Tahoe Prosperity Center column: Integrating the old with the new

For some people change is hard. They like things to stay the way they are. Or they might even want to go back to “the way things used to be.” I totally get that, even though I embrace change.

I was recently in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania visiting my in-laws. We found old slides from the ’70s. It was fun to look back at my husband’s childhood pictures and talk about the memories of those days. In some ways the photos reminded us of what seemed like simpler days — long, lazy days camping by a river or family trips to the beach. (And no sunscreen!)

The nostalgia many of us have for “the way things were” is genuine. And there is a lot about those days that we could incorporate into our lives today (lawn games/knowing your neighbors/family dinners).

And yet, driving through my husband’s old neighborhood where he grew up is not a pleasant drive down memory lane. Many of the homes are rundown, empty strip malls dot the landscape, schools and businesses are vacant, and the once thriving suburb is not a desirable place to live.

Yet, “big” Pittsburgh is thriving. Downtown, by the Steelers and Pirates stadiums, restaurants were packed before the Pirates game. The “River District” is a safe, fun and inviting place to hang out with the family.

In some of the old industrial “steel” sections of town, there are new robotics companies fueling redevelopment. Breweries are re-purposing old industrial buildings. And businesses are taking advantage of the bike trail from Pittsburgh to Washington D.C. by catering to bikers and this emerging recreation industry. We joked during our visit that Pittsburgh is cool now.

What I wonder is: How can we preserve the part of the past that we all care about here in Lake Tahoe while moving forward with progressive change?

I’d bet that most of the readers of this column would agree there are a lot of rundown old motels in our town that could be better used (maybe for local workforce housing or innovative entrepreneurial businesses.)

I’d also bet that most of you would agree that we want to Keep Tahoe Blue, our forests green and our mountains white (in winter) — so protecting our environment is important, too. And how many of you would like a raise so you could afford a Tahoe median priced home? Can we balance economic prosperity and environmental protection and spur positive change?

The Tahoe Prosperity Center has some ideas to make this a reality.

First, we have to work together. I believe it is time to move on from the old rhetoric and misconceptions and especially the “that will never work” mentality. We can and should be thinking about how we can improve our towns for residents living here now. And we can and should be working together to improve it for future residents.

Second, let’s build on the momentum that is already happening. There are some great examples of good projects that have environmental, community and economic benefits. People are investing in Lake Tahoe again. Let’s capture this positive momentum and plan for a future we all want — walkable towns, thriving businesses and homes residents can afford to buy or rent.

Third, take notice of what is working in other areas and incorporate it into what works for Tahoe. We can learn a lot about how to improve our transit systems from other communities that have made it work. We can increase housing density in our town centers and still maintain our mountain culture. Let’s take what works and add our Tahoe touch to it.

Lastly, let’s work quickly. The Tahoe Prosperity Center won’t be in this alone — there are many organizations, businesses and agencies that will be a part of this positive community change.

If we follow the steps above, I know we can make a difference quickly. The Tahoe Prosperity Center will be the catalyst to get s%#t done and we hope you are with us.

Heidi Hill Drum is the CEO of the Tahoe Prosperity Center, a Tahoe Basin-wide organization dedicated to uniting Tahoe’s communities to strengthen regional prosperity. She has expertise in collaborative governance and is a 21-year resident. Heidi and her husband John are happily raising their two boys in Lake Tahoe.

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