Bill Eddie’s guest column in The Bulletin on the decline of Bend’s livability hit the mark except that for many of us who were born and raised here in the 1930s and 1940s, Bend has been unrecognizable for several years. Numerous residents have expressed concern about the obvious decline in livability, but to no avail. Why?
1. The local development community is well-organized and well-funded because growth pays well. Opposing questionable projects requires funds that the opponents may not have.
2. Our political leadership, including the county level, is usually business oriented by education and experience and tend to support the short term benefits of a development while accepting, or ignoring long term environmental degradation.
3. Economic factors almost always win over environmental considerations.
An emphasis on the economy is important, but there must be a balance between the economy and the environment. The Bulletin periodically publishes a summary of economic indicators for the region including job and wage growth in various sectors. How often have we seen a comprehensive index for environmental (livability) factors? Livability, which includes a host of factors including amount of open space, wildlife habitat, recreational opportunities, sense of community and traffic congestion, can be measured, but they are evidently not considered important enough to bother with. Bend does have a 2030 Plan which addresses some of these factors, including preservation of trees, but after viewing the scorched earth development occurring south of Reed Market, one wonders if anyone has looked at it.
Livability will continue to decline locally because of continued rapid growth and the emphasis on drawing thousands to the region as tourists. Our fragile natural areas are showing the impact of too many people which will result in some sort of fee system and limitations in use because of a permit requirement. (Who will have priority, locals, or tourists?) Central Oregon provides a classic example of Garrett Hardin’s “Tragedy of the Commons” where individuals, or businesses maximize their use of a “commons” (public area) for profit, or personal use to the detriment of that commons. The Deschutes River is used by kayakers, rafters, swimmers, irrigators and fisherman. Dams have been built for power production. Its banks are cleared of shade-providing trees by homeowners and commercial establishments and serves as a source for stormwater. The result is a seriously degraded river which is a receptacle for trash and silt, is in danger of warming and fluctuates greatly in flow. For another example, think of all the ways that Pilot Butte has been used, or abused over the years. Add thousands more residents and tourists to the area and the future for these resources is predictable.
The solutions provided by community leadership usually address the symptoms of the problems, not the cause. The road bond is a good example and it should be obvious that with continued growth of population and tourism, another bond for roads will be needed in a few years. This is also true for schools, libraries and parks and recreation as growth obviously does not pay for itself and needs to be subsidized by taxpayers. Bend’s leadership needs to address the problem of both rapid growth and tourism. This will not be easy and I don’t believe the current leadership is capable, or willing. We do need to stop advertising for tourists and discourage the construction of more large hotels. Tourism and the hospitality industry traditionally pays low wages compared to other sectors in the economy. Although population growth will be difficult to stabilize, we need some elected leaders, or consultants to investigate the problem for possible solutions. Another challenge is that many newcomers to the area see Bend as much more livable than the degraded area they moved from, so many do not understand the problems. Only when they sense a continued decline in livability will they become concerned.