What could be
One night last week, I had a dream. I dreamt that I walked out of my house, through a quiet neighborhood where children played in the street. Shortly, I came upon a path in the woods, joined to the neighborhood through a gap in the fence. Ten minutes on this path and I came to a library, across the street from a community center with after-school programs and swimming pools, a small set of professional buildings, and a coffee shop. Returning along the path, I took a different direction and passed community gardens, a u-pick blueberry farm next to a restored historic farmhouse, a bike path that stretches in multiple directions to city centers and lake shores.
OK, I lied. It wasn’t a dream. I was visiting family in Bellevue, Wash., a suburb of Seattle. Bellevue isn’t generally considered as hip as Seattle, but it has a lot of things going for it as a community. The trail I mentioned is one of those things. Huge portions of Bellevue’s residential suburbs are linked with bike and walking paths to community centers, parks, open space, service areas like grocery stores and some work spaces. Bellevue was one of the first cities in America to encourage city-wide composting and has a high rate of recycling.
My visit got me imagining a more sustainable Reno. What would our community look like if we could stanch the financial hemorrhage and reinvest in our own infrastructure? Which of Reno’s strengths could we build up and which of its weaknesses could we transform? Of course, my ideas of strengths and weaknesses are probably different from a lot of other people’s, but it’s as good a place to start as any.
In my opinion, Reno’s strengths as a city start with the arts. We have Artown, the Nevada Museum of Art, and a high proportion of local artists for the size of our town. We are also quite literally the “gateway” to Burning Man, a feature that could be even more significant than it is. The second strength is our physical location and fabulous climate. And the third strength is the creativity and vision of our local government staffers. Yeah, I know that urban bureaucrats tend to be invisible, but ours have been working quietly over the past decade to make this place more livable and sustainable. Sadly, that strength, along with what was once the fourth strength, the university, is losing out to budget cuts.
Our weaknesses include far-flung suburban developments that contribute to traffic congestion, air pollution, and isolationism; a regressive tax structure too heavily dependent on outside funding of tourism; a school system driven to the bottom of the national ratings by overzealous funding cuts and a climate discouraging innovation; and an economy too dependent on low-wage jobs that pushes the best and the brightest of our youth to pursue their professional careers elsewhere.
If Reno were to become an economically resilient community built around principles of sustainability, we would have far more transportation options beyond the car. Our suburbs would look more like independent satellite communities with local amenities within easy and safe walking or biking distance to most residents. We would see more small-scale microfarms both in town and in the suburbs. Our vast warehouse rooftops and parking lots would be covered in solar panels, our ridgetops spinning with windfarms (yes, I know wind generators are controversial). Our schools would be cranking out entrepreneurs, artists and inventors rather than dropouts, and our universities would be forging new economic paths with innovative public-private partnerships, building whole new industries to keep our college graduates in the area and attracting new ones to our dynamic and thriving community.
Oops, I must have dozed off there—now I really am dreaming!