Amid the recent optimism about the future of Wheeling, I’ve had a thought in my head that I couldn’t quite put into words. If you can’t put a thought into words, then it isn’t very useful because you can’t think about it. So I didn’t think about it. At least until the lyrics of a song I was listening to distilled my vague thought into a question:
What if we’ve been trying to get to where we’ve always been?
You’ll want to know about the song. Simple Math by Manchester Orchestra, which is neither from Manchester nor an orchestra:
Now, back to the question. It’s basically asking if the future that we’re pursuing is really going to be better than the present we already have. I think the answer is yes, but it’s important to ask the question now to help ensure that the answer really will be yes.
We have a lot going for us here in Wheeling right now, and those of us who live here know it. The low crime rate, good schools, friendly people, low cost of living, lack of traffic, and ease of parking come to mind. We need to understand that as things change for the better in the areas where Wheeling is lacking now, the things that we consider its current strengths may fade. The result may be something unrecognizable to those of us who know and love the Wheeling of 2015.
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I’m reminded of a man I met once in Greenville, SC. I flew down there to buy a car from him and he picked me up at the airport. On the way back to his place we got stuck in some miserable traffic, caused in part by the widening of the 4-lane highway we were on to 6 lanes. The man, who was native to Greenville, lamented to me about the good old days when he could get home from the airport in 15 minutes on 2-lane roads, everyone knew everyone else, and people didn’t lock their doors. Those days are gone in Greenville, replaced by success of sorts. I think the seed of caution in making a city “successful” was planted in me then, because by most any measure Greenville is a successful city, yet here was a man pining for the way it used to be.
I’m not by any means saying that Wheeling should just keep on doing what it’s been doing. There’s the obvious problem that the population can’t continue to shrink. But even if we could level off the population, there are doubts about the ability for the current population to support our schools, parks, roads, and symphony orchestra, all of which date back to the city being several times the current size. Plus, you don’t see many cities simply maintaining their size- they tend to be either shrinking or growing. At this point, Wheeling needs to be growing. Growing has its benefits, including economic opportunities, increased home values, more things to do, more interesting people to meet, plus the psychological lift of living somewhere that is “winning”.
What I am saying is that we shouldn’t dive headlong into “success” and hope it all works out in 20 years. We need to think through the good and the bad things that will come with the changes we seek, and find ways to ensure that the successful Wheeling of the future is actually a better place to live than the Wheeling we have today. What specifically would that entail? I’m not sure, but we’ll figure it out together here on Weelunk.