2017 Jackson Hole Compass: Capstone Essay by Jonathan Schechter
“Preserve and protect the area’s ecosystem in order to ensure a healthy environment, community, and economy for current and future generations.”
– The vision of the Jackson/Teton County, Wyoming Comprehensive Plan
In last year’s Compass, I argued that no other community in America – and by extension the world – enjoys Jackson Hole’s combination of economic, social, and environmental resources.
Here’s another thing no other community in America has: a vision for itself as bold, dynamic, and utterly audacious – as utterly visionary, if you will – as the one adopted by the governments of the Town of Jackson and Teton County in their joint County Comprehensive Land Use Plan.
In fact, you could argue it’s so audacious that it’s overwhelmed our local governments. Having adopted it, they ignore it; not because they don’t believe in it, but because they have no idea how to pursue it. Thus the price of being visionary.
This essay’s foundational belief is that the Comp Plan’s vision is not just audacious but also profoundly necessary. Why? Because as the vision suggests, ultimately the human communities in the Tetons region can be no healthier than the ecosystem in which they lie. To that end, this essay will explore what it will take to bring the vision to life, to define and activate a strategic plan that will move the greater Tetons region ever-closer to fulfilling the Comp Plan’s vision.
The first six words of the Comp Plan’s vision are its essence: “Preserve and protect the area’s ecosystem...” The remaining 15 words are its rationale: “...in order to ensure a healthy environment, community, and economy for current and future generations.” Yet while these are great motives, they’re not necessarily audacious: What community would oppose a healthy environment, community or economy?
What makes the Jackson/Teton County Comprehensive Plan’s truly audacious is its fifth word: “Preserve and protect the area’s ecosystem...” “Area” is a loose term, but if we think of it in terms of connections – in terms of the daily flow of people, money, critters, and so much more into and out of the Jackson Hole valley – at a minimum the area whose ecosystem we’re trying to “preserve and protect” stretches from the northern border of Yellowstone National Park to the southern end of the Star Valley, a swath of land many times larger than Teton County.
And that’s what makes the plan’s vision audacious, if not crazy: It seeks to preserve and protect an area extending far beyond the jurisdictional control of the Town of Jackson and Teton County, Wyoming. But while it may be crazy, it’s also necessary, for if we really do care about the community we’ll leave to future generations, we need to be thinking well beyond our community’s political boundaries to those of the area’s ecosystem.
To frame the discussion, let’s first stipulate the obvious. Pursuing the Comp Plan’s vision will require everyone involved – local government and businesses, full- and part-time residents, visitors and land managers alike – to act differently, for change won’t occur if we keep doing the same thing over and over. And while there is no guarantee that acting differently will produce a different outcome, the scientific evidence makes it clear that if we keep acting the same way, we’ll slowly but inexorably ruin the area’s ecosystem. Complementing the science is the weight of history: Since the Industrial Revolution began in the 1760s, no area with an advanced economy has successfully preserved and protected its ecosystem.
2017 Jackson Hole Compass: Capstone Essay Jonathan Schechter – May 2017 Page 2 of 11
Does this mean preserving and protecting the area’s ecosystem is impossible? Not at all. What it does mean, though, is that there’s no road map or blueprint for achieving our vision. In that sense, those wanting to bring the Comp Plan’s vision to life are analogous to Lewis and Clark setting out on their expedition. We know there’s something out there, but we aren’t sure what it is, nor how to approach it. We also know the pursuit will be full of mistakes and risks – sometimes big; hopefully not fatal.
Yet as finance theory tells us, high risk can produce high reward, and the potential reward for this community is not only achieving its audacious vision, but providing an example other regions can follow to preserve and protect their ecosystems. In addition, if we succeed it will mean that this generation of Jackson Hole residents will leave to future generations a legacy as great as those left to us by our forebears, who in their times did things as audacious as found the world’s first national park (Yellowstone in 1872), elect the nation’s first all-women’s town government (Jackson in 1920), create arguably the world’s greatest public-private partnership (the expansion of Grand Teton National Park in 1950), and develop one of the nation’s singular fundraising events (Old Bill’s Fun Run in 1997).
Today we recognize that all of these were extraordinary accomplishments. Much harder to recognize was that, during their times, each was as audacious as the Comp Plan’s vision, for each was a never-before imagined idea. Yet proponents persevered, and over time the fruits of their seemingly- impossible efforts have proven far more important than anyone could have imagined, both within the region and beyond. Even more remarkable? All of these accomplishments occurred well before the Jackson Hole area led the world in its combination of environmental, economic, and social resources. How fitting if those of us lucky enough to live here today can harness our extraordinary resources toward something that, for our time, is as audacious and important as the legacies left to us.
