Friday, January 21, 2011

Raise Our Sights?

"It is time to aspire to be more. As Tennesseans, we often aim too low when it comes to education, our health and our economy. It’s time to raise our sights.”

It was quite enlightening to hear Governor Bill Haslam commit to those three vital areas as he was sworn in as Tennessee's 49th Governor this past weekend. Yet, in some form of phrasing, any high ranking elected official would probably say much the same thing. Perhaps in another geographical area, an additional topic or two might demand to share the spotlight, maybe even be the number one area of concern. But, Governor Haslam, like a savvy gunfighter in a western movie scene, knowing just how far to stick his neck out from cover when returning fire, played it fairly safe while picking his targets.

How safe? Education is always going to be a key precept. The world is changing rapidly, and if the next generation of leaders isn't being taught today with cutting-edge methods and technologies, then how can America maintain her status quo as a leader.

The economy, either in times of up or down cycles, will always be a hot button issue. Bulls may be rambling up and down Wall Street, with the daily closing bell a happy photo op for many a winner. But somewhere, somebody, or even an entire industry sector, will be facing challenges and perhaps in imminent danger of failing. Of course, when the Bears are on their cyclical feeding frenzy, this area is usually the hands-down winner.

Health, whether that of the general populace, or those on society's life expectancy shoulders of infancy and the elderly, always needs to be addressed. Collectively, our actuarial tables are ever-changing to the good; the better we target key health issues, the longer our lifespans grow. The greater the increase of our lifespans, the better we must continue to direct emphasis on new health concerns.

That's the one area where cyclists, and stakeholders in other arenas of active/alternative transportation options, can hit the Haslam Administration with their concerns on continuing the growth of ideas that have been broached in recent years. Some of the opportunities are not wholly dependent on end-user needs to move around a community. Sustainable/liveable communities, the continued greening of the construction and reconstruction industries, a host of recycling and reuse opportunities are included here. But in the get me from here to there theatre, a myriad of bicycling and pedestrian facilities including, but not limited to, greenways, as well as light passenger rail and bus rapid lines, are examples of projects that can make our health scores grow exponentially.

Yes, I know we are in times when public fiscal prudence needs to be practiced, and not just used for campaign banter every few years. I'm all for that idea. But, let's consider more than the raw dollars and cents that we think may be saved today by not focusing on the projects noted above. True, we hear all sides expressing concerns that we are leaving a debt burden to the generations that follow; they include many of our grandchildren, and even beyond. Still, ideas that may carry unattractive front-loaded costs today will, when those generations arrive, some long after the daisies we are pushing have withered away, be in force and cost less to maintain for those generations.

And, while I understand that not everyone sees fiscal judiciouness in the same light, consider, if you will, the humble bicycle and pedestrian avenue. Something that may cost $1 Million per mile today, will in thirty years have served today's adults and children, who become tomorrow's adults and have their children, who become adults and are on the way to supplying another set of users. This will be accomplished with very little funding to maintain the facility. Will we be able to say that for the highway we build or expand today, which will, I assure you, cost more up front than a mere $1 Million per mile?

When the decisionmakers (whether federal, state, or local) who were elected on the rallying cry of Take Back Washington, or its filter-down equivalent, start working on their pledges to do just that, we need to be there reminding these well-intentioned folks, like Governor Haslam, that we are ready to raise our sights.

Whether it is more than campaign rhetoric, or an inauguration speech, is up to them.

No comments: