Monday, March 12, 2007

Burning to Succeed

Sunday afternoon in Swain County a 200-acre brush fire burned through a Grassy Branch development, destroying nine homes and damaging 25 others. At this hour, it’s not yet contained. “You just have to stand here and watch it burn,” the sheriff said after he took the last family to safety. “There’s nothing you can do.” Last year, a fire burned out of control near the proposed quarry site in Tuckasegee. With greater density of development on steeper mountain slopes, more disasters are not just possible, but inevitable.

Who pays for things allowed to happen when government refuses to govern? Whose rights are injured, and who bears responsibility?

Local well drillers are reporting they have to go more than 100 feet deeper to reach water than they did ten years ago. The morning after a moderate rain, the Tuckasegee River looks like chocolate milk. The local water sewer authority is especially hard-pressed to expand capacity. Paved state roads leading to the new gated subdivisions are disintegrating under the weight of all the trucks associated with the new construction.

More people are starting to consider the idea that intensive development has costly impacts on local communities. The issue may not be quite as galvanizing as the moratorium episode just played out, but it needs to be investigated and reported. Landowners, like myself, would do well to learn how to mitigate the impact of our activities.

"Gated subdivisions" came up in a 3/11/07 Citizen-Times column by Joy Franklin, "Poor Need to Learn Society’s Rules But Have Much to Offer." Franklin discusses the writings of Ruby Payne, author of "A Framework for Understanding Poverty," and "Bridges Out of Poverty." Payne works with educators to help them understand how to relate to children from poverty…helping them understand the hidden rules that operate in different social classes.

Excerpts from the column follow:

There’s a chart in Payne’s "Understanding Poverty" that identifies the hidden rules among classes — or perhaps they might better be called hidden values. After reading the chart, I decided that on balance there’s much about the hidden rules or values of the poor that’s superior to either middle or wealthy class rules or values…if Payne’s assessment is more or less correct, there are lessons taught by poverty that people born into middle class or wealthy families struggle their whole lives to comprehend, and many never do.

For instance, in poverty, relationships are really important because they’re the only real possessions a person has. The social emphasis for poor people is on inclusion of people one truly likes. For the middle class, social emphasis is on self-governance and self-sufficiency — in other words, independence from other people. Social emphasis for the wealthy is on social exclusion — a phenomenon that can be witnessed by all the gated communities springing up in Western North Carolina.

Among the poor, a person is valued for an ability to entertain and for his or her sense of humor, both of which provide a distraction from the pain and trials of poverty. Among the middle class, achievement, acquisition and stability are highly valued in a person. Among the rich, financial, political and social connections top the list of desirable characteristics.

When it comes to time, the poor live in the present. They make decisions for the moment based on their feelings or what’s most likely to promote their survival. The middle class tends to look to the future and make decisions considering future ramifications. The rich tend to look to the past, making decisions based on tradition and decorum.

For the poor, driving forces are survival, relationships and entertainment. For the middle class, they are work and achievement; for the rich — financial, political and social connections.

From this short list of comparisons, it seems plain to me that while it may be important to teach poor children the hidden rules and values of the middle class so they can provide themselves and their families with financial security, the rest of society could learn some equally important life lessons from them.

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