A good life is more than open space

It comes as no surprise that many residents of Chester County like open space and would be pleased to pay a little more dollars to preserve additional land.

That opinion was reflected in a study conducted by the Center for Social and Economic Development at West Chester University assessing the quality of life in Chester County.

The results were published on page 1 of this paper and in the Monday issue of The Daily Local News in an article written by Michael P. Rellahan.

Overall, the people who answered the questions were apparently quite happy to be living here.

They like the schools; they like working here; and they like buying a home here.

When you think about it, who wouldnít?

We are betting that there are lots of people living on limited incomes in crowded cities who would give their right arm to move to the fresh air, forests and open fields around here.

Ask yourself: Who among those who are sending their young kids to some school in mid-city Philadelphia wouldnít like them to board the bus everyday for Hillendale Elementary?

The whole open-spaces thing raises some questions, however.

For instance, most of the people who live on or near open spaces have the financial wherewithal to afford it. Real estate is expensive, and it takes a lot of bucks to buy a piece of land. Poor folks donít live on big properties. Where are they supposed to live if they are engaged in the low-paying jobs that serve their wealthier neighbors?

Thereís a danger that even as municipalities work to preserve more and more open space, the remaining properties left for housing and other development decrease, making them more expensive. Itís sort of a gentrification cycle.

Is it de facto classism?

Overall, open space is beautiful, but it does not exclusively serve our needs.

In the real world, social geography demands that we have areas for factories, recreation, stores, schools, roads, health services and basic human needs like food and gas.

They must be available not only to the landed gentry, but to those who of necessity live in more crowded quarters.

That doesnít mean all the acreage of this delightful and wealthy county must aim to be developed or turned into a dense, first ring suburb. It does, however, mean that planning and maintaining open spaces requires strategies for establishing a diverse countryside as well.

There must be little towns where people can buy homes that donít break the bank. There must be municipal centers where people can gather to have a parade, do their Christmas shopping and take their Karate lessons.

There must be roads and sewers and power lines to serve the inhabitants -- the wealthy and the not-so.

We have heard alleged open space devotees rail against the box stores, the power stations and the bypasses. But when it plays out, these things are necessary.

There is more to Chester County than fresh air, forests and sunshine. It is a vibrant region where people of all kinds -- city mice and country mice -- can live their lives comfortably.

The county plan, Landscapes, suggests denser population areas connected by roads and highways of lesser density (or open space). Thatís as it should be.

Go ahead and breathe the fresh air, but remember that it takes more than open space to make a fulfilled life.