Pulling Weeds and Sowing Seeds
We have many issues in Sedona, but they are all interrelated. Attacking and solving them as individual problems may provide temporary relief but also cause unintended consequences or miss longer-term obligations and opportunities. If we would grow a garden, we must be willing to pull some weeds, of course; but weeding alone isn't enough if we haven't sown the right seeds in a thoughtful and sustainable way. That's why a clear and shared vision of the future we want for our city, and the courage and perseverance to never waver from it, is essential. It's a high-level, long-term view, based on shared values, trust, and cooperation, not fear, accusation, self-centeredness, or immediate gratification.
As your City Councilor for over five years, I have tried to be a voice not just for current residents but for future Sedonans as well. The population of our city in 10, 20, or more years could include people of more diverse backgrounds, working at jobs that don't even exist today. They could be our own children or they could be some other people's retiring parents. They could be us, if we play our cards right, and I hope they will be. But will they have a sustainable community, economy, and future?
A sustainable community is one where affordable housing options are available at all income levels. Where there are educational opportunities, art and cultural enrichment, and neighbors who know and support each other. Where the joys and conveniences of life can be pursued because safety, medical treatment, and access to essentials are not a daily struggle. It's a community where personal growth doesn't depend on economic growth but thrives on the regenerative energy of volunteerism, philanthropy, and social connections.
Because the rest of the world is not static, a sustainable community can not be static either. It adjusts to regional or global conflicts and vagaries with resistance when necessary, renewal whenever possible, and resilience always. If "community" were defined merely as the individuals, institutions, and built environment at any moment in time, it would not be sustainable for a single day, and those who would seek to stop time, let alone revert to an earlier time, are on a fool's errand. However, when a community defines itself in terms of shared values and ideals that are continually nurtured, expressed, and recommitted, it can be sustained indefinitely.
What does it mean to have a sustainable economy, when consumer needs and desires are continually changing, external economic factors are beyond our local control, and individual businesses come and go in our city on an almost daily basis? Is "tourist town" how we see ourselves, and want to see ourselves? As a growing percentage of homes are converted to short-term rentals, has the distinction between commercial and residential become so blurred that who we are is hard to distinguish from what we do?
The current Sedona Community Plan places a priority on economic diversity, and the city has put considerable effort into helping launch and develop local businesses that don't peak and crash with the tourism industry. But external forces have been even stronger, and our visitor sales and bed taxes have become an ever larger, not smaller, percentage of our revenues. While our city's wealth has increased dramatically in the last couple years, we know that such growth has come at a severe societal cost. For that reason alone we know it is unsustainable.
Our challenge is to turn that temporary financial good fortune into products, programs, and services that will provide prompt and sustainable relief to residents from the negative impacts of tourism. We will also need to better imagine and prepare ourselves for the economy we want rather than the economy that is thrust upon us. There's no reason we can't realize a dynamic, vital, and balanced economy where local, resident-focused enterprises thrive while we also fulfill our responsibility as benevolent and welcoming hosts.
The climate emergency poses humankind's greatest test ever, and we are on a pace to fail that test. The evidence of this is as highly complex and overwhelming as it is dire. And the timing to slow this pace of failure, let alone halt or reverse it, is so tight that there is no longer even time to debate the facts. We must act, and act dramatically at every level of society.
As individuals, we can do what we can. As Arizonans and Americans, we can encourage our elected representatives to make the huge policy shifts that will have an exponentially greater impact. But what can we do as a city? Should Sedona be content to just float along inertly, encouraging the residents below to take individual responsibility and hoping the governmental units above will make the big changes necessary? And to state the question even less ambiguously, should the taxes Sedona collects be used only to support the city's residents directly, or is it proper and necessary to invest in environmentally sustainable activities that protect the people and lands of our neighboring cities, states, and even countries?
I hope it's clear that these questions are rhetorical. Self-directed, provincial attitudes cannot be allowed in leadership positions. Our local issues are petty and inconsequential in comparison with the enormity of the climate emergency. Yes, we can and must attend to the demands of the present. But we must do so while constantly applying our every decision to the needs of the future. And to achieve that dual purpose, our policies need to reflect values of compassion, generosity, and cooperation to a degree that has never been tested before. It's a test we must not fail.