A chronicle of sprawl foretold

How often do you hear folks howl about how we’ve been blindsided by growth—taken unawares by surging population, sprawl, and traffic? But that wasn’t for lack of warning. In fact, the county and region have actually fallen short of the official population projections of four decades ago, when the Puget Sound Eden supposedly started turning into Pugetopolis. While rooting around in the bowels of the University of Washington Library the other day (hey, we all have our ideas of fun), I came across a 1963 tract on Puget City YEAR 2000 by the Seattle Area Industrial Council “in cooperation with the King County Commissioners.” Tucked in with it were “Long Range Population Projections” done in 1960 by the Puget Sound Governmental Conference and Regional Planning Council. The former predicted that by 2000, the combined population of the nine main Puget Sound counties would climb from 1960’s 1.7 million to 4.3 million—but as of 1997, it had only reached 3.6 million. The Governmental Conference forecast that King County would have 1.8 million people in 1990 and 2.2 million in 2000. But in 1998, it still had fewer than 1.7 million. For all its runaway reputation, Kitsap County also appears to lag behind the 1960 forecast; Snohomish is about on it; and only Pierce County, the slowest-growing of the three, notably exceeds its forecast.

“Whether population expansion in this region results in metropolitan sickness or health depends solely on the knowledge, thoughtful consideration, and action of all our citizens,” Puget Sound 2000 predicted. Sometimes forewarned isn’t forearmed.

Toxic avengers

Spring is here, the blooms are budding—and the death merchants are out in force, plastering their insidious messages on billboards, parading their poisons before adults and children alike. No, not the tobacco companies; they’re banned from billboards. I mean the purveyors of pesticides and “pest control,” who con homeowners into spending billions on unneeded, unhealthy, and ultimately ineffective chemical assaults on unwanted plants and insects. Most home pesticide use is unnecessary; much of it is grossly excessive. It doesn’t just turn lawns into dead zones; residues are taken up by whatever feeds or plays on the lawns, from titmice to toddlers, and wash into waterways.

And here come the billboards: “Just Say No to Bugs!” from Redi National (“Others just control. We eliminate”); “Short, green, and fuzzy. Let’s kill it” (Moss, that is); Lilly Miller’s snail-poison ads on Metro buses (“The French like them with garlic butter. We like them dead”). Ah, c’mon. Who has trouble with snails around here? Slugs, maybe—but a cup of beer dispatches them just fine, and lets them die with a smile.

Many local agencies, from the Bainbridge schools to Seattle parks, are working hard to purge pesticides from their grounds management. And here’s King County, which talks so resoundingly about saving salmon, renting ad space on its buses to pesticide promoters. It might at least require a “Mr. Yuck” sticker. Makes you wonder where the billboard vandals of yesteryear, who did such a fine job of revising cigarette slogans, are today. “Just Say No to Poisons“? “Let’s leave it alone“?

Not to mention compliant body parts . . .

Whatever mischief the celebrated computer bug may cause, Y2K could be the most versatile marketing theme since Youthful Rebellion. The local stove vendor Rich’s for the Home advertises a Patriot wood stove as “Y2K compliant.” What’s that mean? “It diffuses heat naturally,” explains a Rich’s salesman. “It doesn’t need electric blowers to get the heat out into the room.” Guess I’ll stop worrying about the millennium. I’ve already got a compliant hammer, rake, shovel, lawn mower. . . .

So much for “limousine liberals”

To good Seattle environmentalists, an oversized SUV is a gas-guzzling, trail-eating, road-hogging abomination. To Idaho greens, it’s a . . . grand prize. Our Sun Valley correspondent reports that the Blane County Nature Conservancy is raising funds by raffling off a new Ford Explorer.

See ya later

This column brings a special announcement: You may have won a shiny new Ford Explorer, complete with Gladiator wheel blades for dismembering Geo Metros. Just send. . . . Sorry, wrong announcement. I meant to say that this will be the last “Quick & Dirty” column for a month or two. I’m deeply indebted to the editors for giving me all the rope I need for intellectual bungee-jumping, but I’ve got too many other things to do right now.

I took over this little “brain buffet” (as it was called then) back when The Bridges of Madison County was turning hearts and stomachs, and a mogul team owner named Ken Behring was trying to steamroll a county headed by Tim Hill. Change the names and the stories remain the same, 300 installments later. In one way this is a crummy time to take a break, now that the column’s finally gotten its own clean page. (I wasn’t crazy about the faint type and awkward jump of the old format, and I’m also deeply indebted to anyone who read on in spite of them.) But ars longa, vita breva—and I don’t mean items sold at Babes in Toyland or Starbucks.

And so a fond farewell, in the immortal closing words of the great philosopher Mort Sahl: “Is there anyone here I haven’t offended?” If so, just wait till the next round. Those who think columnists shouldn’t offend, but rather comfort the comfortable and afflict the rest of us with their complacency, will find plenty of soothing fare in this town. And for those who can take it straight, to paraphrase that other great philosopher Richard Nixon: You’ll still have James Bush and Geov Parrish to kick you around.

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