The citizens of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, and Destin, Florida, were bushwhacked. They never saw it coming. Or did they?
Ongoing costs of residential growth outpacing adequate infrastructure development are real to these communities, as their citizens’ quality of life has been diminished as more humans move to their already crowded coastal cities. As a result, residents pine for earlier days when traffic and congestion weren’t a part of their daily lexicon. It is a recurring planning nightmare: Resort town becomes a hot destination to live and retire, fueling an unprecedented real estate boom. The folks pour in, the banks, builders and real estate agents literally make bank and ultimately the golden goose is killed — as every place has a finite capacity to move people on roads. In Alabama’s most affluent coastal communities — the Daphne/Fairhope and Gulf Shores/Orange Beach areas — this alarming trend is evident. Or is it?
Smart growth is somewhat idiomatic but it is simple in concept: Grow as you can with respect to your infrastructure, public facilities and service capacity. Managing growth requires political will to respect density levels so as to not disrupt this delicate balance. For example, you would not long be able to accommodate two additional families in your family’s home. There simply are not enough resources to sustain and make life easy for that many people in such a small space. There is a finite carrying capacity to each town and place and it is proven that smaller towns and cities enjoy a higher quality of life. Politicians must target each city’s “sweet spot” in terms of development toward that capacity.
Quality of life has been best defined as, “The gap between what you want and what you have.” It is government’s job to fill that gap. However, in a unique situation as this, once you overdevelop an area that is bound by geography like the Eastern Shore or Gulf Shores/Orange Beach, which precludes a gridded pattern because of water, it could become nearly impossible if current building trends continue. When citizens are confronted with an unfavorable quality of life based on traffic, commute times, crowded schools, etc., they are free to exercise their invisible foot and move to a more favorable place that enjoys a higher quality of life. In America people are free to choose where they live and pay taxes.
Cities effective in managing growth leverage public transportation as an option for moving people. Gulf Shores/Orange Beach could work together to create a trolley similar to the famed New Orleans and San Francisco cable car lines. This would work as it could run parallel to the beach road and span from Gulf Shores to the Florida State Line, providing service to the island and back. Perhaps Fairhope and Daphne could employ a ferry to Mobile to relieve its growing traffic stagnation?
Baldwin County cities must work together to solve infrastructure and growth problems. A regional approach must be employed if property values of Alabama’s richest coastal communities and their life quality are to be protected and enriched. If nothing is done in a short few years, residents will feel like the proverbial frog in the boiling pot — it will be too late.