Thursday, August 18, 2005

Post-Star editor changes his tune on unfettered development

Since Ken Tingley took over as managing editor of The Post-Star, both he and the Glens Falls (NY) daily's editorial board seem to adopt a different crusade every few months. Sometimes it's mom-and-apple-pie stuff like open governance. Sometimes it's well-intentioned but dangerously counterproductive stuff like the 'burn the witches' hysteria they whipped up on teen drinking... which they consistently and dishonestly equate with both binge drinking and drunk driving. Sometimes it's more mundane like its present campaign to push the city of Glens Falls to cede its police dispatch services to the county.

Both Tingley and The Post-Star defer unquestioningly to so-called experts. Whether it's on a roundabout downtown or unfettered development, any snake-oil salesman with a fancy title will get the paper's uncritical ear. Anyone with the audacity to question the wisdom of the well-paid consultants is derided as an enemy of progress.

The problem, of course, is that for every expert on one side of a position, you can find an expert on the other side.

Long-time residents of Glens Falls are perhaps a bit more savvy than those who run their daily newspaper. Back in the 60s and 70s, that generation's self-proclaimed experts also had ideas seen as brilliant. Dazzled by bright lights and fancy talk, the city's leaders implemented a program called urban renewal which did the exact opposite. The program destroyed many of downtown Glens Falls' most historic and architecturally beautiful buildings and replaced them with giant eyesores.

It's been such a disaster that there's talk of reversing this destruction by possibly closing Hudson Avenue (which was created by urban 'renewal') and using eminent domain to acquire the ugly Civic Center Plaza property (which itself was acquired by eminent domain under the program).

In the 1950s, one-way traffic in downtown was sold as the pancea for all of downtown's woes. In the 1960s, it was urban 'renewal.' In the 1970s, it was the Civic Center arena. In the 1980s, it was the Civic Center plaza (billed as the next Rockefeller Center). In the 1990s, it was returning to two-way traffic. Now, it's a dangerous roundabout and a giant waste of a parking garage that are supposed to save the city. All while the cities basic infrastructure like roads and the sewer system remains creaky at best.

All of these magic bullet projects had eloquent advocates with fancy titles telling us how wonderful they'd be. They were all wrong.

People remember these things, but apparently The Post-Star's editorial board does not. Some may pooh-pooh the concept of instutitional memory. But refusing to make the same mistake twice isn't anti-progress; it's simple common sense.

Back in May, Managing Editor Tingley wrote one of several columns criticizing those who objected to his vision of so-called progress at any cost.

In the column, Tingley wrote:

It probably won't be long before people start complaining that there is too much development. That's a problem folks in Glens Falls might really relish.

This was only four days AFTER an article in his own paper noted that residents near Haviland's Cove, in the southern end of the city, complained that sewage was backing up into their homes at times because the existing sewer system is inadequate to handle new development.

Complaining about sewage in their basements?! How dare those whiners stand in the way of [hold hand over heart] progress! They should 'relish' the stench!

But Tingley's words were more prophetic than perhaps even he realized. People HAVE started complaining about too much development in Glens Falls. But surprisingly enough, one of those people is none other than... Ken Tingley himself.

On Aug. 7, the Post-Star boss wrote another column, this one entitled: 'Progress, progress, go away.'

He noted that for many years, the region had waited for business to take off and it finally has.

Business is good.

The future is bright.

The promised land is within sight, and it is being blacktopped and renovated.

So now that prosperity is almost here, I'm stating to wonder: WHAT THE HECK WERE WE THINKING?

Of course, he should've asked what the heck was HE thinking.

He complains about three new big box stores that recently opened and eight apartment complexes. He complained about the flipside of unfettered 'progress': suburban sprawl, traffic congestion, gratuitous rudeness.

As some have been doing for a few years, Tingley wonders if the result of 'propersity' is going to be the degradation or destruction of exactly those qualities which make this region so desirable in the first place.

Is it too late to make a U-turn on progress?, he asks.

Earlier this year, Ken Tingley railed against those who dared question the conventional wisdom that all development is good development. Now, as the messy reality clashes with pie-in-the-sky theory, the managing editor has become one of those who he condescendingly derided as anti-progress reactionaries only a few months ago.

Welcome to the club, Ken!

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