Editor’s note: Anthony Peyton Porter is taking one more week off to get back to full strength. He plans to have a new column for us next week—but as this piece from December shows, predicting the future is a tricky thing …
I went to a Chico planning meeting recently. It was one of two “visioning workshops designed to solicit input that will shape the general plan update and the future of the city of Chico.” The usual suspects showed up. So did I.
Most of the people there have lived in Chico more than 15 years. I know that because the first hour was devoted to surveying those present on various topics and then comparing our numbers to those of a previous telephone survey, like Family Feud. Survey says!
The main presenter seemed to assume that we would want to know how we compared to the other group and pointed out the similarities and differences. I don’t know why. Next time I’ll ask.
Then each table of attendees discussed four items having to do with Chico’s future:
What we’d like to preserve until 2030.
What we’d like to improve.
What we’d like to add.
What the Chico we envisioned would be like.
A few things about the meeting interested me. I think it was the person who started things off who reminded us that only a few years ago nobody could have predicted the proliferation of personal computers, cell phones, iPods and the Internet.
When I was little there was an exhibit in Chicago, and probably lots of other places, called Powerama, which extolled the wonders of technology and actually showed us what things would be like in the future. Powerama had plenty of concept cars and fancy kitchens and many, many big machines and big pictures to look at. I’m sure the Chico general plan will generate nice things to look at, too.
The speaker’s point was that there’s no way to predict the future. There still isn’t any way to predict the future, and yet we were all there as part of a long, expensive process designed to determine how we want things to go when most of us there that morning will be dead and gone.
I don’t know what makes us think we can predict better now than we could a few years ago.
Pretty much everything that came up had to do with growth, with Chico getting bigger by spreading out or exploiting the vacant land in town. I heard only one person opposed to growth, and that sotto voce.
Chico doesn’t have to accommodate people who want to move here. I don’t mean keep anybody out. I mean the City Council could ignore newcomers, including businesses, and just leave them alone to find space in the free market, without incentives and tax breaks and enterprise zones and all the rest of the smoke and mirrors.
People wanted to tweak things in all sorts of ways, but nobody wanted to change anything drastically. I guess that’s because we also said we liked living in Chico.
Deciding what’ll be best for people that many years down the road strikes me as presumptuous at best. Conditions, especially technological, change in ways we can’t predict.
Let’s just stay in the moment and see how it goes.