Column from Dan Sullivan
The lexicon of climate change evolves as the climate crisis wears on. Terms like “greenhouse effect” and “global warming” are now considered old, even though they are not. Recently, two new terms (new to this writer) appeared during a Harvard University climate change webinar: “retreating communities” and “receiving communities.” Simply put, these terms refer to communities that are becoming undesirable or unlivable (“retreating”), and those that appear to be either less affected or even benefit from the changing conditions (“receiving”). More and more people, it seems, consider Central New York, which includes Otsego County, in the latter group.
Otsego County a “receiving community”? A county that has lost population for decades? What would draw people here now? The answer was revealed late in the day last Thursday at The Otesaga, where a tourism summit was being held, sponsored by Destination Marketing Corporation for Otsego County. Presenter Josiah Brown pinpointed the three top reasons people move to Otsego County: safety, a clean environment, and weather that buffers the worst effects of climate change. At least for the present, our weather in spring, summer and most of fall looks appealing to many. Those with the means to do so can escape the winter; and given the fact that many of our real estate transfers have been at the higher end of the market, it would appear our migrants are well-to-do, by and large. The reasons that drew longer term residents—our beauty, natural and working landscapes, and slower pace of life—are now supplemented, superseded even, by the three that Brown posited.
This all sounds great, doesn’t it? Well, yes, and maybe not. If there is to be an influx of climate migrants to Otsego County, it will mean more development. At last week’s summit, one individual called for water and sewer to run the length of Route 28 from Oneonta to Cooperstown so housing developments could be built. Thinking like that could be turned into reality, given the lack of land-use regulations in most of the county’s municipalities. Now more than ever, our towns and villages need to put in place comprehensive plans and land-use regulations that will keep their communities as they want them. Another danger is gentrification. If the trend of higher-income higher-income migration picks up steam, the already tight housing market will go higher in price, and LMI (low and middle income) residents will find themselves in a worse position than they are even now. It’s time for plans to build affordable housing to be made and acted upon.
While Otsego County can benefit from a rise in population, proper preparation must be made to ensure that our current residents benefit along with the potential newcomers. Local leaders must get to work on planning and policy.
We can’t wait. Much like rising temperatures, change can come awfully fast.
Dan Sullivan is supervisor of the Town of Richfield.