The title of Stephen Williams’ fascinating PRT essay of June 2, 2022, sounds a relevant clarion: “Don’t Push Locals Aside in the Quest for Tourist Money.” It might stop anyone in mid-stride, especially those looking to develop a resort in Patagonia. But is his an accurate dichotomy?

Williams points to the negative experiences of gentrifying towns throughout the West – places where, in his opinion, locals were pushed aside in the quest for “industrial tourist” dollars to the detriment of their environments, their economies, and their personal life situations – what he would call “holistic” range management, after the work of his hero, the controversial Alan Savory. While Williams’ concern for preserving what’s good about our communities is commendable, he neglects to frame the argument in critical, essential historical truths. 

Santa Cruz County is labeled by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) as “a poverty county” – meaning its economy for the last several decades, and even today, lags behind comparable others in the state and the nation – with no remedy in sight. Further, the USDA identifies Patagonia as “a persistent pocket of poverty” within Santa Cruz County. 

This means not only that commerce is incidental and incomes low, but that opportunities for residents – especially younger residents and others without resources, good jobs, and experience – to surmount such conditions are slim to none. Except literally moving up and out. 

Williams’ solution is to keep out “industrial tourism.” He longs for the return of a regional dreamland, rural communities unpolluted and unpopulated by formerly urban newcomers without a regard for the quality of rural life. 

But that cow is out of the barn so far as our Borderlands are concerned. Our leaders have largely accepted whatever powerful players proffer and hope (a) no one notices and (b) they work out for the best. 

The caboose bestowed on Patagonia by the Hermosa Mine, intended as an historical marker, and the bright, newly paved streets ready for mining truck traffic are reminders that whatever Patagonia was before, it won’t be for long. These tokens arrived with the Supervisors’ blessings and the Town’s obeisance. Before long, the truck traffic will extend via Highways 82 and 83 east to Harshaw, north to Tucson, and west to Rio Rico, so get ready, Canelo, Elgin, Sonoita, and Nogales. Meanwhile, do you know the County’s fire-emergency plan? No? You are not alone. It’s not clear that the County itself knows. 

New places to dance, chat, and have a beer, or to recreate at a suburban dude ranch, are hardly the problem. This isn’t about chasing “tourist money,” horrid though tourists may seem to some. Our real problem – and here Williams and I agree – is we don’t plan for our future. We don’t keep a list of “Things We Want for Patagonia” and the Borderlands region, nor do we devise ways to achieve them. In many Borderlands locales, “policy discussions” means loud conversations at the Lake or in local watering holes. 

This is unfortunate, because collectively we are a smart lot, able and ready to create for ourselves and those who follow a new and brighter future. Harnessing our collective intelligence, creativity, and a missing quality, “foresight,” would enable Patagonia and its neighbors to get out ahead of the changes coming and bend them to our favor. 

This is where Williams and I wholly agree. It’s called planning. It’s called participation. It’s called putting the commonweal ahead of individual gain and too-cautious leadership. That’s the real challenge. Holistic government.

Bob Jacobson, a Patagonia resident, has a Ph.D in Development Planning (UCLA) and was a professor and First Entrepreneur in Residence at Malmö Universitet, Sweden.