Wednesday, September 23, 2009

What the valley did right

A drive through the Mountain West is all it takes to discover what the Sun Valley area has done right.

Other mountain towns set in utterly stunning mountain, lake and river settings demonstrate how bad planning—or no planning at all—can permanently scar and obscure what ought to be beautiful and attractive places.

Instead, the towns are victims of ugly commercial sprawl and the overbearing total freedom in which bad taste and trashed vistas can be imposed on viewers at every turn. They have no sense of place and offer no sense of arrival. They are everywhere and nowhere at the same time.

Charming towns that should invite visitors to stop and spend time are submerged under enterprises scattered willy-nilly along busy thoroughfares. A driver who even thinks of turning in may risk a crash with oncoming traffic or bear the ire of others stalled behind him while he waits for a safe opening.

Billboards ranging from slapdash monstrosities to the newest digital visual cacophonies plaster busy roadways.

Various theories about how to attract potential customers roaring by at high speeds are painfully apparent in the tall-taller-tallest and big-bigger-biggest manifestations of signs and lighting.

Communities that could benefit from the message that they are great places to be instead put out the message that anyone who thinks of stopping is crazy. Only someone who thinks high-speed obstacle courses are great places to spend the afternoon would want to try to get from one business to the next.

The Wood River Valley's state Highway 75 and the towns it links are stark contrasts to the rest of the West.

Bellevue, Hailey, Ketchum and Sun Valley are intact and inviting towns, identifiable by their concentrated collections of businesses and homes.

They aren't sliced to ribbons by a freeway-style highway. Pedestrians can easily reach businesses without risking their lives. Ketchum is doubly inviting with its reinvigorated street life on Fourth.

Along Highway 75, garish signs are nowhere to be seen, and mountain views dominate. Traffic travels without the on-and-off madness of commercial sprawl.

But for the foresight of people who shaped the future of this area as it began to grow rapidly in the early 1970s, the Sun Valley area would have been strip-developed like most other places.

Instead, residents old and new stared down what was then called "progress" and insisted on protecting the valley's character with wise planning and zoning that concentrated development in the cities.

They did it right.

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