Growing Concern

Man in tree

Illustration by Ryan Snook

A man sitting in a giant tree over a developing town
Illustration by Ryan Snook

THIS PAST SUMMER, the town of Danville approved new home starts that will double the number of houses in our area within the next several years. Some of my fellow citizens are in favor, but many more are opposed. I am against growth when sitting in traffic, but in favor of it while walking the trails in Plainfield, enjoying the benefits of the expansion. Of course, it’s easy to favor the growth of Plainfield while living in Danville. The champions of development are not without compelling arguments. More homes equal more tax dollars, which mean better schools, more parks and walking trails, more jobs, young families, and a deeper pool of civic talent. Several first-generation families in our town just opened Danville Dips, an ice cream shop, on our town square. How can I be against ice cream?

The anti-growers fear it will mean more traffic congestion, which it most certainly will, and more crime, which remains to be seen. I’ve heard some folks say they don’t want “those people” moving to our town. If you want to have fun, watch people squirm when you ask them what they mean by “those people.” I’ve heard residents who have lived here less than three years rail against newcomers, as if their ancestors had platted our streets in 1824. Several of the new developments will be apartments, causing some homeowners to sniff about renters and their theoretical dangers. When my parents first settled here in 1957, they rented for three years before buying their first home. Twenty-some years later, my father was serving as the president of the town board. “Those people” we fear today will likely lead us tomorrow.

This growth is not just Danville’s story, it is Central Indiana’s story. People from across the state and nation have discovered what many of us have known for decades: This area has a lot to offer. We have affordable housing, charming neighborhoods, good jobs, and fine colleges, all within a stone’s throw of the splendor of the Hoosier National Forest, which nearly makes up for the Indiana legislature. What we sometimes lack—innovation, a global perspective, and ethnic diversity—will be improved by new citizens who don’t always look like us, think like us, vote like us, or worship like us. Thank God! Or for that matter, Allah, Bhagavan, or Yahweh.

Danville has a population density of 1,499 folks per square mile, plenty of elbow room compared to Carmel, which shoehorns almost 50 percent more people per square mile while still making room for a ton of roundabouts. Danville’s answer to traffic congestion is to build a bypass, one possible route carrying traffic right through my living room, or so it seems on the map. For the record, I’m opposed to any road project that involves my living room. Another suggested improvement would split my son’s cattle farm in half, which doesn’t feel like an improvement to him. Nevertheless, the opposite of growth is stagnation, which serves no one well. We all need fresh infusions of life to keep things from silting over. Drive through any town that has declined in population since 1950 and ask yourself if you’d want to live among its shuttered storefronts, weed-choked sidewalks, and failing schools. It’s only then that you realize “those people” are in fact your salvation, your insurance against your town’s decay and death.

Visit Boswell or Knox and ask them if they would like to grow, if they would like their empty buildings filled with businesses and their schools filled with students. Ask if they would enjoy a town park with a swimming pool and somewhere to shop other than Dollar General.

I returned to my hometown in 1999 after being away for 20 years, thinking Danville would be the same as I had left it, but things had changed in my absence. I complained about these “god-awful new subdivisions that are going up everywhere,” until my dad pointed out that I lived in one. Twenty-two years later, I’m still here, living in a neighborhood that was Sam Anderson’s horse farm when I was a kid. Bob Dylan nailed it on the head: “Admit that the waters around you have grown. So you better start swimming, or you’ll sink like a stone.” Here’s to swimming.