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Green vs. Gray

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Green vs. Gray
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Can you keep a secret? Green is better than gray concrete. Which means living on the edge of the Badlands is better than living in Los Angeles, but don't tell anyone because they might want to move here and that could be bad.


You see, in 1900 there were 76 million people living in all of America and it won't be long before there are that many people living in California alone; which makes the story of the Golden State a little like that of the Dutch boy who puts his finger in a dike. Except that in this case there is no Dutch boy and soon those California borders will burst and people will flow out like lava from a volcano, drool from a teething baby and air from a blown tire.

And where will they go, Chicago, Cleveland or Seattle? No because those cities have nothing more to offer except more people and worse weather, and if there's anything that Californian's have had enough of it's too many people and too many people problems. I should know. I'm one of the early escapees.

But while living in the City of Angels, I had North Dakota in my back pocket the whole time, having grown up here, knowing that I could always return at a moment's notice to frost, pheasants and family.

In the Dakotas we get lulled to sleep by our rolling hills, waves of grains, pastures dotted with cattle and endless horizons, thinking that we could move most of Boise, Beaver Falls, Bozeman, Boston and Baltimore to the Peace Garden State without putting a dent in our prairie reserves and still have room for Raleigh and Rancho Cucamonga. But that's not the case. Space is space and there's only so much.

So if you sell off a few ranches and parcel up the land, move in a thousand oil wells, some trailer houses, windmills, apartment buildings and a bunch of vast parking lots, the next thing you know you've got a bit of an urban sprawl accompanied by things like a way too big mall.

And no, it won't happen tomorrow and maybe not until I'm in a lazy boy watching "Star Trek" reruns while gumming applesauce and cheesecake. But it'll come, sure enough, and if we don't hurry up and fence off this part of the world it'll be just another Cleveland or Memphis with gangs, graffiti and goofballs and we'll be looking for wide open spaces like alcoholics look for drinks, druggies look for a fix and teenagers look for text messages.

Which brings up the issue of urban vs. rural, air vs. smog, fresh vs. acid rain, neighbors vs. strangers and open highways vs. crowded freeways; the remote possibility of which is currently being fueled by an oil boom that is already making me, a gun shy former urbanite, a little claustrophobic and the big stuff hasn't even happened yet. Nevertheless, it's creeping up like a cat on a mouse, old age on Brett Favre and weeds on a wheat field and is primed to get away from us because everyone has been preprogrammed to watch it disappear like a late morning mist, political promises after an election, the smell of a new car and all of the other oil booms before this.

But that was then and this might be now, with reserves big enough to make those in Saudi Arabia look like a wading pool, those in Texas like a mud puddle and Louisiana's like the last drip from a kitchen faucet. And sure, urban sprawls aren't all bad because they've got a lot to offer like professional sports, theater, night clubs and sushi. Except that it takes you three weeks, four car accidents and a gold brick to get anywhere because of traffic and prices and once you get there your energy is so sapped you need oxygen, a nap, four pots of coffee and three Snickers bars to stay awake long enough to enjoy it.

So I vote for slow growth and then not too much because in an urban sprawl you can see the air whereas here you're encased in it like a bright blue Tahitian ocean that's above you. And at night it's filled with stars that you can see 20 galaxies away and more falling one's than you'll see in a lifetime in the big city.

And rainfall here, instead of washing oil, soot and grease down the sewer drains and into the ocean, fills ponds, nourishes grasslands and crops, turns them green and leaves the air smelling like a fine wine rather than an auto fix it shop. Plus, we've got certain grasses in the countryside that are as soft as a sultan's sofa and you and your best girl can lie there all afternoon and imagine the shapes that clouds make.

So be careful what you hope for, because progress is good, but not that good.

-- Holten is the Dickinson State University Foundation communications director.