For those of you who are regular monoblogue readers, you’ll probably have figured out that I’m pretty much a pro-development, pro-private property rights kind of guy. Obviously, there’s limits that are necessary to these rights, but as few as are possible would satisfy me. And those few ideally would eminate from the local jurisdiction rather than through a blanket state law, or worse, federal fiat.
Of course, a main motivator of this viewpoint is the fact that every two weeks I receive a check from a business that profits through development all over the area. Add in the fact that I am a “come-here” and there’s some out there who question my beliefs (if not my outright sanity.) Sometimes they make good points but the fact remains that our area will either grow or die.
Location-wise it’s well situated, only a short drive away from the metro areas of Baltimore, DC, Norfolk, Philadelphia, New York, and Boston. At times it’s probably faster to go to Philly than to Baltimore/DC depending on Bay Bridge construction and traffic, but on the whole we’re within easy distance of a significant chunk of the U.S. population. And while it’s well-situated, the development as a whole hasn’t turned our area into the I-95 corridor. Some may think so, particularly if they attempt to drive to Ocean City on a summer weekend, but in general it’s still decently easy to get around Delmarva.
I know the Chesapeake Bay Foundation is trying to scare people into thinking that all of this development is making the area lose its rural characteristics, but I drive around the area quite a bit and I see a lot of empty land, most of it non-agricultural. I do wonder about something, and I guess I need a local expert to help me out here. My native northwest Ohio has some of the richest soil because for centuries it was the Great Black Swamp, not until the middle 1800’s was it cleared and drained to become farmland. There was an aggressive effort in that era to dig drainage ditches and allow the standing water to find its way to the Maumee River.
When I see miles of forested land or scrubby growth, particularly as I head south along Route 13 toward Virginia, is that a function of just poor agricultural land or a function of poor drainage? I know they talk about “perc”ed land here, I’m assuming that’s to let the buyer know that it drains well. Would improving the drainage by building more ditches and such improve that problem? Pardon my ignorance, but I’m just used to land that grows a batch of corn one year, soybeans the next, and when the builder wants to slap a house on it, they can dig a basement in most places and it will be reasonably dry. (Of course, we’re 600 feet above sea level in the Toledo area as opposed to less than 60 here.)
It seems to me that expanding the amount of available agricultural land (or figuring out a way to build on land that’s not so suited for farming) would be a good research grant in the making to someone at SU and/or UMES.
However, I can see why an argument is made for the stress of residential development on the area’s infrastructure. If I were to sit here and rank development from the most desirable to the least desirable in my eyes, the list would go like this.
Technological/R & D: Advantages are a good high salary base and, if the company is worth its salt as far as adapting to economic conditions, reasonably steady employment. If it’s in an industry that does not involve manufacturing, its relative proximity to the national seat of government is a bonus. Having a company like that which hired locally would be a shot in the arm to local colleges. Meanwhile, there’s not a huge amount of infrastructure required, no more so than any other large employer. And the tax revenue created by property and income taxes would be a benefit to the local jurisdiction fortunate enough to have this sort of job base established there. Think of a parallel to the NASA Wallops Island complex without the government involvement.
Manufacturing/industrial/distribution: It’s not as likely to have a high salary base because of global competition, but a higher base than service industries do. There’s more drawbacks to this sort of development, including the chance of a plant closing devastating a town’s economy and the possibility of added pollution (depending on product manufactured.)
Some plants can really tax an area’s infrastructure. I recall a steel recycling plant being built near my hometown and the local utility needing to run several high-voltage lines out to the plant because of its voracious electricity needs. These run for several miles along the Ohio Turnpike – also, the state chipped in and built a highway exit for the plant and a neighboring plant. Additionally, there’s been controversy in the Toledo area regarding running city waterlines for miles out into the hinterlands because it promotes development well outside city limits. And Delmarva is no stranger to government infighting about infrastructure.