So how do we make this happen? How do we design a strategy that will get us from where we are – with an audacious vision but no path to get there – to a place where we are actively working to preserve and protect our ecosystem? The answer is to create a strategic plan, one which, in this case, will feature three key elements: getting our politics right; making changes within Teton County and the Town of Jackson; and providing leadership within the region. The place to start is with local politics.
Jackson Hole Politics
“Preserve and protect the area’s ecosystem...” is a political statement, the result of a multi-year process ultimately ratified by Jackson Hole’s local governments. If they are to see their vision become reality, though, they first need correct a fundamental problem: local politics and local government are not aligned.
In November 2016 and again in May 2017, Jackson Hole’s elected officials asked voters to authorize taxes to address what officials believed were the two most significant problems facing the community: affordable housing and traffic. Both times, the voters said “no”: in 2016 to a general request; in 2017 to all but one discrete request.
Why? Three reasons suggest themselves: Distrust of government; concern about growth; and no counter-narrative to a vision of sprawl.
Jackson Hole is special place but far from unique, and distrust of government is a hallmark of our times. The local consequence has been that it’s no longer enough for local elected officials to say “Trust us to do the right thing.”
The local twist on this is that voters like the community the way it is, and see anything related to additional growth as potentially harmful to their quality of life. As a result, every chance they get they’ll vote against measures they see as linked to additional growth. Hence, for the past decade-plus, almost every zoning, affordable housing, or motorized mass transit measure put before voters has gone down to defeat.
Arguably this isn’t fair. For example, it’s not clear how upgrading an aging bus fleet – a funding request on the May 2017 ballot – affects the community’s growth. But because it’s hard for most people to directly affect land use decisions, the only way most voters have to express their concerns is to vote against the occasional ballot measure that seems to be growth-related.
(In a related aside, the next domino to fall in this “no more growth” chain will likely be the lodging tax, which comes up for re-authorization in November 2018. Fairly or not, opponents will link the tax to growth and corporate welfare. When these messages resonate, with voters, unless there’s another recession the lodging tax will go down in flames.)
Along with distrust of government and dislike of growth, there’s a third reason why Jackson Hole’s politics and government aren’t aligned: Leaders have not given voters a tangible vision of the future, much less the path we’ll follow to achieve it.
The Comp Plan’s vision is wonderful. However, because no one has ever achieved such a vision, there’s no clear sense of what the “preserve and protect” community will look like. Making matters worse, there’s no common understanding of the steps needed to achieve that community. As a result, when envisioning the future voters default to a picture of Jackson Hole that mirrors what they know other cities to look like; i.e., places plagued by sprawl, the quality many people moved to Jackson Hole to escape. Absent a clear countervailing vision, the default reaction is that any new development is only going to contribute to turning Jackson Hole into yet another Sprawl-ville.
As a result, the reason the debate over every proposed development turns into a death match is because the community is missing context, a shared vision for allowing residents to judge just how important or trivial any particular development proposal might be. And absent that perspective, when any new proposal is introduced, people react – or overreact – accordingly.
Which makes Jackson Hole a bit like high school, save with a ton of money.
Like high school, Jackson Hole is hormonal. Impassioned. More than a bit self-absorbed. An ever-shifting admixture of high ideals and even higher immaturity.
Go into the lunch room at any local high school and let the energy wash over you. Young people are excited by everything, even if today’s source of excitement is different than yesterday’s, and will change again tomorrow. It’s wonderful; it’s age-appropriate; it’s the process of youth maturing into what they will become. It’s an environment of high passions and little perspective – whatever’s going on in the moment has the potential to be the greatest thing ever or the end of the world.
Jackson Hole is similar. Few people move to Jackson Hole because they have to. Instead, most of us are here because we want to live in a place that speaks deeply to us, that touches us at a profound level. As a result, it’s a community hallmarked by high energy and even higher passion.
There’s a catch though. Just like in high school, Jackson Hole’s highs are wonderfully high and its lows powerfully low. When things don’t work out, on an individual level we get things like the community’s high rates of suicide, alcoholism, and domestic abuse. On a collective level, when two visions of Jackson Hole collide, we find ourselves battling over not just a simple commercial transaction, but something far more fundamental – a sense that someone else is threatening what Jackson Hole means to us. And in the same way that, if I think you’re flirting with my girl in the high school lunchroom, I’ll punch you first and ask questions later, in Jackson Hole I’ll fight you tooth and nail if I think your plan for changing Jackson Hole interferes with my vision of what this place should be. When hormones and passion rage, it’s hard to compromise, much less be rational.
