Elected officials, bureaucrats and self-proclaimed “advocates” line up- their prop shovels ready. The event is covered by the press. During the stump speeches, which can be given by even a remote connection to the project, words like “hope”, “revitalization” and “affordable” are tossed around liberally. The same theme is found in the local papers. “A new way forward”, a “second chance”, a “community rising”. After the speeches, handshakes and pats on the back, steel meets dirt- flashes brighten the cold morning, and an hour later everyone is gone. April, and ground is broken.
What isn’t spoken about is how those shovels came to meet the dirt- what it took behind the scenes. The haggling, the protests, the permits, the deals to be made. Development isn’t pretty, and it sure isn’t a sexy topic. Pay for sidewalks, get more units per acre. Fix the school district’s ball fields, and don’t worry about the clearing standards- we can work around them. Development, while not sexy, involves money- tens, thousands, millions of dollars. Few realize just how much is at stake- and the millions of dollars that must be invested in manpower, and hard costs, before those prop shovels hit the dirt.
What also isn’t discussed, except from the mouths of those with an “agenda”, or those who are just another “NIMBY”, is whether or not that very ground should’ve been broken at all. Do the residents want it? More importantly- does the community even need it? The true answer, unspoken by everyone, is that no one truly knows, because no one took the time to find out.
“I remember how it used to be…” they all say, in the crowded meeting room. “…before those people moved in.” The voice echoes throughout the chamber, with heads nodding in agreement. “Why- they built that store and…and…everything went to hell. Traffic, noise. What is this…the City?” The people behind the dais, look bored, tapping away on either a keyboard or smartphone. “Let me tell you something- we don’t need this, we don’t want it, we don’t like it. And let me tell you one more th-” Speaker one behind the dais leans in, clears their throat and says “um…this is on? Good- so um…your time is up.” The show goes on for four hours. The crowd thins, passion dies down, and the approval is granted. Ground is to be broken in April. Those four hours could’ve been spent in a more productive manner- the outcome was predetermined from the beginning.
It is September. Broken glass is strewn about the cracked pavement, as the wind blows through a chain link fence that has been exposed to the elements for a bit too long. Somewhere just out of sight, the weeds climb higher than most trees- wrapping themselves up and down whatever gets in their way. A prop shovel lays on the ground, near a splintered half of a sign that says in red, bold typeface “Coming Soon! Redev-“ The other half of the sign is strewn about roughly fifty yards away, near a graffiti-soaked staircase.
For all of the millions spent, it turns out not every “i” was dotted, not every “t” was crossed. It turns out now everyone is stuck with that vacant lot, with the cracked pavement, the broken glass and the weeds that climb higher than most trees. If only, before the millions were invested, the stump speeches were made, and the “new way forward” was proclaimed, everyone spoke to one another, and they took the time to answer the most important question: “Does the community even need it?”
If that very question was in fact ever asked, an expensive mistake could have been prevented, residents would have faith in the system, the builder would have saved millions and that vacant lot with the broken glass and tall weeds would be something beautiful that everyone wanted. Until that question is asked, every April, ground will be broken, a new expensive mistake will be made, and a new vacant lot will be created for the weeds to grow in, and the glass to be shattered upon.