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Jerry W. Engler

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Land use attitude change needed
By Jerry W. Engler
Last edited: Thursday, June 19, 2008
Posted: Wednesday, June 18, 2008

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Jerry W. Engler

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Fuel prices and other concerns are changing the way we live to the point that we may need to rethink what may actually be our number one problem, land use. The change may extend to government but must begin with us individually. We can't keep squandering the land for short-term financial gain.

 The Hillsboro Free Press and Jerry Engler give permission for this article to be reprinted, or sent to others as long as The Hillsboro Free Press is credited. Please spread the word. Let's change.













If you ask Europeans visiting the United States what they see as the No. 1 environmental problem here, it is interesting to hear the vast majority come up with the same opinion.

No, it’s not air pollution or water pollution.

I have talked to persons from Scotland, England, Denmark, Norway, France and Germany, and I can’t remember even one of them who didn’t come up with a different priority concern.

It’s land use. They can’t believe the ease with which our local, state and federal governments allow the leap frogging of malls, other commercial developments and residential areas into the countryside on the  basis of profit to developers.

They can’t believe we assign such a low value to the lands that produce food that any other use of the same ground would take precedence. They seem to remember the hunger during two world wars and the years between them as reminders to preserve both land and farmers.

Call the French “bloody frogs” if you want to for not favoring our more efficient system to provide them with more food imports, but they seem to want to preserve their food system and heritage.

An Englishman said to me, “You Yanks act as though you’ll never run out of land, but it will happen. In England there are protesters any time a new highway is proposed. We don’t want England covered all the way with highways. There’s only so much land on an island.”

In their countries, Europeans say, proposed new businesses or land uses are brought before government boards—not just to determine whether the entities involved can make a go of the business, but also to determine if the change will be to the long-lasting benefit of the community. They are more likely to make determinations according to what the decades ahead will bring, and not just to how much money a change will bring to the local economy in the near future.

This brings to mind where we are now in our country. We are entering an era where fuel prices, economic disparities and other concerns are indisputably changing our social order, how we go about things.

Essayists have been writing on topics such as rebuilding inner cities, the decline in suburban values with high fuel prices as people move back to the cities where the jobs are rather than commute, the decline in bedroom communities unless they find other reasons for existence, the return of investment in railroads for passenger use, and so on.

I would say it’s time to re-examine how we regard land use, both personally and at the government level.  Historically, land in the United States often has been treated as a cheap trading commodity.

Remember how land hand-outs to the railroads helped develop them, and Lincoln’s land grant that gave a quarter-section each to homesteaders? I won’t address here who the land was taken from to make it cheap.

After Lincoln’s death it was proposed that every ex-slave be given 40 acres and a mule. I wish they’d done that, but they didn’t. Now the average mile of four-lane interstate takes nearly as much ground at 32 acres, and it seems we think very little about it.

We have evolved to the point that when a newly married couple buys a first home, somewhere in the back of their minds ideas are already germinating on how it will be sold to buy the home that will be the family’s next step up. And they aren’t even labeled as real estate speculators.

What happened to the idea that a home is a little like marriage? Your home could be a part of you, something you value—even with ties of love.

Somehow the idea of land as a commodity is locked in our psyches. It’s an American mind-set justified by profits and ambitions.

But let’s think here. Every leap into the countryside has met with a corresponding decline of the inner city. New strips replace downtown.

Do we really want to see non-stop development from Wichita to Newton, and perhaps onward eventually to Salina? Do we really want that newly urban space replacing the farmland of eastern Kansas from Kansas City to Lawrence to Topeka to Manhattan?

I remember the green fields between Olathe and Kansas City as a youngster. Now there’s talk of how soon KC will swallow Ottawa, or whether it already has.

I even remember the first time I saw the Shenandoah Valley with its dairies and Philadelphia with farms and forests marching into the city.

The lake set in the Virginia countryside where my in-laws settled in the 1970’s is just another part of the Washington, D.C., metro complex now.

Another new relative by marriage agonizes over the last disappearances of open land within the Philadelphia metro.

Now, I’m not anti-people. I don’t want all of the undeveloped land being moved into national parks or being purchased by conservancies. If I had my way, I might dry up silted-in federal reservoirs for homesteading by new young farmers.