Hence we fight and fight and fight some more, waging battles royale over even the smallest of proposed changes. Why? Because while we share a lot of passion, we lack both perspective and a mutually agreed-upon vision of what our community is or should be. As a result, we have no way of judging how important any proposed change might be. And when that happens, the net result is not just political gridlock, but a dynamic in which elected officials seem to be at odds with the people they represent.
To move beyond that, Jackson Hole needs a shared vision of not just what the community is and could be, but how it will get there. The place to start is by focusing on that which local government can control; i.e., what happens within their jurisdictions.
Control What We Can Control
In algebra, it’s impossible to simultaneously solve an equation with multiple variables. Instead, each variable must be addressed one at a time, eventually reducing the complex problem to just one unknown.
Applying this concept to Jackson Hole, one reason we go into political gridlock over every development proposal is because each contains a number of variables we try to solve all at once. What are a proposal’s effects on the environment? Housing? Traffic? The workforce? If it’s impossible to simultaneously solve a mathematical equation with multiple variables, how can a poor elected official make a decision about a similarly-complicated development?
Writ large, the same problem applies to achieving the Comp Plan’s vision. Preserving and protecting the area’s ecosystem is a wildly complex problem, and we lack a clear strategy for addressing it.
Applying the algebraic approach of addressing only one variable at a time, here’s an eleven step process for developing a strategy for pursuing the Comp Plan’s vision.
Step 1: Define the goal
What does it actually mean to preserve and protect the area’s ecosystem? There are three key elements.
• Ensure viable populations of all native species;
• Preserve all scenic vistas, and
• Protect the conditions that allow natural processes to occur, including adaptation and evolution.
Step 2: Understand what is needed to achieve each “preserve and protect” element
This includes not only the requisite ecological research, but also understanding how humans interact with the area’s ecosystem. Why? Because unless the area’s residents and visitors feel the vision benefits them, any attempts to preserve and protect the ecosystem will fail.
Step 3: Identify all ecologically-important lands
What are the county’s important wildlife habitats, migration corridors, scenic vistas, and other lands necessary for native species to thrive and ecological processes to occur? We can’t preserve and protect the area’s ecosystem unless we know. And in identifying them, we can’t be parsimonious, for nature isn’t precise. Hence we not only have to preserve and protect known habitats and migration corridors, but leave plenty of room for future adaptation.
Step 4: Conserve our ecologically-important lands
Having identified all ecologically-important lands, local government must act to preserve and protect them by partnering with land owners and organizations such as the Jackson Hole Land Trust.
Step 5: Evaluate the capacity of Teton County’s roads
Steps one through four focus on the natural world. What about Jackson Hole’s human population? Step five begins this process by looking at Teton County’s transportation system, in particular its roads. Barring some dramatic change, the Jackson Hole valley will remain dependent on cars and buses well into the future. Equally certain is that the valley’s road system won’t significantly change. Combine the two, and the question underlying step five becomes “How much traffic can our roads reasonably hold?” The traffic problems of the last few years suggest the answer will be something close to where we are today.
Step 6: Determine a build-out population
The previous steps have determined how much land needs to be conserved and the valley’s transportation-related constraints. Step six’s goal is to figure out how many more people can live on the remaining lands without creating the massive traffic problems seen in major cities (e.g., because the San Francisco Bay area allowed housing to grow faster than its road capacity, the typical trip there takes 39 percent longer than it should; in Los Angeles, it’s 45 percent longer).
Step 7: Calculate the difference between current and build-out populations
The resulting figure is how much more growth the community should plan for.
Step 8: Determine the socio-economic profile of the community’s additional residents
Determining the mix of people living in Jackson Hole once the valley is built out is the hardest step of all, because it will force us to address our deepest desires and fears.
To stipulate the obvious, yes, this is social engineering. But the elephant-in-the-room issue facing Jackson Hole is that the valley’s socio-economic and demographic mix is already being determined by another social science-based mechanism: economics. And what kind of community is economic engineering producing? One with the greatest income inequality in America. Where the middle class is rapidly shrinking. Where traffic is overwhelming the road system. And where the environmental qualities that form the bedrock of the community’s economy and character are slowly, steadily, and clearly being compromised.
