Airport Expansion: Impacting Real People and Real Communities

I’ve taken a bit of flack, including a charge that I’ve lost credibility on economic development issues, over my last post discussing the impact of the T.F. Greene airport expansion proposals (more on it here, here). In it, I took ProJo columnist Ed Achorn to task because I thought that (to quote from a follow-up comment of my own) his “comment implied that this was only a mere runway expansion and that a bureaucracy or insiders or whatever were holding it up. In truth, it’s real people who value their quality of life. If they lose the argument, well, so be it. But for Achorn to so cavalierly dismiss them rankled me.”
According to some expansion proponents, it’s apparently either all or nothing. Your either for economic development or your against it. It’s all black and white, you see. And if all you see when looking at airport expansion is dollar signs being put into the state’s economy, I would imagine that it is black and white. Especially if you or your community is not affected.
The most aggressive of the proposals put forward so far seem to be too hard on the City of Warwick. {Update: thanks for the map, Andrew. Here are maps of the actual proposals–MAC}. Others, while less detrimental to the city, may not result in sufficient economic growth to justify a smaller expansion. What if the best course is to stand pat? These are the questions that I and many other Warwick residents want to have answered before a decision is made.
While it may be an economic boon to the State, the City of Warwick isn’t so lucky. Losing 200-350 homes worth of property taxes (that the State isn’t obligated to compensate) while at the same time picking up a net gain in infrastructure costs (water and sewer, trash collection, roads, etc) doesn’t bode well for the pocketbooks of those who choose to reside in Warwick. There are also aesthetic changes that will occur, like increased pollution, the loss of wetlands, noise, extension of fenced-off airport property. I know, not very “conservative” of me to bring up some of this stuff, is it? Apparently, it’s not very “progressive” of me either.
Look, I know the arguments. The airport has been there forever, so people who live or move to Warwick should have known that expansion was a possibility. They should have known that the State was thinking about planting LAX in the middle of an 80,000 person suburb. If it is really so bad, then current Warwick residents could just move. Besides, the State will pay them good money for their homes and they’ll move elsewhere and everything will be fine. They should just get over it and move on. That about sums it up, right?
I guess that, for some people, it is easy to simply pick up and leave a community in which they’ve either lived their whole lives or have put down roots and made new friends and joined community organizations. Perhaps this is because no one worries about maintaining a “community” anymore. Not really. Pat of this may be because fewer people join community organizations or associations for the sake of making things better. The result is that fewer people have a real stake in the community in which they reside.
Thus, we can all just live in our McMansions and not talk to our neighbors (unless we need something), so one house is as good as any other and one neighbor is just as nondescript as another. As for the kids, well, they can make new friends in a new school–they’re all the same. But for some people, it’s a lot harder to just write off all of that time and money they’ve spent trying to help and better their community. And if that is what ultimately happens, there’s a good chance that they will move on to the next city or town, but newly jaded and less likely to lend a hand. In today’s throw-away society, I fear that we’re also throwing away the already dying sense of community, too.
Despite the apparent conventional wisdom, conservatives–me included–don’t necessarily privilege economic concerns over less measurable, and thus more aesthetic, factors, such as the quality of life in a community. Perhaps I’m falling prey to a predisposition that romanticizes the idea of a community. Yet, if so, it is rooted in my own experience. A real community is built on personal relationships, of groups of people joining together to make their neighborhoods–and the city or town as a whole–a better place for their families. That includes supporting such things as economic development, which can help to ease the tax burden on families, which, in turn, will allow them to devote more time (and money) to their families and communities. Yet, the by-products of economic development can also have a negative impact.
I support airport expansion, but only if it is done with forethought and with the goal of achieving the best cost/benefit ratio (and that means more than just dollars) possible. To bring up very real concerns about the burden that a particular community will bear so that the State as a whole may benefit–to ensure that any negative impact is either acceptable or manageable–is both fundamentally conservative and economically smart. The discussion going on now in Warwick is over where, exactly, is the point at which the economic benefits of economic development begin to be outweighed by the negative impact that will be felt by the city. As this discussion continues, it’s not too much to ask that Warwick residents receive at least a little forbearance from their fellow Rhode Islanders. After all, it is they who are being asked to sacrifice a portion of their community–both property and personal relationships–so that the rest of the State can become more prosperous.

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17 years ago

I completely understand your ambivalence on the airport expansion. This is an issue where I understand and can empathize with both sides. On the one hand the state desperately needs to maintain its’ viability by remaining THE air travel hub for southern New England. It’s very important we expand the runways to keep TF Green/Rhode Island destination viable. It makes all the difference in the world with future economic development and the necessity for ease of air travel coming into/leaving southern New England.
On the other hand I understand the community heartstrings also at play here. We’re talking peoples lives and homes and memories etc. No easy answers. Sadly TF Green is landlocked and surrounded by substantial development on all sides which leaves the state with few other options. Expand we must and as soon as possible but it does stink for those in the way of that expansion.
BTW let’s put the ProJo’s container port on site of Barrington town beach. See how quickly Ed and the boys get over their obsession and turn NIMBY!!

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