RICHARD MASON: Making Arkansas a Destination
When I left for work this morning, it was raining. I drove down my winding driveway past some prominent trees and passed the country club with its beautiful greens and fairways. Then I crossed a small stream that overflowed with white water.
I know it’s not remarkable for Arkansas, but it would be in Southern California. Climate change has made water in the southwest a precious commodity. Water is plentiful here, but would we consider the average city of Arkansas a destination that would attract residents from another state because of the water?
Maybe we should. After all, for years people have traveled from one section of the country to another in search of a better place to live.
When the combination of a depression and the Dust Bowl created a huge migration from Oklahoma and Arkansas to California, it was caused by the belief that living and working conditions were better there and by the lack of water.
Now, with severe drought, we can see a reverse migration to the south-central where water is abundant. If the southwest of our country continues to suffer from water shortages for the next decade due to climate change, the trickle of residents leaving the region could turn into a torrent. That’s why I believe Arkansas will benefit from this migration. Put yourself in the shoes of someone who may be ready to retire, or move to a more attractive location with plenty of water. What would you do?
Where water is rationed, the idea of having grass in your garden is unheard of, and aside from a few potted plants, you can forget about anything green that needs water. I played golf in Benghazi, Libya, and there wasn’t a blade of grass on the course. The “greens” were oil-stained sand called “browns”.
We take our forests for granted and do not hesitate to scrape heavily forested land to build on. Our old “slash and burn” attitude inherited from the early days of colonization still prevails in many communities.
Look at photos from the 1940s and 1950s, and you’ll see that most downtowns look totally bare, the opposite of what you want to see. Greening a city is one of the easiest and cheapest things you can do, and more is better. Over the past 30 years, I’ve worked with our city of El Dorado and the Arkansas Forestry Commission to plant over 1,000 downtown trees, and we’ve had another committee that has successfully planted 5,000 Crepe Myrtles.
How much money or effort does it take to plant a tree or fill a window box with flowers? We need to realize that people who may be looking to leave the drought-stricken southwest see the flowers, trees, and fountains as positive attractions.
The second part of the migration equation is our general climate. I’ve written before about what I call a sweet spot across the South, with four distinct seasons. This could be a deciding factor in a person’s decision.
Vertis and I traveled to Southern California and Arizona several times in the 1970s and 1980s, and I remember playing tennis at the John Wayne Tennis Center in San Bernardino, California. I was a little intimidated when I found out you had to wear all white. The center organized the game and I could tell that my opponent was reluctant to play me. I heard him complain about wasting his time. “Arkansas?” he growled.
“I’m ranked in California,” he announced as we walked to the field. When I beat him 6-2, 6-2, I shook his hand and said, “I’m ranked Arkansas.”
The California and Arizona of that time have changed, and with congestion and now drought, it’s a whole different place.
The natural beauty of our state that we see daily and take for granted is our greatest asset. The idea that nearly all of our towns and villages are minutes away from hunting, fishing, or hiking a trail through beautiful surroundings is something that prospective residents would love.
If our potential resident is from Los Angeles, the idea of being 15 minutes in light traffic from almost anywhere is particularly good.
When we look at our state’s cities and available entertainment venues, we can easily point to dozens of nearby restaurants that are top notch. What we might consider ordinary, would-be residents might think it would be wonderful to be where, on a clear night, you can see the stars and not hear the rumble of traffic. Our many entertainment venues make living in Arkansas much easier than fighting traffic or waiting in line to do almost anything entertaining.
If you lived in the drought-stricken Southwest swamped by a 105-degree summer heatwave with no rainy end in sight, would you be tempted to move to our lush, water-abundant state? Of course you would!
Email Richard Mason at [email protected]