The article by Craig Pittman in the August/September issue of Planning magazine entitled “Water War. Southern Style” was a fascinating read. My only quibble with the story is it never addressed the toughest question – should cities be allowed to outgrow their water resources?
I tend to be quite liberal on most topics, but draw the line at repetitive, preventative, and recurring waste. “Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice….,” as the old adage goes.
As is the case with building cities where there can be too much water (e.g. New Orleans, wetlands, or any floodplain), some arid places on this planet do not lend themselves to massive amounts of urban development. Therefore, why must those who plan, develop, and act responsibly have to shoulder burden(s) created by those who can’t get their act together? Pursuant to the story, that is a question Atlanta and Georgia should answer.
Just like nonconforming land uses, at some point the nonconforming (or unsustainable) cities should either be forced to get their act together by becoming more conforming (sustainable) or have precious financial resources and incentives diverted elsewhere to more sustainable locations. That may be blunt, but at some point we have to be rational and practical instead of foolhardy.
Is it good planning practice to build megacities in the desert like Las Vegas or Phoenix or on a dry, stony ridge like Atlanta, and then expect everyone else to kowtow to their every water need? In short, no. Being a resident of the Great Lakes Region, perhaps I am jaded, but I think the larger planning profession has a lot of egg on its face when it comes to these macro issues.
We can talk a good game, but when push comes to shove…we tend to cave or get trampled by a stampede. Post Katrina was a perfect example – lots of idyllic chatter about the logic of a large city being situated in such a precarious place, but few (if any) truly measurable actions to reverse the mistakes of the past. Instead, more money was thrown at the problem. Like it or not, certain cities decline from their pinnacle (Skagway; Dunwich; Butte; Johnstown; Cairo, IL; Youngstown, and others) or are lost altogether (Angkor, Babylon, Cahokia, Carthage, Chernobyl, Machu Picchu, Persopolis, Pompeii, Troy, and Xanadu) for a variety of reasons.
Am I saying Atlanta, Las Vegas, New Orleans, or Phoenix should be abandoned? Of course not. Every location has its pluses and minuses. What am saying is we need to make our urban areas more compatible with their surroundings, based on climate, terrain, geography, topography, geology, flora, fauna, and other factors, and stop attempting to manipulate the environment beyond all reason. Let nature do its job and build our cities to live within its bounty.
I am also saying that there are plenty of cities around the world, but particularly in North America, that have been largely abandoned for greener pastures, where the resources and infrastructure already exist. It is unethical and immoral for us to discard cities wastefully like spoiled children who become bored with a toy. A number of people (though not enough politicos) seem to be finally getting that here in Michigan, as Detroit is in the midst of a remarkable turnaround.
This is not to say that planners are solely or even largely responsible – politicians, engineers, citizens, developers, speculators, financiers, bureaucrats, businesses, environmentalists, etc. all have their fair share of egg on their face. But, sooner or later, after we have all banged our collective heads against the wall enough times, you would think some common sense would get through our thick skulls, other than more pipe dreams.