I am heartened to hear that the Obey Creek development will leave much of the land untouched and permanently preserved. I commend individuals who pushed for this outcome, as well as those who accepted it.
At this late date, though, I ask our leaders to contemplate Obey Creek apart from planners, committees, and distancing entities that reduce life to statistics. The impact of this still massive endeavor will be profound and irreversible, so careful, quiet reflection is called for.
Some leaders suggest that expert opinion trumps that of regular folks. For 35 years, however, experts, developers, and politicians have predicted that new developments would reduce house prices. So far that hasn’t happened, and I don't think it will until Chapel Hill and Carrboro are so unpleasantly crowded, so like everywhere else, that people will no longer want to live here.
I walked the Obey Creek tract a few weeks back, and was taken with the beauty of the forest at its upper reaches. Streams run clean in the absence of torn earth, heavily trafficked paths and bike trails.
As I walked, two questions occurred to me that each person involved in decision-making should answer:
Have you walked the entire tract, without planners and developers promoting their vision, by yourself or with a friend, so that you can see what is to be lost forever?Have you driven from Southern Village to I-40, and the reverse, during weekday rush hours? How many times have you driven this route, morning and evening, and what did you observe? It is imperative that all involved bluntly experience this congestion. Now.
I commend any person who can answer these two queries affirmatively. You have done what is asked of serious leaders.
If you support the Obey Creek development, at least you have viscerally experienced what is to be lost. You believe new businesses and dwellings outweigh hours lost sitting in traffic, surpass streams and land permanently disfigured by yet another massive development.
If you answered no, then I question the legitimacy of your views, no matter how much or how little you support this development. It is essential that participants experience first hand the beauty of this land, even the parts nature is attempting to heal. To visit now is a rambling adventure. To visit later is merely to consume.
Obey Creek’s vision of community is the antithesis of native creativity that Chapel Hill once exemplified. Its scale suggests an expression of power and marketing more than a response to existing needs.
Call the brand “Chapel Hill embalmed."
If you visit the Obety tract now, and I encourage you to do so with the urgency with which you might visit an old friend in the final stages of life, you will arrive after the daffodils bloom but before the many wildflowers have finished. Wear boots and step carefully. Steep wooded hills, bordered by a few homes, constitute the property’s back side, while closer to Wilson Creek lie the interesting contours of an abandoned gravel pit in the process of healing.
At the very least you’ll be able to tell your grandchildren what once was there, maybe show them pictures, and from that distance in time ask whether they think the trade-offs were worth it.
If Obey Creek must proceed, please constrain its impact as much as possible. Developers, investors, and politicians will pass into history largely unknown, but our descendants will long debate the compulsion to despoil creation. At the very least, adopt the sensible scale of Southern Village’s commercial center.
Scale appropriate to place is essential. Put ugly where ugly is and save as much of the natural world as is possible. Let these words guide all planning.
Limit Obey’s size and local people might even do business there. Some leaders have faith that mass transit, cycling, and walking will solve traffic issues, but folks who walk, bike, or take the bus generally own or rent cars as well. Better roads invite ever more development and cars. There is no free ride, pun intended.
Our towns’ charms, dwarfed by massive sameness, can never be reclaimed no matter how slick its magazines, no matter how admirably yet blindly our leaders pursue crumbs of jobs and affordable housing. When large-scale mistakes fail, they refinance and down-scale. We locals must live with the ruins.
Leaders would do well to acknowledge what cannot yet be known. Humility and reflection are essential to serious consideration of the best possible decision, and each person must courageously ask difficult questions until truth is ascertained.
Distinguish marketing from wisdom. Experience, as much as you can, the reality of our town, for without that experience dreams can become nightmares for those who follow.