Suffering from pothole perspective

Local news items and letters to the editor over the last few weeks crystallized something for me. Too many of my fellow Sioux Falls residents suffer from pothole perspective. And it’s pernicious.

Every year the prospect of spring is associated with potholes, problems that are perennial and inevitable. Yet while our potholes get patched every year, some say potholes show our tax dollars are misspent and we need to forget about “unnecessary” items. That perspective spends too much time staring at the ground and worrying about the inexorable effect of nature. If people took their eyes off the ground and thought about holes that are preventable, it would greatly enrich the city and its residents.

For example, a significant portion of voters saw an indoor swimming pool as “unnecessary.” As one of the leading opponents recently said, swimming outdoors makes far more sense that swimming in an air-conditioned heated pool in the summer. That’s a pothole perspective. Lifting our eyes off the ground we’d see the indisputable fact that at least half of the year it makes no sense to swim outdoors. Perhaps that might suggest that providing a lifetime recreational opportunity to our residents without the necessity of joining a private gym or going to a motel for a night or weekend might be of benefit. Yes there is an initial outlay but, at the same time, there will be user fees, rental fees and the additional sales tax and other income generated by hosting local, state or regional swim meets.

While weather may be problematic for outdoor pools, the pothole perspective says that when you can’t use the outdoor pools at least there’s plenty of ice for skating or hockey. If anyone wants more indoor ice, it must be private groups who would benefit because the “public” has all the sheets of ice it needs. Seems, though, that the ice rink in the Expo Building on the fairgrounds closed for the season last week for repairs. That means hockey practices must be moved — to Iowa. That means the girl’s state varsity hockey tournament must be moved — to Sioux Center, Iowa. Yes, it would cost local government money to help build and maintain an ice facility. At the same time, even if all you worry about is economics, there are again user fees, rental fees and the like. Not only is that money going to Iowa, the sales tax and revenue from various tournaments is heading to that state also, along with Rapid City, Huron or Brookings. Does the state’s largest city really want to provide less recreational opportunity to their residents than those other communities?

Yet naysayers aren’t the only ones affected by a pothole perspective. Mainline pothole visionaries say there’s no need for an events center because we’ve already got the Arena. Borderline pothole visionaries say the lack of an events center is a cultural and economic pothole and the way to fix it is to allow cities to levy an additional sales tax. Yet when the several-ton truck known as the Legislature says the city can’t have its preferred patching material, there’s no Plan B. Now while opponents are complaining about real and imaginary potholes, supporters stare at the events center pothole and complain. Meanwhile, the cultural and economic potholes get deeper and wider and the city is outclassed by other cities in the region and state.

This pothole fixation keeps far too many from seeing the growing gaps and fissures in our culture and recreation and our revenue sources. I’m not saying local government is solely responsible to fix those gaps or to fully fund these and other facilities in Sioux Falls. There needs to be public-private partnerships and private investment to get such facilities built and help make them as self-sustaining as possible. But simply staring at a pothole doesn’t fix it.

Thinking the inescapable pothole plague is more important than our future quality of life truly is staring at the ground. Anyone who tries to move forward while fixated on the ground takes great risk. Unfortunately, a pothole perspective that seems almost endemic is bringing Sioux Falls far too close to falling off a cliff.

A great deal of intelligence can be invested in ignorance when the need for illusion is deep.

Saul Bellow, To Jerusalem and Back

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