Timothy Egan recently wrote a piece about our National Parks and Forests, the envy of the entire world, a fluke almost in a land-grab world of power and exploitation (The Geography of Nope, T. Egan, 9/29/12). It’s a pretty good read, check it out.
And of course, since it’s the crazy season, there’s a real live and imperative political angle…Not that Obama has been any sort of champion at all of the free and open spaces that grace our country, he hasn’t. But Romney tipped his hand, showing that he would deal a devastating and permanent blow to the gems that define America “…earlier this year when he told a Nevada newspaper that ‘I don’t know what the purpose is’ of all this federal land in the West. It would be nice to think he just doesn’t get it, because he’s never spent any time in the free outdoors.”
The issue that Egan takes up reminds me of our recent run-in with the “think creatively: minds in Seattle’s Parks and Recreation Dept. that came up with the idea for a tree-top zip line with concession stand and ropes course in the middle of one of our few remaining urban sanctuaries and old growth forests, Lincoln Park. The response was quick and decisive but you have to believe that they are back at the drawing board trying to figure out how to monetize the park by the square foot. It’s almost a carbon copy of the national urge on the part of a few:
The states, of course, are cash-strapped, and want these lands only so they can industrialize them quickly, with minimal regulations. If you want to know what our public lands would be like under states in the pocket of oil companies, just look at the closing days of George W. Bush’s presidency, when drillers pressed to scar up land near some of the most iconic national parks and monuments in the Southwest. Only a change in administrations, and lawsuits that back the people’s right to manage the lands properly, stopped them in their tracks.
Second — and more importantly — these are our lands they want to take away. The toddler in Tuscaloosa has equal claim to the stunning Vermilion Cliffs outside the Grand Canyon as does a cowboy in Arizona. One day, when we are a nation of 600 million, these community-owned treasures will be all the more valuable.
And that last part is the part that will challenge the small thinkers who are driving monetization: the importance of our free and open lands will only grow as the lack of free and open land decreases. And not just for us, but for all migrating animals and birds, for an entire ecosystem that requires space and diversity and a multitude of resources we scarcely recognize.
So, dear Seattle City Council, Mayor McGinn, Parks Dept: I ask you to think in terms of a broad and varied portfolio of open space. Some quite urban, some urban sanctuaries, some tiny, some quite grand. Don’t apply a single rule of $X per SqFt to evaluate what we have that makes this city liveable. Think truly creatively, think really big, think for the long term. Consider existing city parks like Central Park and Golden Gate park. No cheap, short term tricks but rather a vision of the gems we have becoming even more valuable with time.