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Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Sustainable communities in unlikely Texas towns

Pictures can teach us about sustainable, walkable communities: Fredericksburg TX ranks with Paris and New Orleans! This comment came from a blog by Kaid Benfield, the director of the Sustainable Communities and Smart Growth program at the Natural Resources Defense Council, co-founder of the LEED for Neighborhood Development rating system, and co-founder of Smart Growth America.

For me, it was "the perfect storm"...the right article, the right photos and the right frame of mind. It totally threw a wrench in my agenda for the day. I simply couldn't concentrate and had to vent my whirlwind of thoughts. Call me crazy but I think my little central Texas town as well as other small unsuspecting Texas towns can do this…that is, be revitalized, reborn and/or repurposed.  Two of my favorite Texas towns have proven this and continue to make positive strides: Galveston and Fredericksburg.  One just needs vision, a clear goal and something marketable.  Oh yeah, and to avoid the 5% who are the eternal doomsayers. Avoid them like frying bacon naked.  It’s just a bad idea. Steer clear.

“We’re not one of those rich gas well or touristy towns” they say.  Yes I know, I does take money. But money is often the great cop out.  I'll give you an analogy. I grew up believing that global travel was only for the rich and famous. No one ever told me this. It was simply a message that I picked up in the environment in which I grew up in small farming town USA.  But then came the game changer...the opportunity. In my early 20's, my husband and I were offered a free place to sleep in London, England if we chose to visit. It was the off-season so airfare ended up being very affordable to our great surprise. We scoured books that taught one how to travel on the tiniest of budgets. Almost with a great sense of uneasiness for my hubbie and incredible freedom for me, we booked our flight. It was a huge turning point in both our lives because it seemed so impossible and "foreign" just 2 weeks prior. We have been travel enthusiasts ever since and we focus on doing it cheaply. My favorite travel guru is Rick Steve's. He is a former school teacher who travelled Europe so often with his family while being a teacher that he is now a renowned travel resource. And let's face it, teachers are one of the most underpaid professions in our great nation. What seemed impossible due to lack of money, suddenly became possible. Lesson learned.

I digressed a bit to make a point. Money is a very necessary part of the plan, but it is just that...a "part" of the plan. What is needed first is a long-term vision. You don't need to burden yourself with all the moving parts as to how it will become reality at first. If you do that, those beautiful visions never come to fruition.  It's so easy to get caught up in what's comfortable, what is natural. But a majority of the magic happens when you leave that giant circle and venture out into the unknown. Visions should stretch you outside of your comfort zone. Part of it should feel slightly unattainable. If not, you never left your circle.  When driving from Houston to Lubbock at night, you do not need the roads to be lit up the entire way all at once. All you need is about 30 feet of headlights and a destination...then you go find your map to get you there. And you cannot search Google maps if you don't know where the heck you are going.

My question is this: Does your small Texas town know where it is going? Change happens whether we like it or not. If one honestly thinks that their life, their town can simply go on as is forever, they are in for a rude awakening. One can either accept the inevitable that change happens, have forward thinking and planning to steer the ship to a fun travel destination or one can become the SS Minnow. I, for one, am not going down on a sinking ship. I'm steering this bad boy to a super cool place. I don't have my map yet. But I sure as heck know what the endpoint looks like and my gut tells me that the journey itself is going to be fun. I love my tiny Texas town. And I will go to my grave striving to make it better and better.  My great grandparents emigrated from Poland with no money but they did have big dreams.  I’ll be darned if I let them down by watching what they started fade away into the dust.  I’m no millionaire…just a 40 year old Texas girl, proud of her roots, proud of her town, doesn’t mind going against the grain and loves the idea of a tight community.  What would totally make this journey complete and make that destination even that much more amazing would be if there were a team of co-captains. Are there any takers?  

 You can read Benfield's article “What pictures can teach us about walkability” and peruse the beautiful photos of various "walkable" communities here:

By Denise Barker Gouge

1 comment:

  1. Wow! Great article & would be so cool to live in a place that was such a tourist attraction like Fredricksburg!! :)