For the week of October 7 thru October 13, 1998  

Headline: Rack your brains

Ketchum’s fight over affordable housing, and Blaine County’s houses-vs.-fields match are bigger than they seem. They are battles precipitated by Earth’s burgeoning population.

The facts are outlined in October’s scariest story, "Population," in National Geographic magazine.

One of many hair-raising facts in the piece: "Because of the youthfulness of the developing world—one-third of which is under 15—even if the entire globe had reached replacement levels in 1995, the population would still grow by two-thirds before leveling off."

The people who think traffic is bad on Warm Springs Road today haven’t seen anything yet. Pressure to subdivide farm and ranch lands is mild compared to what it may become.

America’s laws make it impossible to stop city and county population growth; it may only be controlled. Until the laws, the economy or the world’s growth rates change, local government officials will have their hands full trying to balance contradictory demands for both low-density growth and open space.

The Ketchum City Council and the Blaine County Commissioners just finished bruising battles. Over the objections of neighbors, Ketchum approved a high-density development that will include affordable housing. Over objections from both the development-minded and farmer-ranchers, Blaine County approved an ordinance that will make subdividing farms and ranches more difficult.

Lots of people showed up to protect their pieces of the valley pie and to excoriate the growth solutions put forward by the government bodies. Their testimony was intelligent and articulate. Few were at a loss for words, but few had ever served—or offered to serve—in public office. Few had faced the disdain dished out in hearing after hearing.

That’s a shame. Had they ever been on the other side of the table, they would know that communities need more than opposition to be healthy. They need participation.

If there is to be any hope of managing growth and keeping the valley livable, more people must be willing to serve. Local candidates for office are scarce these days. Serving takes a lot of time, the pay is lousy and the job thankless. Constituents only show up when they’re really mad or their lawyers are on vacation.

Some people now want to get even with the local public officials who didn’t vote their way. We have a better and more radical idea: Run for office. Rack your brains. Serve on a commission.

Barring some kind of mass extinction like the one that did in the dinosaurs, population growth is not going to disappear. There will be no perfect solutions. The best of the imperfect ones will only surface when the focus is on finding them instead of fighting among ourselves.


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