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Letter: Detroit Lakes lacks vision for the future

Several Detroit Lakes Newspapers articles have dealt with vision for individuals, collectives or community. While the context may have differed, each one has focused on a hopeful outcome for conduct standards, values, and/or desirable community.

A front page article reported on a response to high school students photographed during a social occasion with alcoholic beverages present.

Individuals receiving attention were not found to have alcoholic beverages in their possession. They were present with others consuming alcoholic beverages and punished for being present.

The justification was that students are influenced by peers and should learn to be responsible for their acts. The photos provided prima facie evidence of rule violation. Punishment was the removal of "privileges associated with prestigious positions in the student body."

Punishment was justified by invoking the phrase, "higher standards for high school student conduct." The intent was to deter other high school students from consuming alcoholic beverages.

Unfortunately, general deterrence does not work. But, punishment is easier than becoming involved in a process to bring about change in individual acts.

It also articulates a desire for "moral behavior" different from others. It does inspire a question: Should an 18 year old soldier serving in Iraq be allowed to drink alcoholic beverages? Is she/he responsible?

Vulgarities associated with rule violations arise from the person's position in society.

The Center for Public Integrity and Fund for Independence in Journalism found that the "Bush administration in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq and even six months after we were at war gave 935 false statements." This included the president and seven of his top officials.

Are some adults exempt from common conduct standards? If a newspaper reporter writes: people are sick of locomotives sounding horns as they move through communities, is this responsible reporting? Or should one reveal that every 90 minutes there is a grade crossing incident between a car and locomotive?

Operating rules require locomotive engineers to blow the whistle or be removed from the engine. And, railways spend valuable time and energy on "Operation Life Saver" to prevent accidents.

Recent days have featured plans to renovate the Detroit Lakes business district. A response to a $50 million relocation of Highway 10 is supposed to direct the planning and subsequent expenditure of funds in reconstructing the city. Whose vision is it?

RDG consultants have used an approach using observations from three different sources: "survey," focus groups and secondary data (census and agency information). It's like building a three legged stool. Together they should provide a vision for Detroit Lakes.

The questionnaire was prepared and printed in the newspaper. If this approach is used to generate valid observations on community features, it should represent the community. It doesn't.

The self-selection process created a biased set of observations. Why? One had to buy or subscribe to the paper, read the paper, take time to complete the questionnaire and return it to the consultants.

Questionnaires were complete for an unknown total number of persons; responses varied from 237 to 496.

Translation -- from 3.9 percent to 8.2 percent returned part or the entire questionnaire. A rather small fraction of community residents. Is this valid information for planning?

The second leg of the stool was focus groups. No details are provided about the composition of the groups, approach and questions, and who conducted them.

The third leg is the most voluminous -- secondary data from census data to markets, etc. In the report, it occupies 95 percent of the narrative. (Not surprising for urban planners.) The data covers: markets; event center study update; existing conditions; markets/housing; downtown; Detroit Lakes Primary; and office space.

This information must be placed in categories for analysis and interpretations. RDG used a concentric circle approach. Using a radius of three, 25, and 90 miles, it created market classifications. Conceptually (systematic ideas about a subject) it does not fit the residential patterns. Traffic patterns indicate travel five to 10 miles to reach markets.

Retail stores (Wal-Mart and Menards) draw individuals into the city from just three miles?

Health care (clinics and the hospital) have clientele around the county.

And, the 25-mile market includes a reservation. The 90-mile ring includes two standard metropolitan statistical areas. This approach does not allow for investigation into buying patterns for Detroit Lakes. Does it change during the winter or summer lake season? It leaves unanswered the question: Who comes to town and why?

Perhaps one should ask, is there any unique aspect about Detroit Lakes? What makes it an attractive environment to visit or live? Is there a shared vision for a community? Do individuals have differing visions for varying activities? And, when the term, "a Detroit Lakes resident" is used, who are we taking about? Whose vision will direct the planning and expenditure of funds?

-- James H. Larson, Detroit Lakes