Archived Story

Perhaps a silver lining exists [UPDATED]

Published 8:14am Monday, July 16, 2012 Updated 12:18pm Monday, July 16, 2012

This week the StarTribune did an article about how land in the exurbs — an area outside of what was traditionally considered the Twin Cities suburbs — that was recently planned for housing has now been changed back to farmland.

To me, that’s a good thing.

Let’s face it — the housing boom was a house of cards. Millions bought houses who could not afford them, and then Wall Street types essentially bet on whether the dicey credit types would default on their loans. I can just hear the conversation:

Banker 1: “I’m betting Jim Smith isn’t going to make his mortgage payments soon. He’s too far in debt, and his job is in jeopardy.”

Banker 2: “Nah. Jim will pull through just fine. I can feel it.”

Banker 1: “You wanna bet?”

In addition, there were plenty of housing developers who got far too carried away.

During a trip to Atlanta, I remember questioning then why someone would want to spend a half-million dollars to live in a farm field, and then commute 60 miles one way to work.

Clearly, no one else did either. I’m betting many of those homes in Atlanta, and in many other large metro areas, are still sitting empty.

On the other hand, the increase in agriculture, for the most part, is built on solid footing. Considering that most manufacturing has been moved to elsewhere in the world (where manufacturers can pay employees $1 per day), agricultural commodities are one of the few tangible exportable products the United States has left.

There’s also plenty of room for growth in agriculture. Economies such as China and India are growing exponentially, as are standards of living.

The first thing a person who has more money is likely to do is to improve their diet. Adding meat to one’s diet is the typical way to improve it.

And in order to supply that extra meat, cows, pigs, chicken and other animals need to be fed more corn. And where does the feed come from? The cornfield near your house.

I remember as a kid driving from Little Falls to my grandparents’ house in Minneapolis, getting excited when the farm fields stopped and the “city” stuff — houses, stores, factories — started.

These days, I feel the opposite. Oh, I still enjoy seeing the Twin Cities skyline, but a bunch of strip malls and “macmansions” lined up between St. Cloud and Minneapolis? No thanks.

It just seems to me that those who choose to live in the exurbs – and believe me, I have plenty of friends and relatives who do — are trying to have it both ways.

They want the benefits of the city — major league sports and concerts, a full array of shopping and dining opportunities — and the country — quiet, low crime rate, lots of open space.

Meanwhile, to accommodate those who want it both ways, we as a state have had to build roads, utilities, and extend the urban sprawl.

After living for at least 80 percent of my lifetime in outstate Minnesota, I now have the philosophy that we should not be allowed to it both ways.

You are either a city person or a country person. If you’re a city person, then live in the city. I can respect that you want all the city has to offer, and you’re willing to forego the benefits of country living.

If you want to live in the country, then live in a community such as Fergus Falls, or smaller, where you can be a part of the community.

I’m not saying I think the housing bust was a good thing. But then again, if the bust, and the corresponding boom in agriculture, means that city becomes country again, then maybe there has been a silver lining over the past four years.

Joel Myhre is The Journal’s publisher. E-mail him at

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