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I'm alarmed at the level of urban sprawl in Laconia

To The Daily Sun,

I’m becoming increasingly alarmed at the level of sprawl here in Laconia. If ever there was a time to think out of the box, now is that time.

I spent my entire youth growing up on Long Island, New York. In 1957 at age 8, we moved from Queens, an over-developed borough of New York City, to Huntington, still a nice town. There were deep woods to explore and appreciate. The rest of Long Island, at that time, was forest and farmland. By the time I was 18, virtually all of that region had turned into a continual series of malls, mini-malls, random housing development and super highways. For me, the devastation couldn’t have been any worse than if the entire island had been plowed under. Try visiting Long Island today. For the most part, you won’t care to stay.

Local businesses and their organizations are always at the core of local political power. That is not a statement of praise or denigration – it is simply how the wheels of power turn in the world. Since the local economy is strongly tied to tourism and real estate, you would be correct in assuming that local development aspirations are strongly bent toward those ends.

I don’t have to argue that point. Everywhere you look, you are starting to notice that our world-famous grand vistas are slowly being nibbled away by the ugly, slow sprawl of McMansions, resorts and an assortment of commercial buildings of various callings. I read an article by a local realtor describing how “views” affect lakeshore property values and how the scarcity of those views is generating speculation value. The longer you wait, the less “views” you have.

Let’s take that last idea to task. It literally says that in order to wring out short-term profit, you have to be first to snatch the goods. If you follow this local development train of thought, you get what you are asking for, i.e., urban sprawl. You also get long-term “living space” attrition unless the quality, quantity and placement of such space has been well-planned.

The discovery of a disease always indicates immediate treatment. But sprawl is a different animal. Once sprawl starts, the argument sways toward, “Why save it – it’s gone anyway.” For sure, the fake promises of a stable economy and secure tax base always win that argument. Based on the many towns I lived in during Boston’s go-go technology years, I have to say I never witnessed one that achieved the balance between growth and infrastructure. And infrastructure was always the loser in that equation. Just visit most any neighborhood around any large city in the United States to see where you stand on that issue.

In my world, “development” does not necessarily equate with “progress.” So many Laconia old-timers have told me that the urban renewal projects of 60 years ago ruined the local identity here. After seeing pictures of that cozy old village, I must agree. The persistence in downtown facelift thinking as a means to turn the local economy seems to validate this bad judgment.

I am not an urban planner and am not equipped to offer real-world solutions. But if I were in such a position, I would start with the question, “What do you want here for the long-term?”

If it were up to me, I would secure my long-term value. For this region, that includes the non-material — but high land value — need to safeguard this relatively tiny gem of real estate. It also includes the phasing out of cheap thrill attractions and moving toward long-term planning and zoning that ensures future development that is secured by a meaningful conservation plan. Regarding a future economy I would think, for example, that Laconia is the perfect nest for a lot of high-tech companies. And, yes, maybe we are a bit far from Harvard — but if we tried a little harder?

So, here’s the choice; You can continue to allow the tight magnetic core of local business to own this area’s future, or, you can organize and choose to lay down long-term, achievable goals to save this area’s pristine qualities.

The Lakes Region is a perfect emerald gem that came to you without occlusions. It is the goose that laid the golden egg of your tourism business. Kill the goose and it is lost forever. The record salmon, invasive species and lake pesticide usage are the starting losses here...and it’s happening right now before your eyes.

There is still time to put a damper on mindless, cancerous short-term gain. Having said that, I suppose there will always be a market for cheap thrills. But that market doesn’t pay out anywhere near the foresight of our neighbors in, say, Wolfeboro or Burlington. I would hope that regional towns are now working together in the spirit of conservation that this world-class plot of land deserves.

Paul B. Utiger

  • Written by Mike Mortensen
  • Category: Letters
  • Hits: 378

4-H is grateful to be part of Bert Southwick's legacy

To The Daily Sun,

The generosity and legacy of Bert Southwick continues on through a donation to the Belknap County 4-H Foundation.

Although Bert Southwick never had any children of his own, he certainly supported area youth in many ways. Bert could be described as one of the last self-sustaining old-time farmers, growing produce, cutting hay, and raising meat and eggs. Bert was also a lifelong supporter of the 4-H Program.

In his earlier years, he trailered horses and cattle for 4-H kids to the fairs and shows all over New Hampshire and New England (today, those "kids" are now in their late 50s and early 60s). People have said that no one could handle the difficult horses like Bert could. His kindness kept on giving over the years. He sold part of his land across the street from his farm to the Winnisquam School District, at a very reasonable price, for a new elementary school. The Southwick School children always looked forward to his annual delivery of jack-o'-lantern pumpkins, gourds and corn stalks every fall. After 70 years of egg deliveries, the "Egg Man" retired. His iconic horse-drawn delivery wagon is on permanent display at Southwick School.

For those who had the opportunity to meet this amazing and humble man, count yourself blessed to have known this “Angel in Overalls.” And though he is no longer with us, his legacy lives on through his generous donations to organizations that include the Belknap County 4-H Foundation. A scholarship award has been set up in his honor. This award is known as the “Bert Southwick Junior Achievement Award” and is given each year to two outstanding junior 4-H members. We can only hope to live a life of giving the way Bert did. We are so grateful and fortunate to be part of his legacy.

Michelle Clarke
Belknap County 4-H Foundation Vice President

  • Written by Mike Mortensen
  • Category: Letters
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