Over two years ago, I described Whitewater as being in a ‘middle time,’ between former conditions and future ones:
It’s a middle time now, and if one were to think of this as chess, one would say we’re in the middle game. As with chess, the boundaries of that middle time are often nebulous, and are hard to define.
This is still my assessment, very much so. The chances of the immediate past (the last decade or so) enduring relatively unchanged (as they might in a stable community) strike me as astonishingly small. I’m more confident of this assessment with each passing season.
A fair estimate was, and is, that this middle time will last for years.
But now one can offer a guess about two courses that this middle time may take, on the way to a more prosperous future: we may see limited growth until significant internal change, or we may see stagnation (and thus relative decline) until external change through something like gentrification.
On the end of either path we’ll be better off economically, but for longtime residents the futures will prove different: in the former current residents will be (or at least could be) significant players; in the latter they’ll have limited influence (as ‘something like gentrification’ is very much an outside force).
The latter also involves a decline in asset values before a rebound, so it necessarily involves a less desirable path to a future prosperity.
Doing what we have been doing, under this assessment, assures only a harder time until a better time.
One other point seems clear to me: government intervention to produce positive economic results seems more difficult than ever. A better local economy requires gathering demand, and we’ve seen demand shift outward from the city, not inward.
Culturally, some non-college residents in the city see themselves as kindred spirits with non-college residents in nearby, smaller towns, but that kinship shows no evidence of guaranteeing a common economy.
If anything, efforts to boost municipal revenue are only likely to exacerbate a city-towns divide, either by taxing city residents too much, or by pushing revenue-generation schemes that will degrade the quality of life in the city.
This last point is worth considering at greater length another time, but it’s evident that some elected and appointed officials view the city, so to speak, as a closed ecosystem.
If there’s one thing a college town is not, it’s that it’s not a closed ecosystem. That hasn’t, however, stopped one politician too many from thinking this way.