As I walk with my daughter under the hardwood canopy to the Moscow Public Library and vice versa, I am immersed in the sense of belonging and privilege that comes with living in historic Fort Russell; I wish the feeling would be replicated for others.
That kind of imagination and connection to community that planners had at the turn of the 20th century is no longer relevant; the charm of a bygone era. Along West Palouse River Drive we find the relevance of bulldozers busy scraping the last remnants of anhydrous ammonia to make way for a new housing development. Called Edington Subdivision, 105 lots to start with: designed to be sterile, harmless, but with appeal galore.
The imagination conjures up a real estate agent in ironed jeans and a sporty seersucker coat, standing at the foot of the newly sunk driveway, shaking a set of house keys in front of a hopeful and jubilant young couple who have qualified for their first mortgage with some “seed money” from their parents. “You can pretty much smell the fresh chocolate chip cookies in the oven,” the agent chuckles, handing him the keys.
What’s wrong with this scene? Well, not a thing if you are convinced that it is the appearance of economic progress and a higher rung on the ladder of society; fallow requiring mankind’s oxen and plow (or Cat D8 to save time). The glories of manifest destiny and all that guts. More clicking of house keys and progress are in the air of Moscow – 82 acres north of the city: Woodbury Subdivision. The map of the initial platform shows 74 “low density residential” lots. Certain to be investor-friendly, this expanse of sport utility houses must offer heavenly views of the Moscow mountain and is not for the financially weak.
Cynicism aside, Moscow’s city council is expected to give its approval to this colossal misallocation of resources, otherwise known as a “balanced response” to a chronic housing shortage. After all, the financial argument is compelling: a dramatic increase in property tax rolls to pay for more expensive municipal services and infrastructure replacement (think sewer lines).
Woodbury, and developments like these, provide a safe haven and market for the urban flight of relatively wealthy refugees working from home after COVID-19. And then there is the argument that house building provides many jobs if, that is, willing and capable subcontractors can be found! And when Harold and Lorraine settle into their mini-estate, they’ll undoubtedly put on straw hats and whimsically pump dollars into the local economy for honey and fresh daffodils at the Moscow Farmer’s Market.
We would be remiss to ignore the complaint from the local developers. In addition to the high cost of raw land in Moscow, there are the licensing fees. With these upfront capital costs associated with increasing material costs and building infrastructure in their spreadsheets, these projects do not make a profit unless they are able to expand the area by square feet and market them at a sale price that no Harold and Lorraine can touch each other.
In what appear to be competing interests in how this “inevitable” housing growth will manifest, there is a pervasive and unifying motivation: financial gain. In fact, since the launch of the great American Suburban Experiment six decades ago, the financial sector has been the engine of the economy. Those with the money make the rules – hand in hand with a complicit government. (And some were naive enough to believe this masquerade would end with the subprime mortgage crisis!)
Rather than acting according to an economic reflex, Moscow City Hall now has the opportunity to reflect. In addition to the 340 additional single-family homes recommended in the Point Consulting Moscow housing study a few years ago, there was an important tip: there must be “a shift in the paradigm of how housing is built “.
This paradigm shift requires vision, and a well-formed vision rests on a clear set of values. Is it above all the car that we value and the “drive-in utopia” represented by Sonic fast food restaurant and Dutch Bros cafe? Are we building for the community as a whole or for high-paying academic staff and faculty? And ask our children what they want!
In the final analysis, fast forward 30 years and imagine your own children and grandchildren strolling through the subdivision in front of you. Do they feel a sense of belonging and community? Do they say, “I really care about this place”?
After years of globetrotting, Todd J. Broadman finds himself writing from his perch on the Palouse and loving the view. His policy briefs can be found on US Resist News: www.usresistnews.org/