters” could see the writing on the wall (that was about all you could see when the dust was blowing) and were leaving in droves. The club members were very macho, but not very smart. Interestingly, the Texas governor signed on to show solidarity.

Now to the point. I often wonder, as the “disaster in slow motion” that is climate change becomes more and more obvious, whether the strident deniers eventually will accept science and reality, or if they will have their own “Last Man Club”?

In the unlikely event that climate change’s predicted adverse effects are not realized, my hope is that those of us who are sounding warnings today will admit our error with huge sighs of relief. But it is my suspicion that as the adverse effects of our greenhouse gas emissions become more and more visible and damaging to the environment and the economy, the most vehement climate change deniers will stick to their disregard for science and refuse to acknowledge that humans are causing the “new abnormal.”

Of course, continued denial is not the only way out. In all probability, conditions will change gradually and the negative argument will evolve and take on new shape to explain these new conditions. I don’t think it is spoiling it for anyone who wants to read the book, but the newspaper editor, the most defiant and unaccepting of the Dust Bowl deniers, shocked his friends and fellow club members by announcing he was leaving town. He explained that his betrayal was not because he didn’t still believe everything he had said before, but rather because he had been offered a job in another town.

— John Mott-Smith is a resident of Davis; this column is published on the first and third Thursdays of the month. Send comments to [email protected]

John Mott-Smith

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