Wednesday, January 19, 2005

A new consituency?

Fiona Morgan wrote some time ago in North Carolina's Independent Weekly:

Perhaps this is part of what Florida means in his chapter "The Creative Class Grows Up," when he urges its members to see themselves as a group and take the responsibility of mobilizing as such. "Class is a dirty word in America," he writes. "But for the Creative Class and society as a whole, a little class awareness would be a healthy thing." He exhorts the group to get organized around three goals: investment in creativity (i.e., schools over stadiums and research centers over factories); overcoming the class divide and finding a channel for the creative potentials of people in the working class and service class; and "building new forms of social cohesion."

If you're not into traditional politics, fine, he says, but get involved. "Unless we design new forms of civic involvement appropriate to our times, we will be left with a substantial void in our society and politics that will ultimately limit our ability to achieve the economic growth and rising living standards we desire."

Living in Traverse City, a city to which thousands of people have migrated over the past thirty years or so, a city which has become a city of migrants--my experience living here gets me to wondering about the similarities between the situation with Florida's "Creative Class" who have yet to come to self-recognition and TC's incomers.

In spite of the fact that so many new people have moved here over the years, and the fact that so many things have changed culturally because of that in-migration, in spite of these things politics still seems to have a throwback quality to it. What do I mean by that? Well, the legacy of old guard folks, the people who helped put TC on the map in the 1950s still seems to hold a lot of sway. The same family names keep cropping up in local politics, even when the current holders of those surnames seem to have lost a little something in the genetic shuffle. And the opposition to the old guard seems to me to have a lot of the same qualities that the 1950s opposition must have had: they are the resentful "outs."

They have a lot of personal axes to grind. They seem to have little in the way of alternative plans and lots in the way of plans for revenge against the entitled. The "ins" on the other hand seem to act alternatively with thoughtless arrogance and petty paranoia. Where, I wonder, are the people who don't give a damn about these longstanding resentments? Where are the people who care more about rationally planning a community their children will live in than in the local political soap opera? Where are the people for whom Traverse City is a city undergoing a delicate transition and not a mythical fantasyland?

Incomers, especially, should be interested in developing a political power base here that looks at the city's problems and possibilities with an eye to the future and not to the past. Many of us used to live in places that planned wrong or planned not. That's why a lot of incomers picked up and left. Here in Traverse City growth is the reality, and no amount of griping and nostalgia for the TC of the 1950s and 1960s is going to alter it.

If we don't manage the growth process, though, we're going to be in for trouble. Suburbs grew partly because they were bucolic, but mostly because they were close to (and eventually in) the urban area and its jobs. They're always going to have proximity to jobs going for them.

Traverse City grew and grows because it is beautiful and unlike urban areas in many ways. If we let growth take away those things, TC will become a ghost town--it'll just get used up.

We should be working on identifying ways to keep this area as beautiful as possible and on identifying those "non-urban" qualities that are important, positive and preservable.

Low pay may be a non-urban quality, but I don't think it's one worth defending. Lack of cultural opportunity and anti-intellectualism may be non-urban qualities, but they're just as well put behind us. But things like safety, friendliness and the accessibility of civic leaders are very different matters.

But this is a job we've got to work at. We can't just gripe about change and pretend that griping and being rude to tourists is going to make change go away.