Thus the fundamental choice facing the community, and the reason step eight is the hardest. As much as people may be anti-growth, there no question Jackson Hole will continue to grow. If the current “economic engineering” approach guides that growth, the end point is clear: Jackson Hole will not come close to reaching the Comp Plan’s vision. Nor will it have a vital middle class. If this is not what the community wants, the alternative is the “social engineering” path. The risk of trying this approach is that it may not work; if it does, the reward is not just a community that has preserved and protected its ecosystem, but maintained its human diversity.
If the community decides to take the social engineering path, three additional steps are needed.
Step 9: Determine non-residential land needs
Whatever the ultimate build-out figure, the community will need a certain amount of commercial, industrial, and other non-residential space. Determining how much and where is the goal of this step.
Step 10: Revisit the plan to ensure it makes sense
This quick – emphasize quick – process will look at steps one through nine as a whole, to make sure they all work together reasonably well. The goal is neither perfection nor delay, but instead a chance to identify and address any glaring macro-level problems.
Step 11: Unleash the private sector
When step ten is done, step eleven becomes easy: Let the private sector have its way, building the kinds of units the community wants on the lands the community wants developed, and enjoying the deserved fruits of its labor.
Will taking these steps be easy? Not at all. But then again, the planning processes we’ve taken to date haven’t been easy, either, and it’s not clear that they’ve produced results the community is happy with, much less ones aligned well with the community’s vision.
More importantly, the planning processes we’ve taken to date have not created a generally- accepted understanding of how we’ll get to our vision. As a result, we fight hammer and tong over every proposed development because we lack any sense of how any particular development fits into a larger whole. And as that happens, our politics become increasingly Balkanized and ineffective.
Viewed from a business perspective, the way Jackson Hole is currently trying to achieve the Comp Plan’s vision is akin to stringing together a series of loosely-linked tactical decisions. This rarely works. Breaking the strategic process into a series of discrete steps will not only address this problem, but produce two other clearly needed benefits. One is to improve our politics, for the effort will produce the currently-missing generally agreed-upon framework for making decisions. The other benefit will be to give Jackson Hole the credibility it needs to enlist the help of the area’s many other jurisdictions.
Lead the Region
The audacious quality of the Comp Plan’s vision is that it aims to protect the area’s ecosystem. There is no blueprint for doing this, but it is clear the effort will require every jurisdiction in the region to act in new and different ways. Because this is Jackson Hole’s vision, though, it’s incumbent upon Teton County and the Town of Jackson to lead not just within their jurisdictions, but across the region. Yet unless Jackson Hole can first show it is willing to change, it will have no standing to ask others to behave differently. In addition, the clearer Jackson Hole can be about its intentions, the easier it will be for others to plan around its actions.
So what is the region? To simplify, let’s include the two Teton counties, Star Valley, all of Yellowstone, and all of the Bridger-Teton and Caribou-Targhee national forests. All told, this swath of land encompasses around 10 million acres and at least 14 different federal and local political jurisdictions. And while a more comprehensive definition of the area’s ecosystem might extend the boundaries further, this is a solid start.
To get all of these jurisdictions to support preserving and protecting the area’s ecosystem, two steps need to be taken.
First, as discussed above, Teton County and the Town of Jackson need to back up their words with specific actions, ones that show they are serious about achieving their vision: Are they all hat, or do they have some cattle behind the words? Further, if done properly, a strategic plan for accomplishing the plan’s vison can be expanded to include specific asks of the area’s other jurisdictions, making it easier for those jurisdictions to envision their roles in this new, audacious effort.
Second, if the town and county want other jurisdictions to help them achieve the Comp Plan’s vision, they also need to be willing to help those jurisdictions address their issues.
What are those issues? To oversimplify, they fall in two categories.
The five federal agencies in the Tetons region all face the same basic problem: shrinking budgets and growing pressures on their lands. The national parks are arguably in better shape than their counterparts, because the funding for Yellowstone and Grand Teton is merely being trimmed, while the National Elk Refuge and national forests are seeing their budgets slashed.
The county and municipal governments in the Tetons region face similar pressures. However, because they have less control over their jurisdictions than federal land managers have over theirs, the challenges local government face are arguably much more complicated. For the simple fact is that because Jackson Hole is growing, so too are the surrounding counties. Is this what those communities want? We have no idea. If it’s not, though, then the resulting resentment toward Jackson Hole makes it unlikely they’ll support our vision.
