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PROGRESS vs DEVELOPMENT (feb/mar 2005) —Jim Stiles

Last fall, a local realtor/developer told a writer for Salt Lake City Magazine that I “had a closed mind when it comes to progress.” He added that we probably define the word differently, and felt that I picked on him for his pro-development views. And for that reason, I won’t even mention the poor fellow by name. But he also said I condemned anybody who didn’t wear Birkenstocks and that’s where I draw the line. I’ve never worn Birkenstocks a day of my life…I’m a Redwings kind of guy.

Anyway, I didn’t have the energy or the inclination to argue the point at the time. One of my hopes and dreams for the new year has been to develop a thicker skin and to avoid futile debates with entrenched adversaries whenever possible.

But in re-formatting this paper, there is also a sense (for me, at least) of starting over this spring and it seems like a good time to consider the changes in this community, and whether they can really be called progress. There is a difference between Progress and Development, although it’s surely a subjective distinction. I can only speak for myself, but this is how I separate Progress from Development…

When I think of Progress and what it means for this town and its surroundings, I think of a community in which its citizens can earn a decent living, pay the bills, and have something left over at the end of the month. But I can call it Progress only when those citizens also realize the value of the intangible qualities that make our town unique and enrich our lives.

Qualities like the beauty and solitude of the canyons and mountains that surround us and qualities like the friendship, compassion and trust of our neighbors are, to me, just as important as the bottom line on a financial statement.

Progress is maintaining our small town atmosphere while recognizing that some change is inevitable, and that change can sometimes even be an improvement. Development is when the greed of its citizens allows uncontrolled growth that destroys all the qualities of small town life…the qualities that brought many of us here in the first place.

Progress is when a business flourishes and expands to meet a growing demand, while still maintaining the quality that caused its success in the first place.  Development is when an out-of-town investor sees there’s money to be made and throws up another fast food franchise, taking business and customers away from the local cafes that have survived for years and years.

Progress is when local citizens try to stay loyal to those well-established restaurants. Development is when locals abandon them in droves for the franchise chains, in order to save a few cents.

Progress is a new business that comes to town and offers a new service or product that we truly need and could not obtain before. Look at La Sal Bread for example…great bread. Development is another T-shirt shop with an absentee owner. I dream of that Progressive day when I can buy a pair of flannel tartan plaid boxer shorts (cotton in summer) in my own home town. The day Boxers R’ Us opens, a business that would truly fill a need, I hope to be its first customer.

Progress is suitable housing for all its citizens. Development is another tacky condo development for wealthy out-of-towners looking to invest in a second home and hoping to turn a tidy profit.

Progress is the County Council and the Nature Conservancy saving the Mayberry Orchard. Development is seeing most of Grand County’s other orchards turned into subdivisions.

Progress is appreciating the value of the spectacular view we all enjoy of the West Wall each day. Development is a chairlift running up its sandstone flanks.

Progress is our species recognizing the value…the absolute necessity for preserving what’s left of our wild pristine country. Development is seeing it bulldozed under. Or perhaps worse, seeing those special places trampled under the feet of hordes of well-meaning people who claim they do recognize the value of wild lands but don’t recognize that their sheer numbers are destroying it.

Progress is the mountain biker who gets tired of staring at his knuckles, the bike handlebars, and three feet of ground ahead of him, and stops and looks around, and is overwhelmed by the silence and the beauty of the canyons. Development is painting more white lines on the Slickrock Trail so nobody has to stop and look around.

Progress is appreciating the fading light on the slickrock palisades above the valley. Development is ridgeline housing.

Progress is moving to Moab, wanting to be a part of the community and wanting to contribute something to it. Development is moving to Moab and seeing what can be taken from it.

Progress, in short, is Moab the Community. Development, in a nutshell, is Moab the Population Center. What’s the difference? Ten years from now, one way or the other, we’ll probably all know the answer.

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