Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Simply Summer - Is Progress Our Most Important Product?

 It's time to blog about what I've been experiencing the last three days, ever since I arrived in Arkansas.

What was farmland or woods is now shopping centers.  Massive strip malls, nonstop, seemingly, from just north of the Missouri border, through once quiet towns that are now bustling cities.

What were quiet, scenic roads - housing developments, office parks, and more construction.  One city (an Arkansas city can be just a couple of thousand people) that had one blinking control light in 1986 now has four traffic lights, a biker bar, and a Civil War battlefield park that is about four times as big as when I last drove past it.

What was once a quiet U.S. highway winding through a rural area now features rush hour traffic on an Interstate that did not exist (I-540).

Tall office buildings.  Gigantic Wal-Marts.  Road constuction.

I-540 South near Rogers, AR
I got to thinking about something, something that I first realized exiting a shopping center parking lot (one of the few things that was there when I was last here 27 years ago) on Monday.  I thought about it again and again these next two days.

U.S. 71Business Heading into Fayetteville, AR

At least, the beautiful, green hills are unchanged.  For now.

So much of this was due to one man. Yes, one man.  The next time you think one man, or one woman, can't make a difference in the lives of thousands, consider this.

His name was Sam Walton.  

You may know him as the founder of Wal-Mart.  But he did something, something of absolute genius, once Wal-Mart became that "certain size" that could "highly recommend".

He "highly recommended" that Wal-Mart's suppliers open corporate offices near the Wal-Mart corporate offices in Northwest Arkansas.   And they came.  And they came. And they came some more.  They weren't satisfied with the quiet.  They wanted what they had left.

When I lived in Fayetteville, Arkansas and the surrounding area some 30 years ago, the population was fairly homogeneous and things were - well, quiet.  Now, there are million dollar homes for some.  Ethnic food.  Liquor where it used to be dry. But is the average Arkansan better off?  I am no longer an Arkansan - maybe I never was - and they have to answer that question.  I can't.  And, just who is an average Arkansan? I've met so many people in the past few days who obviously weren't born here.

Maybe I was just 30 years too early.

I'm comforted by the thought that maybe Sam Walton himself (who died in 1992) wouldn't recognize the place, either.

It makes me wonder if progress really is our most important product (that, incidentally, was a G.E. advertising slogan when I was growing up in the early 60's) or if quality of life is something more.

But, I have too many things to think about - too many things to process.

Tomorrow, I return to where I did my rural homesteading in the early 80's.


  1. Are you journeying back to your past? It's hard to believe that 30 years can bring such huge changes to one community. I remember living in Virginia when it was in the middle of booming. They were growing so fast, the schools couldn't keep up with all the children moving into the area. I didn't like where it was going. All sub developments and shopping malls and lots and lots of traffic.


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