The Giant’s Footprint and the Little Guy’s Plea

The temporary part-time job delivering Christmas packages in Tiverton that I took to cross the financial finish line in December greatly helped me to gain a sense of my new hometown. (We bought a house here in July.) The most significant impression that the town makes is the dividing line that runs roughly in the area of Route 24. Tiverton south of the highway is one town; Tiverton north of the highway has an entirely different feel. I live north of the highway, where talk of the town’s “village style” jars a bit against quotidian experience.
Be that as it may, rattling around in a delivery truck, I developed a tremendous appreciation for the town as a whole. The writer’s assessment: it would be a fantastic setting for a novel, or perhaps a series of novels. Much of the town is just beautiful. The process of development has left little surprises, like the driveway off one of the main streets that rambles back only a couple hundred yards to a shack that might as well be miles removed from civilization. And several neighborhoods are a young family’s dream.
Unfortunately, personal experience suggests that dreaming is now all that young families can do. Even my circa 1950 neighborhood, full of blue-collar workers and their young children, is claiming prices that, at best, require change-in-the-sofa mortgage payments. Tiny houses with just enough land to call a proper yard cost well over a quarter-million dollars.
All this is preamble to my admission that I’m entirely unable to choose a side on the matter of business development:

Monday’s hearing invited the public’s views on a zoning proposal designed to encourage smaller-scale retail proposals that would fit into Tiverton’s village style. The hundred or so who attended the meeting largely agreed that the zoning proposal was still not restrictive enough.
Some Tiverton officials and council members have sought retail development to raise new town revenue and avoid increasing taxes. But raising revenue at the expense of the town’s village character seems to be unpopular in Tiverton. …
Tiverton faces the dilemma confronting most lovely old towns. The cost of town services is always rising, and a major way to meet that cost without raising taxes or cutting services is to add to the tax base by attracting more taxable business.

Just about the time that real estate prices in my rented hometown of Portsmouth hit twice the number that I had believed was the highest they could possibly go, I began to wonder how much town governments and those households with the time and money to invest in influencing its policies would really care if less wealthy families, some of them fixtures in the towns, were driven out. I even made a video blog (vlog) expressing my acceptance of the natural ebb and flow of a region’s society.
Still, its citizens all being equal, a town ought to do its best to meet the needs of all of them, which means enabling them to stay if they wish to do so. Higher taxes will, without doubt, mean that some of them will have to become citizens of somewhere else.
Not having yet had the opportunity to delve into Tiverton’s finances, this is only a guess, but surely there is fat to trim in the “services” category. And surely my townsman Richard Rounds’s sentiment that the business “giant leaves mighty ‘footprints’ that get filled in with slop” ought to be balanced with the sentiment that the fading “little guys” leave a hole when they fall away.
Or are we the slop?

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19 years ago

When I first got a job in CT about 20 years ago, moved there from RI doncha know, i took a part time job delivering the WSJ. Hard to believe now, but house prices in CT back then were way above RI, so we had to live 45′ from Hartford and take a part time job just to get decent housing. Anyway, I really learned about downtown Hartford delivering the WSJ to local businesses and a few wealthy folks in the suburbs who took it at home. Sadly, much of the Hartford I got to know so well is gone. When we left RI, the consensus seemed to be that it was a backwater. Now RI, IMHO is doing well as an exurb of Boston because of insane real estate prices in MA. Even NE CT, the “quiet corner”, which used to be like Appalachia, is getting an overflow from MA; but the Hartford area is not doing well. Town planning has a lot to do with all of this. MA zoning is tightly regulated and there has been some ‘white flight’ (actually middle class of all ethnic groups) from cities that can only find a decent affordable environment farther and farther away. IMHO high housing costs and taxes relative to desirability of the environment eventually caused Hartford’s big employers to decide that the cost of doing business, in terms of what they have to pay employees, was too much and they bailed out. The collapse of Hartford’s insurance industry owes a lot as well to technology enabling back office work to be done anywhere. Anyway, folks in eastern MA and RI should not assume that the trajectory is always up.

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