Wednesday, June 28, 2006

A modern fable: The Palm and the Strangling Fig


The Strangling Fig, a beautiful vine with small green leaves, grows in the tropics. It loves to wrap itself up and around palm trees. As the plants grow, they become a natural wonder: a tree within a tree.

But there's a hitch to this love match. The Strangling Fig's name is no joke. It eventually kills the palm tree and must then trail off in search of a more satisfying and nurturing partner.

The strangler has no malevolent intent—it's a plant after all. It simply does what its primal coding impels it to do—seek out the best for itself.

And, its life is not solely sinister. Many of its ilk bear fruit that feeds birds, and its leaves provide cover for nesting.

The relationship between the luxuriant palm and the beautiful Strangling Fig is like the relationship between mountain resort towns and vacation homes. There is an irresistible attraction between the two. But left unhindered, vacation homes in today's economic environment can kill the mountain resort towns that seasonal occupants love.

The Wood River Valley and its towns form a place where human minds, bodies, and arts of all kinds meet nature. It's an intoxicating mixture. Food tastes sweeter; books read easier; and exercise is meditation where the Smoky, Pioneer and Boulder mountains intersect.

The mix is infused and enriched by the lives of the people who have chosen to live and do business in the valley. But full-time residents and businesses—who make the place more interesting than a dusty trailhead—are being overwhelmed and replaced by vacation homes and condos.

In today's economic environment, such buildings are worth more than any small business can generate and more than anyone employed locally can afford.

No one intended this to happen, of course. But if something doesn't change, they will squeeze the life out of the place.

Ketchum is trying to stop the squeeze by proposing new zoning for businesses, buildings of up to four stories in some places, people-friendly designs, integrated affordable workforce housing, hotel development options and historic preservation.

The proposals won't make everyone happy. The desire to freeze time drives nearly everyone to want to hold on to the past. Change is scary, but the alternative—a community that may exist only on life support—is worse.

The irony is that if the intoxicating blend of life in Ketchum and the Wood River Valley evaporates, the magnetism will fade. That will please no one.

And it's reason enough to strike a balance between the palm and the fig so that both may live happily far into the future.




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