What we do know is that the communities surrounding the Jackson Hole valley have become suburbs to Jackson Hole. Every day, roughly one-fifth of all Star Valley and Teton County, Idaho residents leave their communities to work in Jackson Hole, and this link is absolutely vital to all communities involved – commuters keep Jackson Hole’s economy working, while Jackson Hole’s wages keep the economies humming both over Teton Pass and down the Snake River Canyon.
Yet this commuting dynamic creates profound problems for Jackson Hole’s suburbs, ranging from traffic congestion to stresses on families. How do these cash-starved, rapidly-growing communities serve their residents well, when so many of them travel long distances to earn their livelihoods? Complicating things further, unlike the traditional big city-suburb model, the Jackson Hole “metropolitan area” is lightly populated, making standard solutions to commuting-related problems economically impossible.
In short, from an economic perspective, the Tetons region can be thought of as similar to any major metropolitan area, with two key differences: We have just one percent of the population; and, because both Wyoming and Idaho are deeply conservative, local governments have far fewer legal and taxing tools for address the consequences.
Before considering what to do, let’s first recap where we are. If Jackson Hole is really interested in pursuing its vision, it needs to both act differently inside its borders and create different types of relationships with the region’s other jurisdictions.
Acting differently inside Teton County, Wyoming’s borders won’t be easy, but what needs to be done is both clear and within the control of local government. Creating different types of relationships is more challenging, for here the town and county will have to use soft power – developing an understanding of the desires and problems of our neighboring jurisdictions, and then helping where we can. Making things more difficult still will be that we have no experience in this, and no blueprint to follow. But the reality is that other jurisdictions are facing challenges created or exacerbated by Jackson Hole’s growth, needs, and desires, and to get their help for what we want, we need to help them with what they want.
To do this, Teton County has one major arrow in its quiver: its wealth. Teton County, Wyoming is the richest county in the richest country in the history of the world. Compared to most places in America, its residents are lightly-taxed, and tourists pay a goodly proportion of local sales tax, the largest single source of revenue for local government.
Add all this together, if we can figure out a way to use our wealth to help our cash-strapped neighbors, we stand a much better chance of getting them to help us realize the Comp Plan’s vision.
The most obvious tool is the lodging tax. Currently, Teton County levies a two percent tax on all lodging bills, which has raised roughly $6.5 million in he past year. Wyoming law requires that 60 percent of the proceeds be used to promote tourism (roughly $4 million), with the rest going to the town and county for a variety of purposes.
Three things about Jackson Hole’s lodging tax are notable.
First, by national standards it’s a wildly low figure. In 2014, only three of America’s 150 largest urban centers had lodging taxes below 10 percent, with the lowest at 8.64. In the five major cities with commuter problems most similar to Jackson Hole’s – Atlanta, Boston, New York, San Francisco, and Washington DC – the rates ranged from 14.45 to 16.25 percent.
Regionally, the lodging taxes in Salt Lake City were 12.6 percent; in Boise 13 percent; and in Denver 14.85 percent. Heck, even Silver Gate Montana imposes an 8 percent lodging tax, four times Jackson Hole’s rate.
Communities impose lodging taxes for three reasons: they need the money; it’s politically easier to tax tourists than residents; and tourists generate costs. These reasons all apply to Jackson Hole, especially the latter: of the many threats to preserving and protecting the area’s ecosystem, tourism is arguably the greatest. Yet even though tourism poses a greater threat to Jackson Hole’s well-being than it does in other communities, we paradoxically charge a far lower lodging tax.
Second, under current state statute, Teton County and the Town of Jackson can levy a lodging tax of up to four percent. Given that each percent of lodging tax currently yields around $3.25 million, this means there is currently an untapped capacity for another $6.25 million in lodging tax proceeds. Add to that the fact that lodging tax collections have been growing around 10 percent annually for the past few years, and by 2020, every percent of local lodging tax levied will likely produce around $4 million.
Third, unless there’s a recession or a dramatic shift in how lodging tax proceeds are spent, it’s highly unlikely Jackson Hole will still be levying a lodging tax in 2020. This is because, as mentioned earlier, the lodging tax is the next logical scapegoat for the community’s growth-related concerns. As a result, come 2019, as a community Jackson Hole will likely be leaving around $8 million on the table each year, and potentially twice as much.
That’s real money, and if channeled properly could become a valuable tool to help Teton County and the Town of Jackson achieve their vision. So what can we do?