We do have a disadvantage when it comes to some manufacturing, it’s called Chesapeake Bay. Not the water quality, the water quantity. The bay makes it so “you can’t get there from here”, thus it restricts the notion of “just-in-time” delivery somewhat. It’s in that area that we lose out to those in the I-95 corridor.
Service/retail/tourism: There’s only so many restaurants and shops an area can support by itself – obviously Ocean City is an example because many businesses there are strictly seasonal. In order to create additional opportunities for these jobs to be created, we need to figure out a way to draw more tourists. So that means more roads. (Some would say its a perfect opportunity for light rail, but how many years have the taxpayers propped Amtrak up now? Get real.) While we are at an advantage over someplace like the Outer Banks or Florida because we’re simply closer to the populated areas, that goodwill is lost when sitting in bumper-to-bumper traffic. Further, most of these jobs pay very little compared to a professional job.
Residential: This is where we seem to be gaining the most development. But the problem is that it creates the least bang for the buck as far as governments go. This isn’t to say that residential development is a bad thing, quite the contrary. Spinoff effects do occur, particularly in the service sector. A large influx of population does create demand for more retail and professional services. And those jobs are nice, but where does the rest of the inflow work? They can’t ALL be retirees.
What Delmarva needs most is good jobs, not the chicken pickers. It’s said we’re not that far from losing a lot of our poultry industry as it is, today we lost a freezer plant. That’s a shame as over a dozen workers now have less income.
Sometimes we run in a vicious circle here. Take the city of Salisbury for example. It has some relatively nice areas and some areas that can charitably be called rundown. What characteristic is common in the rundown areas? A good percentage of rental housing. On the other hand, those who inhabit the lowest rungs of the economic ladder can’t afford to live anywhere else.
It’s not quite so bad if the landlords take care of their property, but unfortunately that becomes difficult as those who don’t own the house but simply live there depart from decorum and trash the place. They take no pride of ownership because they have no ownership. Unfortunately, drifting from one low-paying job to another doesn’t do much to increase the odds of breaking the cycle. So an area just goes completely downhill, and you get what we have: crime and gangs.
There’s just so many factors that contribute to decline. Some are reversible and some sadly aren’t. And among us some would say that we can continue as we are without significant problems. I’m not sold on that premise whatsoever.
The start to the optimal solution would be for people to begin to take pride in themselves and their neighborhood – unfortunately if anything we as a society are trending in the opposite direction. Many blame the large influx of come-heres like myself who don’t understand how it used to be on the Eastern Shore. But it’s never going to get back to that, we all have to change and evolve or else perish.
I honestly think that we as a nation (not just the Eastern Shore) need a sea change in attitude. It’s almost like we may as well write off all of us that were born before 1975 because we’ve had our chance and have mostly just shown the wrong way to do things. Instead of doing for others, we think about “what’s in it for us?” a little too much, and we shift all the blame for things we brought onto ourselves to an unnamed force some call bad luck, but I would call poor choices. I’m far from infallible there, I’ve made a couple whoppers!
In my lifetime, I’d love to see this change, particularly in the way we look to government always having the solution (generally to bail our sorry asses out.) It’s unfortunate that a large number of us subscribe in some degree or another to the dogma that the solution to our problems is derived “from each according to his ability, to each according to his need.” And seeing the developers pocket many millions, people tend to envy them for their “greed” rather than think about why they did so well and what lessons the enviers can learn from those who worked for that financial success. (The same goes for oil companies at the moment.)
I believe that a solution to many of our problems with growth is not in punishing the developer. On the other hand, I’m certainly not sold on providing too many taxpayer-financed carrots for them either. There’s a market out there that doesn’t need to be tinkered with in either direction – it’s too bad everyone wants to point their fingers at who’s doing the most to mess that market up.
Natives may scorn but we do need growth. However, we need to make the priority securing growth that creates good-paying jobs, and allowing entrepreneurs to have a free hand in running their dream businesses as they see best – not be looked at as greedy robber barons whose sole purpose should be to provide health care and benefits for their employees. If we get the good growth of job creation, with wise governance that looks out for the interests of all, the infrastructure needs will be taken care of.