Seeing the value of a better-looking Quincy: Column
By Sandy Zavala
Lisa Karstetter’s aesthetic vision for Quincy in a recent commentary to QVPR was insightful and forward thinking. Does Quincy need concerted efforts towards beautification? Why is it important that our teachers and data center employees live in the community in which they work? Is spending public funds on improving Quincy’s appearance and creating recreational opportunities a necessity? Or is Quincy’s current state of aesthetic and functional scarcity “enough”? After all, does it really matter that there aren’t enough trees, walkable spaces and quaint, agriculturally themed buildings showing visitors and neighbors alike that we are proud of our community?
In Connecticut, I grew up surrounded by natural beauty and thoughtful town planning. Brightly painted barns, maple and pine groves and white picket fences stretch across the rolling hills of New England. Some of my fondest childhood memories are driving to the Rhode Island shore through visually breathtaking agricultural towns where the appearance of private and public property was an extension of community pride and a hallmark of self-respect. Many towns and cities all over our great country pride themselves on cohesive architectural themes, complementary color palettes and well-planned greenspaces. To some, these aesthetic efforts might seem frivolous. After all, why spend valuable city dollars on beautification? Some residents may consider aesthetics the purview of an individual property owner. These same individuals may not recognize that a positive correlation exists between perceived well-being, contentment and environmental aesthetics.
Here’s some background before we probe into this issue. Maslow, in his 1942 “Hierarchy of Needs,” put forth that human beings need a variety of physical, environmental, economic and social elements met to consider themselves “happy.” From basic needs like food and shelter, to more complex needs like achieving financial security, attaining love, belonging and forging meaningful relationships, there are many factors in the happiness equation. Richard Florida and Kevin Stolarick, of the University of Toronto, in their paper “Beautiful Places: The role of Perceived Aesthetic Beauty in Community Satisfaction,” assert that “beauty and aesthetics play a significant role in community satisfaction.” Research recognizes that aesthetic beauty works in conjunction with other factors to determine community satisfaction rates. Data collected from 28,000 respondents of a Gallup survey, discovered that demographic factors like adequate income, high property values, expanding job prospects, plentiful public goods, ample outdoor recreation, and generous, meaningful socializing opportunities were notably enhanced when individuals felt connected to the beauty their community provided. Research proves that most people really don’t want to live in a shabby community, even if they have friends and money.
Previous studies support Florida’s and Stolarick’s hypothesis that a “well-maintained” community, or a higher level of perceived beauty of a place contributes to greater community satisfaction. Research published in 2001 and 2008 demonstrate that the presence of amenities such as green spaces, natural landscape features, attractive buildings and outdoor areas to socialize in can increase economic growth. Teachers and data center employees who choose to live in Wenatchee do not do so because they enjoy the perilous winter driving conditions on Highway 28. They live there because they feel “more connected” to the Wenatchee environment, its beautiful outdoor spaces, charming historical downtown and amenities. This “brain drain” of talented employees that could be spending their intellectual capital and money in Quincy on a full-time basis, quite tragically, is a missed opportunity. Perhaps the most serious consequence of sitting back and not revitalizing Quincy’s appearance, is that our homegrown “best and brightest” will move on to greener pastures if we don’t offer them green pastures of our own.
Voices resisting such perceived financial frivolity should note that everyone will feel more connected to our community if it is revitalized, no matter how satisfied they think they already feel. Who doesn’t see a beautiful town and feel all warm and fuzzy inside? Even residents living on lovely farms outside of town limits that do not find themselves navigating this aesthetic scarcity daily will enjoy the benefits of comprehensive community renewal. More citizens will venture into town to shop and congregate instead of trekking all the way to Wenatchee or choosing to purchase items on the internet every other day. And for those of you that are all about the bottom-line … there is money to be made. Lots of it. To borrow a classic line from Kevin Costner’s “A Field of Dreams”: If you build it, he (they) will come. Don’t let this amazing opportunity to make Quincy great pass you by.
Sandy Zavala is a former health care researcher, counselor and social worker. She currently lives in Quincy with her family.