Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Paved roads improve quality of life in Girdwood

This curb is a big deal. When I moved to Girdwood there was only one paved road, Alyeska Highway. You can almost say Arlberg Avenue, which leads to the Alyeska Resort was paved, if you are ok bobbing and weaving to miss the ill patched pot holes. My husband and I moved here for work, we did not have a plan to live in Girdwood, we just had a plan to earn income. The first month of our employment we commuted from Anchorage. Looking at rentals in Girdwood we were unpleasantly surprised. This town, with one paved road, had either too proud of itself small condo rentals starting at $1200 per month or an $800 per month apartment in the dirtiest complex this side of east Anchorage. 

My husband and I don’t like to use sarcasm as a form of communication, but let me get this straight. The road to the post office and local grocery store is not paved and is riddled with holes and rivulets? These pricey rentals rarely have garages or carports in a town that receives up to 600 inches of snow? Dog poo litters the walking path and nordic ski trails all year? And you want to get an average of $300,500 for a house here? Really!? Our first year we rented a 450 square foot cabin for $900. The previous tenants had dogs, and in a town with no paved roads, why was I to expect landlords to professionally clean their rentals between tenants? The cabin had a washer and dryer, that balanced living in the small space, the mustiness, the orange well water, and the inefficient appliances. My husband made pets out of the steller jays, we watched the black bears wander through the yard. 

At the end of that rental year, we moved into a modern garage apartment. That heralded an upgrade for the whole town, the Girdwood paving project began! My year of complaining relentlessly about the unpaved roads had paid off! I soon found out after attending some Girdwood Board of Supervisors meetings, this “improvement” had been in the works for 10 years. TEN YEARS! to pave less than a mile of heavily traveled, heart-of-the-town, two-lane roads! really. 

For two years now, the Arctic Imperatives conference has met in Girdwood. Attended by representatives from other countries bordering the arctic, I realized, oh yeah, there are other countries that survive in this climate. And oh yeah, those Scandinavian countries have some of the highest rates of citizen happiness in the world. And, those countries have been building homes, roads, and other infrastructure for centuries. So why can’t we, in the United States, with all of our resources, build homes that don’t out-price hourly wage workers, and pave the damn roads that lead to everyday resources!?

The road project was completed just before the first snowfall in 2012. It is a great pleasure to circle town square wether on bike, foot, or in a car. Lest we not forget Girdwood should be called Dogwood, the sidewalk reminds us. (Actually, I prefer Glacier City.) The paving projects included the road, curbs, landscaping, and light poles! 

My degree is in Environmental Design. Though I do not practice architecture, I am constantly curious about structures, their design, efficiency, and material use. My husband and I have lived in 6 different structures in South Central Alaska. It is not a high percentage, however, most have revealed poor building quality considering the price. A few years ago I attended a presentation by the Cold Climate Housing Research Center in Fairbanks, take note new home builders. That and the attempt to improve the quality of life in Girdwood led to more research on why Nordic countries are satisfied with their quality of living. Here are some articles and papers regarding those subjects I found interesting. Alaska need not be exactly like these other countries, but we could learn to improve our cities.