Ants in your garden, muddling your plan

After an obscure slant on local political entertainment in my last column, I intend to be less so this week. I’ve moved to reflecting from the screened porch to the patio. I’m observing a crack that runs across a section of the slab as I have morning coffee. It seems to grow a little each year but not enough to get freaky about. The ants love it.

Several colonies line its craggy expanse, and observing their activities makes the daily paper and dose of caffeine a great way to start the day.

Ants have such a methodical society. Each has her job. The workers, the soldiers, the scouts, the queen’s maidens who groom her, feed her and tend to her eggs. They all work in synchronicity; carrying bits of food back their underground labyrinth, storing crumbs of anything containing a driblet of sugar. They protect their queen at all cost, and while supporting her they have no complaints. They don’t know how to worry, to celebrate, or live out political drama – they only work.

These ants resemble us in their social structure but not in their concern for anything but making sure their colony survives. We have a worker, that’s most of us; soldiers equate to police, the protectors. The queen’s maidens in this metaphor are administrators doing the queen’s bidding and assuring the ruler’s dominance over the colony.
Ah, the queen, in our little micro world she is omnipotent. But who does she represent in our world? It’s something to think about.

An ant colony thinks as one. They are of one mind. Not a single ant citizen will stray from or question her job. Our human colony, though its members are expected to work together toward one goal, continually strays from any cause that requires cooperation.

While community distress brings us together to help others, Broadwater residents came together in the wake of Devin Hawkin’s murder; an extraordinary group of people came to together to support the Parker sisters last year, and if we look back 10 years, think about the how the whole country came together in the weeks following 9/11or the days and weeks following Hurricane Isabel. As a community, we can do impressive and magnanimous things when we work together.

But at other times we have difficulty agreeing on the smallest of things whether they’re rooted in politics or just out of a fear of moving forward, an anxiety over change.

We’re now witnessing in a very interesting, though drawn out, exercise in local government. An exercise that can mean, depending on how you look at it, a $1 million mistake; progress that will mean a new formula for how the county enters the future of land use, or a reversion how we have always done with multiple policy structures that will be interpreted by a select few.

Two years ago the Board of Supervisors appointed a steering committee to begin work in concert with a planning consulting firm to generate a draft comprehensive plan that would encompass how land is to be used, traffic to be managed, fire houses and sewer lines as well as schools to be built, as well as how culture and the county’s economic development should proceed. The 33 members of this steering committee were knowledgeable citizens who worked for a year and a half with acknowledgement and approval of their work during at least two joint meetings of the Board of Supervisors (BOS), Planning Commission and School Board. The draft plan was done through many community meetings and, for the most part, the public seemed to understand how the plan would play out.

Steering committee done; now comes the review by the Planning Commission. Their revisions will be included in the draft that will be approved or thrown out by the BOS.

Recently, as the commission proceeds line by line through the draft plan during work sessions, piece by piece the plan is being softened. Ideas brought forward by a team of consultants paid almost $900,000, a staff paid over the two-year duration, 33 steering committee members and 100s of citizens, is being changed, not in a small way, but in such a way, that would leave us stuck where we started – only poorer.

It seems like some sort of power issue, like those in power want to be able to decide what goes on where and when at their whim, when the intension of the plan is to allow everyone to know how “their” plan for the county’s future will play out. This plan stretches over 20 or as far as 100 years, but it will be revised on a regular basis. Changes will be made, mistakes rectified and new planning ideas inserted.

Should we live near our work, reducing travel time and saving precious fuel; have a choice of housing and price ranges; provide a good transportation plan that provides for future public transportation and a reduction of traffic? A land use plan that doesn’t spread homes willy-nilly in any place a developer can convince the planning commission and BOS that homes will make them money? Or should we promote a plan that works for everyone, a plan that was devised, in part, by county residents? Or should we tweak the plan in a way that residents will be able to live in an extraordinary planned-out future, experience an excellent quality of life and see property values blossom? As it goes now, unless the BOS fix the revisions being made by the planning commission, we’lll be stuck where we are today. Why allow the future of the county to be determined by five or 10 people out of a population of 319,000 people? Make the effort, make it our plan.  Otherwise we’ll remain the stepchild of the Richmond region watching Henrico continue to excel and Hanover pass us by. An unknown author said, “Some people say the grass is always greener on the other side. I say be the gardener. Water it. Feed it.

Make your own grass grow. I make the grass greener wherever I am. I’m the gardener.”

And I say, please, avoid stepping on the ants.

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