B y J e f f S m i t h
MANNY PACHECO, DON Pitt, Bill Gates and anybody involved in politics for money may as well go read the Wall Street Journal, on account of this one's for the Great Unwashed.
I want you to ask yourself a question, give it a few minutes' honest consideration, and then answer it for yourself. The question is this:
Do I stand to benefit from the growth of Tucson?
There are many and various elements implicit in the question--are we talking sheer body count or business and economic growth? Both, perhaps? How about immigration of population or employers, or a jump in the local birth rate, and increased hiring by established local firms?
Each of the above possibilities has implications and effects upon the social and cultural climate, including education, crime rates, transportation and overall convenience, and last but not least, cost of living. Growth has more quality-of-life variables than any other urban reality you can name. Can you read and think at the same time? Me neither: close your eyes and ponder the initial question for a moment.
Now let me tell you what I think about the issue:
I think that once a city has enough people to support a Dairy Queen, a non-franchise pizza joint, a library, a drive-in movie, and a newspaper, it's as big as the average citizen needs it to get. Smaller is nicer. You may have to sacrifice the DQ and the picture show, even paved streets, but you get to call yourself a town and call everybody in it by name. Bigger and you're merely multiplying basic urban basal metabolism by factors of 10, 20, 11 million, until you're overwhelmed by crime, pollution, congested traffic, time lost waiting in line--on the roads, at the cineplex, in the boutique--and the rats-in-a-maze stress of being crowded into a hostile environment.
Of course you get all those much-bruited urban amenities like the opera, the art galleries, espresso bars, bars where boys wear chaps and no pants or drawers underneath, parks where you can get mugged or raped, the symphony, all-night video stores....
Some of these things are very cool and some may be debated. Even the better ones generally don't approach first-class until you reach the size, congestion and sheer terror on the level of, say, Chicago. Operas, symphonies and art museums in cities the size of Phoenix, for example, can be about at bad as Junior's cello recital at P.S. 42.
And while I realize the preceding statement may mark me in some minds as a know-nothing, speaking in the harsh realities of true public tastes, an urban environment in which Mr. and Mrs. Shit can do their weekly 40s, get home in time for a brewski before supper and the six o'clock news, surf somewhere between three and 30 TV channels and fall asleep secure in the belief they aren't going to be burglarized or bludgeoned overnight, pretty much meets their total needs and expectations.
Average people go to the opera about .4 times per generation. For that they can take the shuttle to Phoenix.
So why then, is everybody with a voice and a soapbox in the Tucson community, blowing in Bill Gates' ear to try to get Microsoft to move to town? How come The Arizona Daily Star, which long years ago had an editorial policy of common sense and compassion for the little guy, is opining that giving the richest man in the world another $4 million a year out of your tax dollars is a wonderful idea?
I'll tell you why: because it will make Tucson grow. Oh boy. Getting Microsoft to move here and rent rooms at the old IBM plant on Rita Road--now the University of Arizona's satellite campus and techno-park--will bring 1,200 new jobs here, we are told. Each of these jobs will pay 36 large ones per annum or better. The aggregate tax revenues over the initial 10-year lease will run about $70 million. And...
...and Tucson will gain immeasurable lustre and prestige for having bent over and spread 'em so seductively that Mr. Gates simply couldn't keep his fly zipped.
And what will all these wonderful things do for you? Somewhere between nothing and worse than nothing. Manny Pacheco will be a more famous college president than before, since he'll also be Bill Gates' landlord. Sort of. Lawyer Don Pitt, partner and pal of legendary land speculator Don Diamond, will add to his reputation and his bank book--hopefully enough to buy a toothbrush and some dental floss. The very uppermost high-rollers of the business community will get richer. Eventually the Tucson Symphony may be able to hire a second-rate first-violin, but still the symphony will be something well-connected Tucsonans go to in order to show off their expensive threads and make business connections. You and I aren't into that.
Small businesses will be hurt by the entrance of Microsoft into the local marketplace. They can't afford to match the salary levels of the global software giant, so they'll lose staff, or lose what morale their continuing staff has. Those 1,200 supposedly well-paid Microsoft workers will be demanding cushier urban amenities, so eventually this will drive property taxes up to pay for their parks and schools and landscaped boulevards.
Then the criminal class will grow, and even import some out-of-town talent, to prey upon the newly affluent. Traffic congestion will get worse until the rich and powerful and the upper-middle and semi-powerful get the new freeways they insist upon. You'll be paying for those, even if they don't come anywhere near your home or work. Your favorite neighborhood ice cream parlor and pizza joint will be driven out of business by competition from nationwide franchises located in the newer, wealthier neighborhoods. You'll have to drive across town to get a banana split, and they'll look at you funny because you're not wearing Banana Republic.
Yup, Tucson at one million sweaty bodies will be a little slice of Heaven. For Bill Gates, Manny Pacheco and Don Pitt.
For you and me it'll be the same old it's-a-dry-heat. Only hotter. And less dry.
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