to shape the future
Every few years, communities spend considerable time crafting master plans. This issue’s Memories recounts how more than 85 people attended a planning commission meeting 15 years ago to share their ideas about the future of Marion.
Why the commission doesn’t seem to be involved in current efforts to create a plan is unclear. Whether 85 people will submit ideas this time around also is among the unknowns — as is whatever happened to goals established last time.
Still, everyone has ideas, and everyone’s ideas should be voiced and heard. Here are a few random ideas along with an invitation to contribute more in the form of letters to the editor.
Local ownership of businesses
Attracting chain businesses and watching as local businesses sell out to them can result in low-paying jobs that fail to encourage reinvestment of profits or to offer advancement sufficient to keep the best and brightest in our community.
We need to grow our own, but few residents have the capital needed to start a business. Would-be owners spend so much creating or remodeling facilities or are left with such huge debt there’s not enough to sustain operations long enough to become profitable.
That was a problem even in Marion’s earliest days, but there is a solution. Instead of donating money to pay for civic improvements, private investors can be recruited to pool resources and build facilities they lease back to startups at relatively modest rates, creating incubators for new businesses. Tax and utility incentives and government grants can aid this process and encourage anything from new locally owned restaurants to new locally owned manufacturing or service facilities.
Many civic improvements in recent years have been welcome additions, but their economic impact has been stunted. Essentially, we have given the town a fish rather than teach it to fish. Creating public and private grants and modestly priced loans and leases for locally owned startups is a proven solution.
Regulation of rental homes
No one wants to add burdens to someone suddenly having to rent out Aunt Matilda’s home after she no longer can live there. However, big landlords who rent multiple inexpensive properties need to be regulated to ensure that the community isn’t being swamped by a tide of transients posing extra challenges for law enforcement, education, and other services.
Regular inspection to ensure properties are safe and well-maintained not only protects renters. It also may squeeze out homes that really ought to be razed lest they turn into flop houses for drugged-out renters.
At the same time, we need to focus on creating tax and loan incentives for more upscale housing, attracting middle-and higher-income residents now driven to look to the county lake (which we might want to incorporate into the city) or elsewhere for housing they prefer.
Focusing on raising the standard of housing will raise the standard of people and, as with increased local ownership, give us more people prepared to be community leaders.
Some of our community’s best ideas merely need to be tweaked to make them contribute more to economic development. A walking path, for example, that goes through largely residential areas serves only local residents. One that runs through nature — along Luta Creek from Central Park or the old Cottonwood River channel, perhaps stretching to the lake or reservoir — might attract visitors, as well. That would make it an investment, not an indulgence.
Our community features many wonderful activities, but they often are disjointed and packaged more as singular events for local audiences. Creating a tourism and development group that could pull activities under a shared umbrella and encourage expanded, promotable, every-week use of sports and performing arts facilities by civic, church, and school groups would give us the allure that destinations we envy tend to possess. A new recreation commission, focusing on more than just sports for the young, might play a key role in this.
Using zoning laws to fashion a concentrated central business district with a distinct focus on small specialty shops with artisan and vintage appeal also would pull in tourists and potential long-term residents, especially retirees and telecommuters, while creating jobs for some of them at what might be weekend-only businesses catering to visitors.
Our area boasts of being the prehistoric home of a huge settlement of indigenous people and the more recent home of a saintly hero, yet too often we promote not these unique attributes but the same old things every other small town anywhere brags about.
Yes, we need to fix our streets, but we also need to invest in areas next to them, creating incentives for replanting trees, repairing sidewalks, and creating well-surfaced parking lots that don’t make us appear to be a town beset by mud puddles whenever it rains.
Other cities add flower beds in public areas. Why can’t we? This is a perfect project for civic and school groups, senior citizens, and even city workers.
Historic preservation must be a priority. Allowing stately stone structures to decay while constructing much shorter-lived metal buildings in their stead should be strictly discouraged, while preserving a historical feel in everything from storefronts to signage should be encouraged. We are what we are. We can’t win with flashy and new. We can with classy and old.
The list could go on, and we would have to tighten up on wasteful spending to achieve many of these goals. But Marion doesn’t need the vision of just one person. It needs everyone’s ideas. Share yours in the form of letters, and we will be happy to pass them along.
— ERIC MEYER