I was going to title this “A Tale of Two Cities,” but it turns out that was already taken by some hack named Chuck Dickens or something like that.
For a moment I was going with “More Than One Way to Skin a Cat,” but I didn’t want anyone to get the wrong idea, we’re not advocating skinning of anything here. Settle down there, PETA.
The idea is that development can take a couple of different paths.
You may remember some years ago that Storm Lake was discussed as a potential site for a gambling casino, but locals were having none of it. They went with dredging and a lakefront tourism project instead.
I like to think of it like that Robert Frost poem we all learned in third grade. We chose our path, for better or worse. Morally, we were more comfortable with a future in outdoor recreation than we were in fleecing retirees of their Social Security checks with one-armed bandits.
What if we had gone the other way, and become a casino town, building a gambling palace right on our beautiful lake? Would we be a rich town today? What would our image be? What benefits - and what problems - would have come with the gambling choice?
“I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I -
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.”
I happened to read two articles today, about two towns taking two different approaches to the future, and I couldn’t help but think how sharply their paths diverged in the thick woods of development.
One is North Bonneville, Washington; AKA, “Weedtown USA.”
The head honcho of this berg has license plates that read ‘MJMAYOR,” and why not, the dude was the first customer in line when the city opened its weed shop, Cannabis Corner, in 2015, making it the first and only municipal peddler of the drug in the country. Sales have been so brisk that the store is now the second largest employer in town.
The city-owned-and-operated pot shop raked in $2.2 million in sales in its first months, and now bankrolls street repair, law enforcement and so on in a financially flush town that was on the border of bankruptcy before marijuana was legalized. And best of all, since it’s all a government entity - no taxes are paid on all that profit.
As more states consider legalization, this is going to be the hot topic in community economic development. “It’s the greatest idea nobody is talking about,” says the marijuana mayor, a longtime enthusiast of the drug. We used to have government cheese, now we will have government weed.
I suppose it is rather ironic that whatever problems come from a city selling drugs - addiction, increased illegal use among young people, attraction to the narcotics trade, potential for road safety issues, will just be assigned to the same cops who were hired with the money made from selling the marijuana to begin with.
Then again, Storm Lake is in the alcohol business, selling booze to golfers and boaters at the municipally-controlled bars at our resort, golf course and marina, where those who over-imbibe would be subject to arrests and fines, via the police from the same town that provided the alcohol. We serve you, then we arrest you. So we’re not Rebecca of Sunnybrook farm here.
There is money to be made in people’s weaknesses, be it gambling addiction, alcoholism or drug habits. Whether it is legal or not doesn’t make it right. Communities have to sleep at night with the decisions they have made.
As I said, I read about two different towns.
Weedtown. And the other - Fort Worth, Texas, AKA “Biketown USA.”
The mayor here, 66-year-old Betsy Price, holds a rolling town hall meeting every week to meet residents. Anyone can bring their bike to take part in her eight-mile rides, or borrow one in the local bike share program. All the members of the city council and city staff have participated.
“When you put Spandex on a body like mine, people will tell you just about anything,” she jokes.
The town encourages people to commute to work by bicycle, reducing traffic and emissions and creating a healthier population. The town dreamed up a FitWorth program that includes lots of fun programs devoted to wellness, including a Tour de Fort Worth event with 21 days of cycling activities during the Tour de France period each year.
Since this began, the city has invested over a million dollars in new bike trails and added 66 miles of bike lanes to make riding safer.
Interestingly, new business seems drawn to the city, wanting a healthy an reliable workforce, probably something Weedtown can’t say. “If we can say we’re the fittest community around, that’s a big draw,” says the bike mayor.
She’s not alone in biking ideas.
In Miami, a bike shop has partnered with police, and anyone turning in a gun rides away with a new bike. San Francisco boasts more than 5,000 bike racks, some doubling as colorful street murals. Is there even one rack in downtown Storm Lake?
More and more cities, including a few in Iowa, have gotten bike share programs off the ground. It’s a lifestyle option. Storm Lake could work with the bike shop here to be next. It attracts recreation-minded travelers, and a young fitness-minded workforce.
Here’s a couple of cool ideas:
In Memphis, a seminary student bought 15 bean burritos and stuffed them into his backpack, and rode around town on his fixie handing them out to needy people. That evolved into the Urban Bicycle Food Ministry. Volunteer riders now deliver food to over 400 people twice a week. It’s Meals on Wheels with a different kind of wheels.
And in Boise, Idaho, a couple of bike enthusiasts went into the local corrections center to teach women inmates a little about bicycle mechanics. It went so well that it evolved into a program where people in the community donate their un-needed or outgrown children’s bikes to the jail, the women wrench them up so they can be donated to needy children in town. Once an inmate completes 15 bikes to donate, she earns one herself that will be presented when she is released - a means of transportation so they can get to work or school. The women are so passuionate about helping children that the bikes they produce are better than new. Twelve women have earned bikes - but they haven’t stopped building them.
So there are a couple of directions towns can choose to go. Storm Lake passed on gambling and I don’t expect to see it selling weed any time soon. But our mayor is chairman of a county committee for bike trails, and has started a city committee to work on parks and bike trails.
I don’t know about you, but I think we’ve chosen the healthier direction.