Growth key to community |

Growth key to community

This is one in a series of Other Voices guest columns by candidates for Grass Valley City Council and Nevada County supervisor on their visions for the future.


Thank you to The Union for inviting me to submit this column on my “vision for Nevada County.”

You can’t today design towns better than Grass Valley and Nevada City, says historian Kevin Starr. The best visions of the future come from remembering the wisdom of our past informed by the best from our present.

I envision a future in which “growth” is no longer a contentious issue – not because the county is completely paved over but because we came together soon enough to prevent that. We realized that uncontrolled “growth” is not inevitable. How we grow is a choice. We choose through many debates, elections and decisions, public and private.

In this envisioned future, we choose infill development where infrastructure is already adequate or where it can be extended economically rather than building where farms or forests now flourish. Where infrastructure is used more efficiently, the cost of a new home drops.

When new neighborhoods are needed in the future, we can plan communities where kids pedal to school, parents work near home and retirees can walk for groceries. We design residential areas around human-scale shopping and public spaces so that we live within a 10-minute walk from services, just like in our historic towns. Public transit is more frequent and comfortable enough to attract us out of our cars for local trips. We still love our automobiles, but now they are not essential for every single trip.

Parks and open spaces buffer our walkable neighborhoods. These allow our wild winter storms to soak into adapted native vegetation and local soils, recharging our wells instead of flowing quickly and violently to the valley below. Our creeks, even ones long cemented-up, will flow clean and free through our towns. Paths give access to the soothing and cooling ambience of creekside. Wild trout and salmon return to our rivers.

We buy locally. We know that even if we pay a little more for a few items, the net cost is still less than traveling outside the county. We know our downtowns are destinations for out-of-county shoppers who value the local charm and better service. So we nurture those qualities. We don’t destroy them by surrounding them with big-box chain stores.

Local farmers prosper by diversifying into farm-stay tourism, specialty products and, most importantly, local marketing. Farm kids look forward to inheriting their family farms for food and fiber production, not for subdividing. Public-private partnerships like one developed years ago near North San Juan manage working forests for high value-added local products, as well as environmental benefits.

We still don’t have a large public square like in a southern town but we preserve our most significant gold-mining sites for picnicking, for family and community gatherings and for honoring our artistic, literary and industrial past. Our mini-townsquare, Elizabeth Daniels Park in downtown Grass Valley, becomes a positive, intergenerational gathering place for library patrons, tourists and foot-sore shoppers.

All of this is possible only when we envision a future without uncontrolled population expansion. We can continue to “grow” as individuals and as a community, without a large expansion of our numbers. We can widen the boundaries of our experiences and our intelligence without much widening the boundaries of our population centers. We can “develop” as individuals and a community without continually replacing our quirky streets and buildings with cookie-cutter chain stores and homogenized patterns.

Thanks again to The Union for the use of this space and for tolerating this mixture of past, present and future tenses. While a “vision” occurs in a fleeting present, it necessarily incorporates the ever-present past and the simultaneous idea of a future.

If we get to this “vision,” it will not be because we simply wanted to “grow” more and more like the rest of California or the nation. We will get to the “vision” when we put aside jealousies, stereotypes, greed and labels to find solutions together as a community. We will get to a common “vision” not through political wrangling but through honest debate, compromise and patience.

In my vision, part of our “growth” will be our ability to work out our differences in a democratic, civil manner. We will meet, debate and review information as respectful neighbors who share a love for our community, our county and our Sierra Nevada.


Bruce Conklin of Grass Valley is a candidate for the Nevada County Board of Supervisors for District 3.

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