At the confluence of futuristics, community development, and ecology resides our region’s “desired future.” Our desired future, in town-planning terms, is our shared vision today of how we hope to live tomorrow and the places that will enable us to do so. Design is the discipline that enables us to envision, create, and realize our desired future.

In the Borderlands, design of our individual and collective desired futures has typically been ad hoc – that is, without rules or methods, the accumulation of uncoordinated, location- and situation-specific experiments – a ranch here, a tourist attraction there, housing developments and neighborhoods, environmental sanctuaries (and human sanctuaries, too), community organizations, zoning, businesses, schools, jobs , and customs and events – resulting in a melange of individual trials, errors, and successes. We wander toward our common future rather than claiming it and then deliberately working together to make it as we wish. Sadly, our region, so full of smart people and potential, is classified by the USDA as a “zone of persistent poverty.” This needn’t be.

Every decade or two, some new and unexpected development creates an inflection, a turning point, enhancing or limiting our ability to design our desired futures. These inflections have included the expansion of the American nation (and the resulting constriction of native lands and cultures); the discovery of local copper, silver, and gold deposits; the struggle between agriculture and ranching; the construction of railroads and roads; and issues associated with our largest neighbor, Mexico. 

More contemporary phenomena, including national and state party politics, industrialization, labor markets, immigration, local and multi-state water compacts, industrialization, environmentalism, and a kaleidoscope of books, movies, and media portraying us, have accentuated pressures for us to conform to customs and, at the same time, express and act on our individual and collective aspirations. The result for most of us is experienced as mysterious and beyond reckoning, let alone humanly malleable, subject to willful change.

Such is the case now, where a single enterprise, the Hermosa mine owned by South32, promises to generate for its owners and their relatively few Borderlands employees considerable riches – $5 billion from Hermosa itself, multiples of that for each of the 15 locations on the eastern slopes of the Santa Rita range that South32’s CEO, in a global videoconference with international investors, last summer identified as desirable future mine sites. 

At this historic moment, we in the Borderlands communities are faced with a challenge: determine and design our desired future, or cede this responsibility to others. There are many ways and opportunities for Borderlands residents to gracefully conform South32’s desired future to enhance our own, assuming we know what to ask for and the rewards we should receive for sharing. Of course, if we’re not asked, that’s a valuable lesson, also.

Abdicating our regional stewardship by allowing Santa Cruz County to surrender our desired futures for unknown considerations is irresponsible, given the consequences now and for our Borderlands’ future. We should be actively working with the County to make our desired future. But that means getting our own houses in order, too, including bringing up to date the Town of Patagonia’s Economic Development Plan, adopted in 2009, now long in the tooth.

Our economic and communal future can be as great as our past.