The Foundation had a plan for the rolling 600 acres of Pogonip, prime real estate now nestled between town and gown. They had a vision of 1200 housing units and a conference center. Paul on the other hand had a vision of a Greenbelt. He took me for a horse ride on Pogonip.
I had shown Paul the utopian project I’d designed for the Greenbelt around London- a city replaced by a habitable forest. From the saddle Pogonip looked like a Greenbelt to both of us.
I phoned the City commissioners who were writing the next General Plan that would guide the city’s future growth. I invited them to come on a walk of Pogonip, to see for themselves what a Greenbelt might look like. But the car dealer among them had already lent the commission four-wheel drive vehicles from which to view the future housing sites. And the store owner among them asked me how long I’d lived in town, and how I’d gotten to know what was best for the community that he had been born into, in so short a time. And then he hung up.
So I drew a map, and then a poster which said, ‘Behold Pogonip. Join the Greenbelt.’ Activists joined. And then politicians jumped to the front of the line to make it their own. A ballot initiative passed to preserve open space.
I understood that a greenbelt would define a terminus to sprawl, that all growth would then be confined to infill and higher density. That was obvious, to me at least. But the activists were there to stop change, and the politicians were there to run out ahead of the crowd, and so appear to lead.
The Greenbelt became first a cause, then a victory, then a sacred cow and finally an albatross for a cash-strapped city, an unkempt home to hundreds of homeless.