Alleys and waterways might contribute to progress

Even in everyday life, things that might look like a hindrance at first glance can prove more valuable than expected.

We’ve seen that paradox plenty of times with alleyways in our local communities and with different kinds of waterways that are interspersed in rural locations. They often seem to be in the way, unless someone looks twice or looks long enough to think about all the possibilities.

There’s a good assortment of neighborhoods in both Marshall and nearby smaller communities that have alleys. They were standard features at the back of homes until the early to mid 1950s.

Then they started to seem too narrow, a pain to maintain. It was just easier and nicer looking to have more of a green lawn, a backyard that was perfect to fence off, and more opportunity to maybe someday build an addition. So the alleys went by the wayside.

Almost 70 years later streets with small homes are often jam-packed with second or even third household vehicles that can’t be parked anywhere except on the street.

Driveways, especially double-wide ones, take up sizable parts of front lawns. The first glance for everyone except those who live on the property is that there’s a huge garage that almost seems bigger than the house.

Grass or native prairie waterways in rural townships? Basically the same logic.

They usually don’t look like much from the road. They’re different from most of the land around them, not as defined and symmetrical. Not all that green. Not exactly what some of us would picture when we think of the ideal rural landscape.

Instead the word might be weeds or weedy. What else could be out there? If it looks like weeds, it’s probably full of weeds. They’re just in the way.

No matter where you stand on city zoning, county zoning or land use in general — I hope I’ve at least gotten your attention.

It’s a very important issue. Good land use decisions are likely to produce a pattern of success. Bad decisions are likely to create at least two problems for every short term issue they solve. The only way to know which is which is to take a careful, well-reasoned approach to every individual decision involving our resources, our homes, or our economic livelihood.

I’m definitely not saying that residential alleys are a symbol of better, more sensible time periods. I’m not implying that waterways or ponds should be re-established and created everywhere possible.

Too much of anything is hardly ever good. Also, what might be right in one place could be a totally wrong answer several blocks away or somewhere within a two-mile radius.

We don’t often hear about the successes along those lines. Instead it’s the controversies (the things that divide people and cause them to place a huge assortment of labels on each other) that get the most attention.

There are actually plenty of success stories. You can often find examples of them in a good local newspaper. They’re also easy to spot through Internet searches if you consider the source.

For a long range proven track record of success, it might be helpful to take a walk in a place that’s walkable. Look for older, well-maintained houses that are almost as good and maybe in some cases even better than they were when they were built. Look for examples of innovative business ideas, especially ones that have repurposed or re-imagined a distinctive, traditional commercial or industrial space.

Century farms are another great sign of a proven track record. They endured in family ownership for at least 100 years, and all of them that still produce at least one commodity have seen dramatic changes.

That’s the kind of thing everybody should want. The exact opposites are things that nobody should want.

It’s up to each one of us to do what we can to help the cause, to find the best way of getting from Point A to Point B. Someday it can lead to changes that future generations will remember with pride.