Teri Orr: The weight of water
The heaviness arrived uninvited this week. It doesn’t have a name yet, and I don’t think it is exclusively mine. There wasn’t an incident or a moment I can point to where things shifted, but they did.
And then came the sinking news out of the southeast: Mother Nature tossing back what I imagine to be her mane of thick, curly red hair and raining down her wrath, huffing and puffing and blowing palm trees, utility poles, and houses down with equal disregard. And as cruel as the destruction is, it all feels understandable given our disregard for Mother Nature and our slow moving efforts to combat climate change.
There are global organizations that have worked for some time to bring awareness to the greed and waste destroying the planet. The new King of England has long been a proponent of paying attention to planet Earth. And in 2020, his son William created a new, global award with David Attenborough whereby five winners receive one million dollars each to address climate change.
Now, Duke of Cambridge William and his wife, Duchess Kate, will be in Boston, home of the Kennedy library, in December for the Earthshot Prize. The event will also include Ambassador Caroline Kennedy and Boston Mayor Michelle Wu. The prize name was inspired by President Kennedy’s moonshot vision 60 years ago. It promises 50 solutions by 2030 for restoration and protection of nature, air cleanliness, ocean revival, waste-free living, and climate action.
I don’t have any family on the East Coast that was in the path of Hurricane Ian, but so many of my dear friends do. O n Wednesday night and Thursday morning, there was a flurry of messages and alerts and an urging of senior parents to evacuate. So far, all are safe.
Driving this week, I was stuck in traffic long enough to hear a long-form NPR report about the catastrophic developments on the Colorado River. The waterway has dipped dangerously and increasingly the last few years and revealed lost towns, caves, long forgotten archeological sites, and even dead bodies in Lake Mead. Lake Mead is, of course, near Las Vegas, and the speculation about the bodies is as great as the speculation as to whether the manmade lake ought be refilled.
That same report explained that the Colorado River flows through seven states and is the primary water source for 40 million people in our part of the West. Let that sink in for a minute. Forty. Million. People.
When I travel, I love feeling untethered, able to shift and end up in a place other than my original destination. But right now, I feel a heaviness. A sadness. There is another shift afoot, and it feels as though decades of conversation have done little to stop the journey to the place where we have arrived globally and in Park City.
Too many risk averse, uninspired leaders, too few inspired/inspiring people, too few resources and too few risk-takers. The result is tens of millions of people now untethered and an economic disparity that seems ineradicable.
I tuned in to discover a similar battle between enabled haves and wayward have-nots playing out during part of our city Planning Commission Wednesday evening. It was a confusing mulligan stew of developers, commissioners, and public voices lobbying in different ways for and against affordable housing, height exceptions, parking covenants, square-footage increases, and all the rest.
While I am a big fan of the principal ideas to create more affordable housing, I am lost in the overlapping and conflicting codes and restrictions and variances and conditional uses. It’s easy to drown in the uninspired details and forget what the soul of a building, inside the spirit of a neighborhood, could be.
I wonder how we both pause and refocus as a global community and the microcosm that is Park City. These issues of declining resources and affordability are urgent, critical, and interrelated. We haven’t done a very good job of caring for our natural resources or creating projects that build community in an equitable and inclusive way. We can no longer treat individual projects as isolated puzzle pieces that will somehow magically fit together one day. They aren’t, and they can’t.
So every planning commissioner, project developer, and city/county planner needs to flap their wings or rent a small plane and fly over town. Observe how emotionally connected we still are but how few metaphorical and physical paths there are to connect our commercial and residential hubs. Piecemeal planning has resulted in a divided Park City with full-time residents battling nightly renters, friends fighting over parking and employees spending their wages just to arrive at their jobs.
We can no longer approve or deny projects without a clear understanding of who we are in this very moment and how we want future generations to be thriving here in 60 years. The land is connected, the resources too. There is no city /county/ state /country division that works anymore. We have just one planet we share as our home.
For starters, we need to identify and listen to the big thinkers, the ones who will help us move past the cycle of futility and emerge as a creative, smart, and hopeful community again. Maybe there is a visionary donor who wants to fund some Prize for Big Thinkers in Our Town. Or maybe we invite the bold and the brave among us to speak their ideas in an authentic open forum.
And if this all sounds a little insane, to be clear, our current behaviors have reached a point of insanity. I don’t know exactly where next steps appear that make authentic sense because nothing much makes sense to me this Sunday in our Park.
While the creature comforts of snow removal have improved a lot — a dry heated cab with Bluetooth audio, four wheel drive, triple the horsepower of the old Ford, a blower that hurls the snow half way to Tabiona — some things have not changed.
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