Jena Skinner, AICP
Questioning what is important in 2020
Sheesh! Time flies when you are being pulled a million different directions. Very distracting when you have a blog that needs attention. The good news is, is that even when I am not writing, I am thinking about the world we live in and how planning relates. #plannerdalert
I just got back from Hawaii. It was the first time I had ever been there, and I went from Maui to Kauai and then back to Maui. I had a good time, not a great time. "What???" - you must be thinking. "Weren't you in paradise?"
Kauai, surprisingly, reminded me of being back home in Nova Scotia. A low-density island wrought with beautiful beaches and iffy roads, complete with the struggle of a place riddled with small business, a lack of high-paying employers, and tourists. Driving is necessary as services are spread out, and rents are high. It's a place that if you are lucky to have somewhere to live, it's probably not near where you work. Where it takes upwards of 6 weeks to replace your dryer, and you pray you measured correctly while it gets shipped to you from the mainland. If you were lucky enough to be born and raised there and your family has a long-standing home and acreage, you are far better off - even if your home is not constructed to modern standards. While the modern (urban population) struggles are all too real, it has some wonderful things that (if you have a low-cost home), are so supportive. My favorite thing is that it is humble, without airs, and accepting. Just like being home.
The land offers rich soils and nothing that can kill you. Fruit grows wild, planting is easy, and proteins like feral pigs run around being a nuisance. You can fish, dive for lobster without a permit, and the water is clean. As long as you know how to farm, hunt and fish, you'll be ok. But what does this have to do with planning?
Over the last few years there have been several articles about 'loving Colorado to death'. This reminded me about being on my trip. Locals' homes being bought up and replaced by luxury residences. AirBnB's replacing rental housing. Visitors gumming up an already sub-standard road system. Finding out most resorts and homes function on septic systems. People everywhere! Reefs dying due to using unfriendly sunscreens. Even the friends I knew in Colorado that live there never go out as things are so spread out and expensive. Music is scant and venues even scarcer. This all for the benefit of people like me who "needed" to experience Hawaii by staying at an AirBnB and driving constantly in a rental car. But that's not why I write this blog today. The REAL topic of this blog is why we work so hard in Colorado, to hide the authentic appearance of our communities that is in contrast with our environment.
The construction on Maui and Kauai was basic. Obviously, without snow you don't need quite the level we need, and with a jungle that is constantly creeping in, landscaping is very natural- I get it. But it is these things that make me want to rethink how I judge development in Colorado. We spend so much money making buildings opulent or decorative; using materials not indigenous to our area. In such a water-sensitive place, landscaping requirements are in opposition to our dry environments and in competition with this resource overall. Houses are built so large that they exceed the national average size of a home because land costs are so high. Surprisingly, Hawaii overall has a lower cost of living and a lower poverty rate than in Colorado. Homes are smaller and simpler. But why?
Stats: Colorado Hawaii Hawaiian Islands broken down
Could it be that we spend so much in contrast with what the first residents built out of necessity vs. investment? Are we such a culture of transplants that we have forgotten about Colorado's soul? Are we so concerned here about being on top that we end up land rich and cash poor because we are so competitive with each other? Are we ignoring the land as we build because we are building out of greed not need? So what is it that causes our struggle to be so prevalent in our lives?
I think it's because we are programmed to keep up with the Jones' here. Competition and promise of greater things brought us to Colorado, and by golly, my neighbors have Audis, so I should as well. Are we brainwashed to think it is bad to buy a piece of land and build a home we know we can afford? My old realtor would say so. Even the governments chime in through land use codes, where the majority have MINIMUM house sizes, and road standards force us to build wide roads that eat up our precious landscape. Lifestyle choices like tiny homes are so frowned upon (MANY of the homes built on the islands I went to had small homes- some akin to the typical, mobile tiny homes we see here). I thought they'd be everywhere in 2020.
I think the Hawaiians have it right. If we are outdoor loving people, let's build to respect nature, not in opposition with it. Stop being so fancy. Embrace personal choices of living meek. Get out of the mindset that large homes matter, and into the gratitude I felt in Hawaii in that they are just happy to be there. If we're going to love Colorado to death, let's stop killing ourselves by having 5 jobs to afford to live here, giving us no time to enjoy why we came here in the first place.