For starters, we can create and begin implementing a strategic plan for pursuing the Comp Plan’s vision. As part of that exercise, we can get the community to buy into a vision of a lodging tax that differs from the current one in two ways: Charge a much higher rate; and give local government complete control over the proceeds.
Getting these changes in place will require a change in state law, so in the spirit of working with other jurisdictions, let’s bring the state in as a partner, giving them, say, one-third of the total amount taken in.
The remaining tax proceeds will be split into two equal shares. The second third of the overall total will go to local government, which will soon need a lot more money to replace all the retiring employees who began working for the town and county decades ago, when local government wages were sufficient to buy a local home.
The final third will animate the Comp Plan’s Vision, giving Jackson Hole the funds it needs to help itself and the surrounding jurisdictions preserve and protect the area’s ecosystem. If the lodging tax is raised to, say, ten percent, within a few years Jackson Hole will have over $12 million per year to fund the needs of the area’s ecosystem. Whether this was used within Teton County or outside it wouldn’t matter, as long as it was clearly helping preserve and protect the area’s ecosystem. Best of all, this needed money would be supplied by the tourists putting much of the stress on that ecosystem.
“But wait!” you protest. “That proposal has so many problems.” And you’re right. For example, the legislature may balk. The tourism industry will fight it. And given the last two elections, voters might refuse to put more money in the hands of local government.
All these and more are fair objections, and any one could paralyze any efforts to realize the Comp Plan’s vision. But that gets to the heart of the issue. Having adopted a vision for the region that is utterly at odds with the status quo, are the Town of Jackson and Teton County willing to walk their talk? If they are, they have to upend the status quo, for if we remain on the path we’re on, there’s no chance of realizing the Comp Plan’s vision.
The ideas described in this essay are audacious. To bring them to life will require an equally audacious effort, one that will likely be uncomfortable and tedious and all too-often contentious.
Yet the reality is that by adopting the Comp Plan and its vision, we’ve already launched ourselves down the path of audaciousness. We’ve put a stake in the ground saying we want a different outcome for our region than 250 years of history suggest we’ll get; we’ve formally stated that we want to do something no other place has ever done.
To achieve that vision, though, we need to do more, a lot more. In particular, we’ve answered only two of the three fundamental questions underlying any strategic planning effort. We know where we are. We know where we want to be. We’ve yet to define, though, how we’re going to get there.
Some of the steps described above can be done immediately; others will take time. Similarly, some can be done in parallel, while others build on each other sequentially. Ultimately, though, each has to be taken, including developing the dedicated funding source any successful long-term effort requires.
None of these steps is beyond our abilities. Nor is any of them beyond our imagination. We’ve already taken the first, most difficult step, creating a vision that resonates with not just residents and not just visitors, but with the region as a whole.
Now the question is whether we are willing to act on that vision. To do so will be hard, for reasons including the fact that no one has ever done what we envision ourselves doing.
Yet what’s the alternative? It really boils down to two choices. The default is to continue doing things the way we’ve been doing them, and let the area’s ecosystem decline under our watch. The other is to try something audacious and hope that, with a bit of luck and a lot of hard work, future generations will continue to enjoy the same healthy environment, community, and economy that past generations have bequeathed to us.
One final thought.
If we do choose to pursue the Comp Plan’s vision, the going will inevitably get tough at times. When it does, I hope both current and future generations will ask themselves two fundamental questions.
First, do we believe in our vision?
Do we want to preserve and protect the area’s ecosystem in order to ensure a healthy environment, community, and economy for current and future generations? If we do, when times get tough we need to have the courage to persevere. If we do not, we should be honorable enough to memorialize our thinking for future generations. As in “Dear future generations. Here are the reasons we failed to take the actions needed to fulfill our vision; the rationale underlying why we chose to bequeath to you a degraded ecosystem and a less-than-healthy environment, community, and economy.”
Second, if we do believe in our vision, whenever someone objects to taking the hard steps necessary to bring it about – to setting growth limits, to actively helping other jurisdictions, to creating a dedicated funding source – we should ask them the obvious: “How, then, do you propose to achieve achieving the Comp Plan’s vision?”
And when we do ask that question, we should demand specifics – the stakes are too high for platitudes.
As Scripture reminds us, to whom much is given, much will be required. To end where I started, Jackson Hole has arguably the greatest combination of environmental, social, and economic resources the world has ever known, not to mention an extraordinarily impassioned citizenry. Tying all this together is perhaps the world’s most audacious vision. Let’s go pursue it.