Monday, June 7, 2010

Normal, Part 2

Part of what makes a place a nice place to live, work and play is what’s considered ‘normal.’ In the most recent posting, I described how walking is becoming the new normal in many places. Of course walking is just one aspect.

Normal could also include tolerance for and indeed support for people looking for all kinds of healthy choices such as availability of outdoor recreation options and even a wide range of food choices. Normal could also include an overall feeling of concern for environmental quality, overall pride in the area’s history and culture, visual appeal of the town. Normal can mean a diversity of desires and opinions. Economic developers stress an area’s feeling of welcoming of new people even if those new people bring slightly different ideas.

I’ve heard both sides of the ‘slightly different ideas.’ One the one hand is the danger of gentrification. As suburbanites move out to the land of working farms, some begin to complain about the sounds, smells and sights of their new neighborhood. They may not think that part of the charm of living in a rural area includes the sound of tractor motors and back-up beepers at 530 AM or the wafting of animal smells or the sight of old equipment. Some townships, upon receiving notifications of purchases of new residential properties in their rural areas, send the new owners a friendly letter explaining a bit about life in the county. These new residents are briefed about what they may expect to see, hear and smell. Farmers in Michigan are protected to some degree from complaints from neighbors. The right-to-farm law in Michigan protects farmers who follow best management practices from nuisance complaints regarding their farming practices (but again, the protections are for those farmers who follow best management practices).

On the other hand, a little gentrification wouldn’t hurt in some places. I recall several years ago hearing a local, long-time resident complaining about these darn new neighbors that ‘want us to have mufflers on all our cars and clean up our junk piles.’ Umm, yes, maybe your old neighbors would like that, too.

There are ways to welcome new people and ideas without losing what made the place appealing to begin with. It takes people working together to plan for it all. People working together to accomplish progress? How normal is that?

I can think of a few places that residents and officials came together for environmental cleanups. Maybe these places could thus be known, if not just for the natural beauty of the area but also for what they were able to accomplish.

Once could be a site on the Detroit River formerly known as the Black Lagoon. With that name, you can perhaps imagine the conditions of the river at that brownfield site. Thanks to hard work by many people, fish now can live in that section of the river and it’s been renamed “Elias Cove.” A mixed use residential development is planned for the site.

Things didn’t work out quite so well for Bay Harbor outside of Petoskey, Michigan. A site contaminated by cement kiln dust was re-fitted to luxury residences only to find the cement kiln dust resurfacing in to Lake Michigan. In the not-to-distant future, it will be known as ‘a place they fixed’ but ‘they’ still have to come up with a workable answer to the question ‘now what?’

Here in Sault, Michigan, three contaminant hot-spots have been cleaned up. The old leather tannery, the old carbide plant and an old manufactured gas plant (the former two represent economic engines of the Sault’s past that required substantial clean up). Still, we have a lot more work to do before we can become knows as ‘the little town that could.’

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