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When Will They Ever Learn?
Beginning in the 1980s and continuing to the present, hordes of white families moved out of California, headed East for the real West: Nevada, Idaho, Utah, Arizona, New Mexico, Wyoming, Montana….Colorado. The reason for this mass relocation is California's increasing unlivability - traffic, pollution, noise, crowding, crime, ethnic politics and generalized hostility - caused mostly by foreign immigration, from Mexico primarily but also from Asia, the Indian subcontinent, and (apparently) the universe.
the preferred destinations for these reverse pioneers
has been Colorado, in particular the Front Range
(Colorado Springs north to Ft. Collins, a distance of
about 120 miles with the city of Denver in between)
growth in the past twenty years has been quite
The term "urban sprawl" might have been
invented to describe what's happening in central
Colorado, where environmentalists are up in arms,
"smart growth" is currently a buzzword, and an
amendment to the state constitution aimed at dealing
with the crisis was proposed to state voters in the 2000
last October, when the Wirth
for Environmental & Community Development Policy of
of Colorado at Denver and The Denver
Post co-sponsored a statewide
town meeting on the topic of "Growth: Problems and
Opportunities," a cadre of wildeyed activist
extremists - including me - decided to ensure the
anti-immigration argument was represented in the
proceedings. (Just in case the Wirth Chair and the Post had left that aspect of the population-sprawl issue uncovered.
Well, guess what?)
The six or seven of us involved in the conspiracy
agreed beforehand by phone and email to meet an hour or
so before the meeting to discuss strategy.
in the morning of October 7, police were gathered
outside the convention center in downtown Denver to deal
with the Indian demonstrators set to disrupt the annual
Columbus Day parade.
Inside, the meeting was chaired by Marshall
Kaplan, current holder of the Wirth Chair, who
served in Jimmy Carter's administration and arrived in
Colorado in 1981. The
daylong forum dealt mainly with Amendment 24 (soundly
defeated in the November 7 election), which aimed at
assuring new development would be constrained in
urban-area lacunae before spreading out beyond developed
areas. (See The Denver Post article by Carol Kreck, "Statewide
Forum Considers Ways to Help Smart Growth,") We
heard lots from the panel - which included
environmentalists, agriculturalists, developers, policy
wonks, and politicians - about the myth of unlimited
lands in America, the wrongness of the unquestioned
right to private property and single-family housing.
We were told how growth adversely affects
the quality of American life, how sprawl gives us what
we want in a selfish way, about the evils of
unrestricted use of the automobile, about how growth
should be redirected toward the urban center.
former Colorado Governor Richard D. Lamm, who's been
warning about the perils of immigration for the past two
decades and was present this morning on the panel,
delivered his remarks.
Though apparently constrained by the meeting's
parameters as fixed by Dr. Kaplan, he did remark
pointedly that populations can survive without
population growth, while economic growth and population
growth aren't Siamese twins.
What we need, Dick Lamm suggested, is a change
from the concept of growth to that of sustainability.
(No direct mention of immigration, however.)
now is when our first gun goes off. Perry Lorenz of Fort
Collins, a refugee himself from California and a local
organizer in the Buchanan 2000 campaign, moves to one of
the several microphones set up to take comments from the
audience, to make the point that none of the problems
being considered today would be a problem if only the federal government would fix its crazy
as if all the air has been sucked from the room suddenly
and nobody can breathe any longer.
Marshall Kaplan looks embarrassed, then ticked
off— shocked - that
anyone would have the bad taste to voice such an opinion
is not a meeting about immigration policy," he finally says.
Perry patiently explains, but immigration is a vital, in
fact a driving, component of population growth and
sprawl, so how can this meeting not
Kaplan exhibits plain signals of desiring to "move
on," as the phrase has it; while Perry, aware of the
danger of antagonizing his audience, yields the floor
so it goes, from nine in the morning until five at
night, with a break for lunch and "networking" in
between sessions. As
the second popgun for our point of view, I mention
having read a book twenty years ago a book called Land
in America, carefully researched and argued, by a
writer who concluded that land usage and development in
America would stabilize along with population growth.
His book, I note, is now entirely
out of date, insofar as the opposite conclusion has
proven correct. The
reason? (Pause for effect.)
immigration since 1980!!
judge from Dr. Kaplan's reaction, I'd shot him with
something more than a popgun. He takes the hit like a bad actor, then stammers, "Yes,
you for your — ah - comments."
who let these restless uncouth natives into my meeting?)
so it goes. The
dreaded I-word having been introduced, panelist Robert Burchell,
citing immigrants from eastern Europe who are happy to
live in cities "we" don't want to inhabit,
describes immigration as a "boon to cities."
Dr. Kaplan, sidestepping the immigration bull
rather than taking him by the horns, emphasises mobility
from state to state rather than nation to nation.
It's all about change of jobs and style of
life, he insists. The
growth issue should not be limitation but mobility:
"Americans should live where they want."
(But we're trying to talk about foreigners,
Elbel of the Colorado
Alliance for Immigration Reform, one of ours, lobs
another grenade; after a suitable hiatus, Mike McGarry,
an activist who helped get a recent resolution passed by
the Aspen town council calling upon the federal
government to control its borders and reduce immigration
to the U.S., chucks another.
Dr. Kaplan by now is looking very
p-o'd; this meeting isn't going quite the way
he'd intended it.
during lunch hour, two delegates in conversation with
each other: "I'm
surprised to hear the immigration issue brought up."
"Yes, well…You know those people….")
lunch we kept on keeping the popguns popping (trying to
keep the meeting on focus, you know) with visible ill
effects upon Dr. Kaplan's and the rest of the
(One panelist, a developer, remarked finally -
with some irritation - that he had neither the expertise
nor the "desire" to address the immigration
near the conclusion of the meeting, Perry Lorenz rose
for the third or fourth time that day to ask Dr. Kaplan
whether or not he intended to include mention of certain
of the delegates' concerns about immigration in his
write-up of the proceedings.
To weasel, or not to weasel?
In the end, Kaplan agreed to commit himself to
mentioning immigration in the final draft, but "not to
taking sides on population and population control."
Satisfied we'd scored our initials into the
polished top of Dr. Kaplan's mahogany coffee table,
Perry abandoned the microphone and the Gang of Six or
Seven adjourned to a nearby tavern where the waiters
were all from Jalisco, Mexico to drink a few
well-deserved beers and marvel at the spectacle we'd
a state where half the population hates the immigrant
other half of the population which migrated there to
escape the immigrant quarter of the sending state a
substantial portion of which arrived illegally from a
Third World country, nobody wants to – nobody will
– talk about the connection between immigration,
population increase, and urban sprawl.
there goes the Front Range.
Good enough for them, you might say.
But what about the rest of us?
(Afterword: Dr. Kaplan fulfilled his "commitment" to include immigration concerns voiced at the meeting by mentioning IN A FOOTNOTE to the final draft of his write-up that these had been raised, adding that "others" had disagreed. Really, Marshall? Not before the microphones, they didn't.)
Chilton Williamson Jr. is the author of The Immigration Mystique: America's False Conscience and an editor and columnist for Chronicles Magazine, where he writes the The Hundredth Meridian column about life in the Rocky Mountain West.
March 28, 2001