Northwest Arkansas: Don't forget to flush

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For nearly 40 years, I have been traveling to and through the two counties -- Washington and Benton -- that constitute what is now the northwest Arkansas metro area. My grandparents lived in Bella Vista in the late '60s, with brief stays in Bentonville and Rogers. When they moved to Mountain Home in the '70s, we drove through Siloam Springs and Springdale to get there. In 1986, I began dating someone who lived in Rogers and Fayetteville, and so made a trip there at least a couple of times a month. In 1989, I married her, and so there have been regular trips to see the in-laws ever since.

1986 was also the beginning of the construction of the superhighway -- now I-540 -- linking Fayetteville, Springdale, Rogers, and Bentonville. In 1989, the rolling hills of the pig farm across Horsebarn Road from my in-laws place was staked out to become Champions Country Club.

So it's from that perspective that I say this:

What planners and developers have done to northwest Arkansas is analogous to using the works of John Constable for toilet paper.

With some foresight and vision, growth could have been accommodated while preserving open space and extending what had traditionally been walkable communities. Instead, cities have deliberately enabled the worst of strip development (think 71st Street on steroids) and segregation of uses.

The northwest Arkansas suburban smear is 25 miles long and about five miles wide. Because of the way jobs and retail are strewn along the corridor, it's likely that a NWArkie's typical day involves more driving than that of a Tulsa metro resident, and the region is going to suffer more from higher energy costs than more compact areas.

It's tempting to go into a Jim-Kunstler-esque rant here, but Jim Kunstler does it so much better than I ever could. He's never been to Walmartland as far as I know, but he's seen plenty of places that look just like it. (Note: That link leads to extremely salty language, an attempt at conveying the urgency of the situation he sees and his frustration at the idiocy of the response. This speech from two years ago is a good, non-salty summary of his concerns about sprawl development, peak oil, and how it adds up to what he calls "The Long Emergency.")

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4 Comments

See-Dubya said:

I want to see Kunstler and James Lileks given boxing gloves and thrown into a ring to debate modernism.

I'd pay to see that.

JW said:

To be fair, you should really treat Benton County and Washington County separately. Fayetteville is much more dense than Tulsa could ever hope to be. The Bentonville Rogers Lowell nightmare was created by Walmart and JB hunt. Fayetteville has the U of A to thank for maintaining density and encouraging infill.

I'll tell you this...Fayetteville has MUCH nicer streets than Tulsa, and recycling is free.

I agree, Fayetteville is the exception to the northwest Arkansas mess. I'd take issue, however, with making the Washington/Benton County the boundary between good and bad. Springdale has been ugly for a long time, and now the rot has engulfed Tontitown, both of which are in Washington County.

JW said:

No, the main rot has occured on the Benton County side of Springdale. Tontitown had its problem foisted upon it for the most part by Springdale by the Harber Village master planned monstrosity on its border. The other Tontitown delimma is the wealthy Italian immigrant landowners who would not sell out to AHTD for a 412 bypass on either side of the town. But I also blame AHTD for being too public with all of the bypass plans because the squatters and speculators would run up the prices of land in those planning areas hoping for a buyout.

Compound this with the problem that the major employers around there would prefer to keep the area as land locked and isolated as possible. 540 only happened because Hunt wanted a easier way to get trucks to I40. Walmart could have cared less because they don't have a distribution center in NWA. If Arkansas provides an easy way to connect to Missouri and Oklahoma the flow of jobs and trade will push up their artificially deflated tech wages in that area. It is in their interest to keep the mobility of people there as limited as possible. On the other hand it keeps more dollars local which is why you see such good roads in Fayetteville.

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This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on December 1, 2007 11:20 PM.

ORU alumnus blogger on the changing of the guard was the previous entry in this blog.

EMSA to Eagleton: "Thank you for working to make Tulsa a safer place" is the next entry in this blog.

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