Preserving our Past Secures our Future
I moved to the City of Riverside a few years ago. My friends were amazed. “Isn’t that place full of redneck conservatives!? And what about the smog and congestion?”
Located about half way between Los Angeles and Palm Desert, Riverside is the capital of Inland Southern California. Most people drive right past us in often heavy traffic on the 91 Freeway. It turns out that Riverside is progressive, transparent, and has a deep commitment to historic preservation, including an emphasis on conserving our agricultural lands. Unlike most California cities, our founders acquired water rights more than a century ago securing water now and for generations to come.
Several times over the last 40 years, Riverside citizens enacted initiatives that “down-zoned” thousands of acres of land in the heart of the city to remain as agricultural open space. The express purpose was the creation and maintenance of a so-called Greenbelt to prevent urban sprawl, increased traffic, higher utility rates, and the deterioration of the quality of life for Riverside residents. These initiatives amended the municipal zoning codes and cannot be changed without a vote of the people.
In the 1970s, citrus was globally competitive and farmers in the Greenbelt could make a good living. That no longer is the case, and many Greenbelt farms have become nurseries or lain fallow. Moreover, the City has not allocated the funds mandated by the initiatives to maintain the Greenbelt or to maximize public access to it through bike paths, horse trails, or parks. The result is that the Greenbelt today is underutilized and deteriorating rapidly.
On March 19 and 20, the City is sponsoring a two-day conference called “GROW RIVERSIDE: Citrus and Beyond” to identify ways to maximize the true assets that the Greenbelt offers now.
But what does GROW RIVERSIDE mean?
- Grow more housing as some developers are lobbying the City Council to permit?
- Grow higher value crops to make the farms economically viable?
- Or grow the public investment in the Greenbelt to ensure it attracts more tourists and is utilized by more than just those who live there?
These are the tough questions that our current City leaders are willing to grapple with – in the open – as they realize the connection between preserving our past and protecting our future.
CURE is a major sponsor of the Grow Riverside conference, because we want to serve as a catalyst for creative, out-of-the-ordinary ideas on how best to solve these new 21st century challenges. The CURE Challenge will award scholarships to students who develop pragmatic proposals for preserving our agricultural roots in a way that allows for economic sustainability.
What I like best about Riverside is that it is a community where people care and can look beyond short-term profit at long-term solutions. Conferences like Grow Riverside facilitate the critical thinking so absent in today’s polarized politics and so essential to developing sound public policy.
Urban farming and “farm to table” programs are all the rage in New York, Chicago and West coast cities. Ironically, these progressive ideas have their roots in my hometown – Riverside. Next time you are driving down the 91, get off at Adams Street and take a look.
-- Posted by Malissa McKeith, March 9, 2014