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Balancing Nature and Commerce by Jim Howe, etc.

Review by Ed Quillen

Community – June 1998 – Colorado Central Magazine

Balancing Nature and Commerce in Gateway Communities
by Jim Howe, Ed McMahon, and Luther Propst
published in 1997 by Island Press
ISBN 1-55963-545-2

INTERNAL MIGRATION is as American as apple pie. From farm to city, from city to suburb, and in recent years, from suburb to rural small towns. If the town is near public lands, then it’s a “gateway community.”

By that standard, every settlement in Central Colorado qualifies, and we’ve seen considerable growth recently. This book, written by three men with backgrounds in conservation and land-use planning, offers advice for towns which want to maintain their character while adapting to tourism and amenity migration.

Many of its suggestions were summarized by McMahon in a Washington Post article which was reprinted in the January, 1998, edition of Colorado Central.

McMahon said towns can have both tourism and character, if they focus on the authentic rather than the contrived, require new buildings to fit their surroundings, interpret their historic and natural resources for visitors, maintain an attractive environment, and enhance the journey as well as the destination.

In this book, McMahon and his co-authors argue that gateway towns can thrive and prosper in this new era, but they need to be careful not to lose what made them attractive in the first place.

The writing is smooth and lucid, and the authors draw on communities from Maine to California for examples of places that have successfully handled the transition from backwater to destination.

They do not ignore the problems, especially affordable housing when property values rise much faster than wages, and point to some techniques.

Books of this nature are often too dry and detailed, or else wildly visionary. Balancing Nature and Commerce strikes a reasonable course, in prose accessible to non-experts.

It offers a wealth of sensible suggestions — often avoiding bureaucracy and paperwork — for the transitions we’re undergoing here. We’re not the only ones facing these challenges, and just that knowledge provides some comfort.

— Ed Quillen