I read Steve Seats’ View column in the Moab Sun News with great interest (“The cost of prosperity,” Nov. 9-15, 2017 Moab Sun News). His writing and observations are very well articulated and I think important for Moab citizens to ponder.
My visits to Moab started back in the 80s as a budding mountain biker and river rafter and, as many visitors do, I immediately responded to the great energy of the desert topography and low-key atmosphere in the town and I wanted more.
Many spring and fall pilgrimages over the next 17 years (1985 to 2002) confirmed my initial feelings about Moab, but with each successive visit, it was hard not to see changes in both the physical appearance of the town and the demographic shift of the visitors.
Fast-forward now to my visit last week, and Moab still tugs at my heart, but it has changed so much since 2002, that I hardly even recognized it. Reading Steve Seats’ column jolted me back to my own personal experience of living in a town that morphed itself from a friendly, laid-back town into a trendy, elitist 1 Percent hangout.
When I first started visiting Moab in the mid 80s, I was living in Ketchum, Idaho, and the sleepy little town of Ketchum was about to explode with growth fueled by hundreds and hundreds of wealthy out-of-state wannabe lifestyle seekers. Don’t get me wrong, the Ketchum/Sun Valley area has always been the second (or maybe the third or fourth) home for old East Coast money, but these folks actually were very low key in terms of their impact. Yes, they lived in big homes, but they did the same things we did and mostly they just wanted to ski, ride, hike and hang out with the locals.
Then, beginning in the late 80s, the whole texture of the town started to change with the influx of the new money, unhappy (California) wannabes and the construction of subdivisions of multimillion dollar homes in every beautiful narrow valley surrounding the town. What this did was to change the very fabric of the town’s culture. Now the locals were becoming strangers in their own town and worse than that we were relegated to being the service industry for the wealthy unhappy wannabes.
Now here is the really crazy part! The first thing these new-money, unhappy wannabes did to our town was to re-create the exact same upscale, foolish, materialistic, shopping/dining/artsy environment that they had created in the town that they just left because they were unhappy there too.
So now, Ketchum belongs to someone else and the locals (who are all still great folks) have migrated 12 miles down valley to Hailey, or 21 miles down valley to Bellevue, and they commute to Ketchum/ Sun Valley for work every day.
So, in answer to Steve’s concerns about the cost of prosperity … I would say that affordable housing and traffic are just the tip of the iceberg. The ultimate cost of prosperity in Moab is the inevitable demographic shift from human power to a fossil-fueled orgy and the resultant risk of becoming disenfranchised from your own town, community and values to the point where you, as a local, are now a second-class citizen destined to serve as a worker bee for the “growth at any cost” economic movement.
I think Moab will always be a great place to visit, but living there and working there is going to get more challenging.