But I would like to see the start of a serious discussion at all levels on land use, and how we are going to preserve the lands of this country. I would like to see our psychology turn from giving a city a three-mile zone of influence, thinking therefore of its future annexations and expansions, to thinking of increasing the quality of the city while largely preserving that three-mile radius of land.

I would like the real estate sales persons who are reading this, and saying to themselves, “This guy is wanting to cut my livelihood,” to change attitudes. I would like them to say, “This is how I’m going to sell downtown and the homes around it.”

The time to discuss land use is now, during a time of change that will force us to make choices.


Copyright 2008, The Hillsboro Free Press





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Reviewed by Julie Murphy (Reader) 6/22/2008
Sustainable land uses practices must be put in place now that peak oil looms. Imports will cost more and more. A good and positive example of how cities can support themselves is Cuba. When the Soviet Union fell and oil supplied to Cuba dried up, they had no choice but to grow their own food - and they did!

Your article raises some very poignant questions. I hope people pay attention. Well done, Jerry. Best regards, Julie.
Reviewed by Karla Dorman, The StormSpinner 6/20/2008
The cities are spreading into each other, covering the land like a plague - you're right! Well done - thank you for sharing this, I will share with others.

(((HUGS))) and love, Karla.
Reviewed by Elizabeth Price 6/20/2008
You are so right. Thought provoking. Liz
Reviewed by Regis Auffray 6/19/2008
A most timely and crucial article, Jerry. I live in a province that has very little farmland and yet, development continues to eat it up as though there were no tomorrow. Sadly, because of this blindness and greed, there may well not be a tomorrow. Thank you, friend. Love and peace to you,

Reviewed by Gianetta Ellis 6/19/2008
Land use is a topic with which I am all too familiar. Aldo Leopold (and other such visionaries) knew where we were headed a long time ago. Unfortunately, we have created a culture where "deferred gratification" is a foreign term. We have very little sense of what "stewardship" really means and while we say we care about the world we'll leave to our grandchildren, our actions suggest otherwise. You're right, Jerry. Change begins at the grassroots level with each one of us bearing responsibility. In my days as an environmental educator and director of a non-proft environmental organization, I spent countless hours writing grants, implementing their terms and working with individuals and landowners in an attempt to instill a sound land use ethic. There are other ways of doing things, but our society balks at the notion of change especially when that change causes what is perceived as "inconvenience." Despite the frustration, however, we must maintain a positive attitude and a positive approach otherwise we simply alienate those very people we hope to convince.
Reviewed by Mr. Ed 6/19/2008
We can't keep squandering the land for short-term financial gain.

Quite a timely topic, especially with gasoline prices soon to hit $5 a gallon. In the last 50 years, I've sadly watched so many flee our cities for our ever expanding burbs, and I've watched as so many wonderful old family farms disappeared, and so many wonderful wetlands and forests vanished to make room for more horrendous subdivisions and strip malls, miles and miles from the city centers.

And now, with gas prices the way they are, more and more people now say they want to abandon their homes 50-100 miles from where they work, and move back to the cities.

And I truly wonder if we will make good use of these soon to be abandoned areas after we've now horrendously bulldozed away so many farms, forests, and wetlands.
Reviewed by Richard Orey 6/18/2008
What a dynamic voice for new-found common sense!

This "Letter to the Editor" needs to be widely distributed among congressmen and responsible news media nation-wide. I note the copyright is held by The Hillsboro Free Press. Perhaps it is the entity that might spearhead the movement.

Outstanding piece, Jerry Engler! Thank you for your sage advice.

Reviewed by JASMIN HORST SEILER 6/18/2008
Jerry, I hope they pay attention to what you are saying, some of that could also be applied to the floodplains of the Missippi etc.
Bless You! Jasmin Horst
Reviewed by Cryssa C 6/18/2008
I must admit that I miss the green fields of my Idaho those fields are filled with homes. When the land near my family's old home was sold (15+ years ago) and began filling up with homes, I remember my dad shaking his head at the prices for the land and commenting that $50,000+ per acre was a lot of money to pay for prime farmland that would sell as farmland for $2-3,000 per acre. Rather sad...
All I can really say is that I am awfully glad my father taught us how to grow our own food.


Books by
Jerry W. Engler

Highly Embellished Truth & Some Poetry: Just Folks Three

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Just Folks: Earthy Tales of the Prairie Heartland

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A Heartland Voice: Just Folks Two

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