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Does bigger mean better?

by Richard Mason | September 26, 2021 at 12:00 a.m.
Richard Mason, columnist, El Dorado

Well certainly! That's what you say if you are a Chamber of Commerce Executive in some Arkansas cities if the population has increased.

You tout the jobs that have been created, and the sales tax figures and so forth and so forth. You have heard that baloney, which comes from the Bigger is Better Boys. But are they just blowing smoke?

They are saying just having more people is a panacea for living in wonderland. Really? Well, let's take that premise and give it a worldwide, and then an American, look.

If just more is better, then the most attractive places to live would be China, Japan and India. Anybody want to immigrate to those bigger population places?

We might could get you a job in Tokyo as a subway door packer. You know, the guys who shove passengers into the car to be sure every inch of space is filled.

No, you aren't interested.

Well, let's look around at some other places where the quality of life is judged to be the best this old world has to offer, and guess what? The more people places don't make the charts.

Yes, folks, I can think of some things that are better when they are big, but just more people is sure not what makes a superior quality of life.

Now, I'm sure not trashing northwest Arkansas because with their growth, they have implemented some great quality of life amenities, but the focus of jobs, jobs and more jobs for the rest of the state and the attitude that a better quality of life is the result of more people has been crammed down our throats until I'm about to pop.

What makes Northwest Arkansas hum is not just more folks living in the hills, it's the quality of life that has come along with the people. Crystal Bridges, the series of interconnected trails and numerous other quality of life pluses are what we should be looking to emulate. Yes, the great quality of life in Northwest Arkansas is not from just having more people, it's from having people who understand that life is more than a job.

Polls all show that the Scandinavian countries, Switzerland and others similar to them have the happiest people in the world, and it doesn't have anything to do with how many people live there. For decades, surveys from around the world have shown that the happiest people live in countries such as Norway, Sweden, and Denmark.

The United States is well down on the list.

Yes, we should be trying to emulate the quality of life pluses that have come with progress in Northwest Arkansas, but we should ignore the idea that population growth is the answer to all our problems. Actually, population growth by itself creates a horrible quality of life if it is out of control.

Most of the underdeveloped countries in our world are struggling to even maintain any quality of life standards, because with modern medical practices, a woman who might have 10 children in her lifetime a hundred years ago would see only two to four reach maturity. But today, infant mortality in these countries has dropped, the host of diseases that killed millions are under control, and the result is a runaway population explosion in many of these countries.

There are some third world countries, which with the forthcoming global warming and drought that is on the horizon, won't even be able to feed their people.

After saying all of that, then what is the direction the rest of Arkansas should take? It seems even Little Rock's growth has slowed, which caused the shaking of some heads as if that's a bad thing.

If you look at quality of life in the happiest and the most prosperous areas of our country and even worldwide, you can readily see that simple amenities such as trees, trails, clean air, parks and clean water are paramount in the planning for growth in those areas.

Let's look at Santa Fe, New Mexico. Driving into a town, which is located in a southwest desert environment, is not the blank, bare sight you would expect. The wide boulevards with landscaping brings you into a pleasant central part of town with gorgeous public spaces, fine restaurants and other similar amenities. Santa Fe is not out looking for companies that would create jobs, they are welcoming families who are looking for a quality life and not just a job. Industrial plants and large animal farms within the city limits are tightly controlled. However, Santa Fe is blossoming because of the quality of life items that are so available.

Here in Arkansas, we have a moderate climate with abundant rain, and that gives us the opportunity to live in a wooded, natural paradise with very little work.

So how are we doing? If we're honest, and give ourselves the grade we deserve, it would resemble the colored COVID-19 infections map. Some areas of our state and some cities and towns would stand out, but as a whole it would point out the majority of Arkansas is just about where we are in COVID vaccinations... down near the bottom.

Of course, it's a matter of priorities, and most towns place the items that add to quality of life and happiness way down on the priority list.

Chicago placed trees as a city priority a decade or so back and had a goal to plant one million trees. They accomplished that in record time, and then the city sponsored free trees that they would plant in your yard.

We're not in the same ballpark as Chicago, or numerous other progressive cities. As I look at El Dorado and see street trees cut down for no reason, offers to plant trees in blighted areas ignored, a glaring need for a sign ordinance and only a pittance of underground utilities, it is obvious the City's attitude is that those items are fluff, and having trees in a parking area is considered just in the way.

In El Dorado, we don't live up to the Natural State motto. Of course, it's not only El Dorado, but most of our towns and cities are designed not for quality, but for convenience. Scraped off lots without a sprig of grass and an attitude that trees are in the way is how most towns treat their urban environment. Underground utilities, minimal or no sign ordinances and littered highways are what we see in The Natural State.

Yes, we need good quality jobs in our state, which would give us a steady population growth, but until we improve our quality of life, we will continue to bring up the bottom in most categories.

We can do better, but until the average Arkansawyer gets a quality not quantity attitude about the condition in our state, we'll be right there down at the bottom of the list.

I'm not surprised that we are in the bottom rung of vaccinated states. Until we embrace quality in our lifestyle, we will stay there.

You can make a difference. Will you?

Richard Mason is an author and speaker. He can be reached at [email protected]

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