Imagine a movie.
Prologue: For eons, Native Americans call the Monocacy Valley home, then Europeans settle into this fertile pocket they call Frederick County. From the 1750s onward, the blood, sweat and ingenuity of farmers, iron workers, slaves, lumberjacks, bankers, merchants and carpenters builds Frederick into a thriving gateway for western migration.
Act 1: Frederick soldiers return from World War II and raise families during the 20th-century economic boom. Frederick farmers feed Frederick residents. Shoes and clothes are made here. We run our own banks and stores and construction crews — have our own cement plant, our own restaurants, greenhouses, food markets, butchers, bakers and candlestick makers.
Then we arrive at the 1960s — TV and magazines open our eyes to the world. We see leaders assassinated and humans landing on the moon and confusing violence in Vietnam. Frederick no longer lives in peaceful isolation. The world rushes in.
Act 2: Outside forces invade Frederick — chain stores drive mom-and-pop stores out of business, supermarkets bring cheap food from thousands of miles away, shifting local farms to commodity crops. Frederick workers aren’t asked to use their full range of skills, ingenuity and imagination — instead they punch the clock for outside companies.
The mechanics of government are made hopelessly complex and are gamed by clever lawyers. Residents are overworked but make less money. They don’t know their neighbors any more. Many sell out and leave. Big outside corporations and banks expand into Frederick, influencing our future based on their goals, not ours. Residents welcome the convenient service, cheap products, abundant housing, but more and more feel it in their bones: The soul of Frederick is slipping away.
Often with good intentions, we allow our land to be sold off and bulldozed. We believe it when we we’re told this was good for us. “Open for business” means any dollar is a good dollar, no matter the intentions it promotes or the future burdens it places on us. Farmers are pitted against environmentalists — natural allies in the stewarding of soil, land and water. We are made to feel the big-money-driven future of Frederick County is inevitable — the best you can do is grab for a sliver of the pie.
We wonder why we can’t spend time with our families. Why we are stuck in traffic. Why our favorite teacher left the county. Why our streams and rivers look like you wouldn’t want to eat the fish you caught. Why crime is up. Why we don’t know our neighbor. Why we’re stuck in a low-wage service job, eager to blame someone else for the state of our lives.
Arriving in the 21st century, our story takes a turn. Every good story comes to the point where conflicting forces square off in a grand confrontation. The outcome defines the victor’s true character. It’s called the Moment of Truth.
Frederick now stands at its Moment of Truth.
What is our true character? We Fredericktonians?
Let’s consider two endings to our story:
Ending No. 1: We valiantly stick Band-Aids on problems, but crime gets worse and local businesses fold. Politicians are installed by outside money to do their bidding. Taxes rise while services dwindle. Demoralized, farmers are forced into impossible choices just to survive, killing their soil, poisoning their bodies, looking to sell their once-loved land to speculators. Money rules from the top down, stifling the innovative thinking of individuals. Local banks are gobbled by megabanks. Bright rising stars of Frederick move away. Classrooms have 50 kids because infrastructure spending slips further behind overdevelopment. The best teachers shut down or move away. Frederick County gets scraped, paved and carpeted with dense, cheap housing and big box stores. You try beating rush hour on U.S. 15 or 340 or Md. 26, by leaving the house at 6 a.m. or 2 p.m. Wildlife retreats to the Catoctin Mountains because that’s the only place left. Streams are cloudy and dead. Depressed citizens turn to drugs in record numbers. Indigent seniors clog emergency rooms. As California’s drought worsens, supermarket prices skyrocket, but we’ve lost the skills and land to grow our own food. Neighbor turns against neighbor. Crime races beyond the capacities of law enforcement.
This future can happen if we let it.
But Fredericktonians have the power to write their own story.
Consider an alternative ending.
Ending No. 2: Frederick County residents become aware and engaged. Corruption becomes impossible under mass scrutiny. Frederick shakes off the noose of uncaring big-money, proving that true prosperity is possible without selling our soul. Decisions are based on a “Triple Bottom Line” — Social, Environmental, Economic. We attract “good money” which shares our goals and vision.
Local businesses thrive. Infill projects are prioritized. Middle class families recover. Cities are designed for walking and biking. Public transit is easy, the routes well designed. Suburban sprawl is limited, which improves county finances. We use our rural tradition, land and smart growers to feed Frederick with grown food. We steward our wild lands, watersheds, heritage sites and farmland as the precious resources they are. Schools get so good, kids eagerly show up. We install solar panels and wind turbines to make our county energy self-sufficient. We operate resource recovery parks and composting facilities, pushing toward zero waste. We transition away from pesticides and herbicides, giving life to honeybees, healthy soil and diverse ecosystems.
Frederick rediscovers its soul.
We show the world we’re a resilient, self-reliant, clean, diverse, fun, smart, cool place — which attracts and retains talented professionals and innovative companies bringing high-wage jobs.
Think ending No. 2 is some impossible dream, as purveyors of the old system would like you to believe? Everything mentioned in Ending No. 2 is happening somewhere in the world right now. Some are happening in small ways right here in Frederick County, right now.
So the future is up to us. Which ending do you want?
Guest columnist Richard Jefferies is a board member of Friends of Frederick County.