Plan and then follow the plan

The Reno Gazette-Journal recently ran an intriguing package about the city. It was titled “Is Reno growth smart?” and while it was wider than it was deep, it certainly pushed some hot button issues—but in a good way.

Sprawl, mass transit, Fourth Street renaissance, infill, rezoning, regional centers—is it too ironic to point out that these have all been issues that have been discussed in the region for more than 30 years? And too often, that newspaper that suddenly finds itself so impressed with the concepts of positive urban planning, was on the wrong sides of the issues, siding with conflicted developers, myopic politicians and unrestrained growthers.

Of course, that’s all water under the bridge now that the big decisions have been somewhat decided for us—the Spaghetti Bowl, for example. Despite all the money that’s been thrown at it, as evidenced by the interchange between I-80 East and 395 North, it will never be fixed. It didn’t have to be that way. (And, frankly, it wouldn’t hurt to remove some of that soundwall, so sunlight can reach the icy pavement after a winter storm—cut some windows in it or something.)

The problem is, when people first began discussing these things, they were dismissed as Cassandras, foreseers of doom. The fact is, the foresightful ones, to a great degree, learned that their efforts were for naught and quit participating in the political arena. There are the more Sisyphusian types who never, though, get tired of rolling the boulder up the hill.

So, what do people do when they’ve tilled the soil, then ignored it as the weeds sprouted? Well, our leaders say, “This is great, we wanted dandelion wine.”

Fine, let’s make the best of a bad situation, but let’s not pretend that the gridlock at the intersection of South Virginia and 395 South is good because it slows down traffic. Looking at the potential for a casino in Spanish Springs, let’s not pretend that the current regional plan works in any real way.

One lesson that can be learned from the mess we are in is that if we don’t plan for the future, our choices get made for us. Sometimes, though, if we take a long view and stick to the plan—as in the concept of regional commerce centers—things can be improved for those who’ll be here years down the road.

Look at the regional center around the university, for example. Go to almost any major university around the country, and you’ll find the environs surrounding the schools are rife with businesses that support the needs of the students—shopping, studying and playing. They provide jobs, but more to the point, those businesses would allow some 12,000 students to live and go to school without an automobile. That youth culture contributes to the well being of the region all around it. And the fewer cars on the road, the better for everyone. But, again, this has never been a city that gave a damn about any transportation. For example, can you name the location of a bike stand in downtown Reno for all those casino workers who shouldn’t have to drive to work?

At any rate, it’s a good thing that the local daily newspaper is taking the lead on smart growth by investing the resources it took to produce the special report, and we applaud them for it. Now, if we could only believe all those seeds are being sewn in fertile soil.