Things don’t stay the same the more they change. Alphonse Karr’s sentiment that plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose just ain’t true.
It’s a tempting proverbial trope, but despite a strange counter-entropic force toward hegemonic sameness, things do change. However, our collective failure to understand and adopt Rainer Maria Rilke’s admonition to “resolve to always be changing” means that it’s a process of two steps forward and one step back.
This stuttering progress may be a human reaction to a natural process. Robert Pirsig posited in the philosophy laid out in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (and its dismal sequel, Lila) that evolution is a ratcheting system: great swings of radical change followed by periods of static—or even regressive—adjustment. But thinking of it as natural doesn’t make it any easier to swallow.
Indeed, in some cases, it’s hard to see the steps forward for all the steps back. How is it that we find ourselves in a position to be considering four-day public school weeks across the nation, even as we tangibly suffer from dwindling innovation and motivation in the education system? How is it that New Mexico has been forced to confront the specter of an utterly regressive, if technically partial, reinstatement of the food tax, even as legislators refuse to tax the wealthiest among us or apply justice to giant corporations that profit from lazy laws?
As lamentably marred as Santa Fe’s attempt to revise its telecommunications ordinance has been by those who oppose wireless communication on questionable grounds, it is more lamentable that city staff—toiling under a wishy-washy council—cannot seem to draft a simple ordinance.
One can understand and applaud the idea that our City Council is standing up to the bullying pressure of corporate influence by tabling decisions about adopting an ordinance that would regulate the installation of new communications infrastructure (both wired and wireless). But it’s hard to escape the sense that the heel-dragging stems from ignorance-born reluctance rather than David versus Goliath bravery. After all, drafting an ordinance ain’t rocket science, and the current telecommunications ordinance has legally required a rewrite since…2004.
How many years are we expected to wait around for largely boilerplate language to be competently assembled and reasonably considered?
Especially when other components at the city are trying to take two steps forward. City staff are said to be competing for Google’s initiative to install free fiber-optic infrastructure in some cities and applying for a US Department of Commerce grant to move forward on similar infrastructure.
It’s a case of extremely poor timing. But it’s so very Santa Fe—how about we put off dealing with this pressing issue that is dramatically tied to economic development and quality of life until we run into a deadline emergency and a potential national spotlight? And then how about we handle it all wrong? So that’s charming.
And now one resident of the non-historic Casa Alegre neighborhood is suing a neighbor over a construction addition that she finds distasteful.
Despite an entirely legal, fully permitted process, the neighbor claiming to be aggrieved by a nearby “contemporary” addition is whipping out covenants from the 1950s to prove that no one within the development should be allowed a second story, especially one clad in unpainted metal siding.
The construction in question isn’t blocking anyone’s view or causing any harm—in fact it’s a creative evolution on a Stamm home, a step forward if you will. But, predictably, there’s someone nearby who thinks things ought to be done just like we thought was proper around the time McCarthyism was in vogue.
In other words, the more things change, the more some inexplicably uptight person wishes they would just stay the same. And if things don’t stay the same, there’s always the typical American reaction of turning to the lawsuit.
Certainly there are factions who believe that every neighborhood should be regulated into bland and predictable submission at every turn, but that’s many steps back from Santa Fe’s growth as a creative, diverse and dynamic city that might like to have at least some of its population be technically categorized as “young.”
In the Casa Alegre conflict, what’s the real problem outside of one person having a 60-year-old piece of paper with something that may or may not technically be categorized as “rules”?
Even if the covenants are valid—but were overlooked by the permitting process—isn’t crying foul after the construction has been completed and has passed through all city regulations and inspections just a little bit childish? What’s the end goal of the lawsuit? To have the house covered in stucco? To have the house torn down? And what purpose would those actions serve, outside of allowing one upset person a smug sense of self-righteousness?
The push toward stasis will always lose in the end. Things are going to change, things are going to evolve and people will forget why they were so vehemently against that progress to begin with.
But they sure are loud in the meantime.
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