Treat her like a parent
In 1851 when the Fort Des Moines Dragoon military outpost officially incorporated, it bore little resemblance to the city that sprung up around the confluence of the Des Moines and Raccoon rivers. There were no other towns – today’s suburbs – in its shadows. Valley Junction wouldn’t be settled until nearly 50 years later, a lifetime in those days. Other suburbs officially became cities in the 1900s, starting with Urbandale in 1917 and ending with Clive in 1956.
At the time, the development boom occurring around the city, whose name was shortened to Des Moines six years after incorporation, probably wasn’t a vexing concern for leaders. Without the benefit of hindsight, it was seen as natural spawning, indigenous development that made the area as a whole vibrant and economically sound, not a somewhat cannibalistic development pattern that left the mother city itself struggling and the area as a whole speaking with a discordant chorus of voices.
Des Moines is rather like an aging parent who has borne and reared several children and who, though aging gracefully, requires more trips to the doctor and faces more expenses in later life just to remain healthy. Just as parents sacrifice some of their assets so their children have the benefit of college education or enjoy a quality of life that is better than their own, Des Moines gave up much of its wealth, or tax base, to ensure that its citizens and those across the state would have access to health care, cultural amenities and government services, and enjoy a higher quality of life.
Most children don’t begrudge the expense of nursing their elderly parents through illnesses. They see the costs as necessary to not only extend their aging parent’s life, but also improve the quality of it. In other words, they don’t kick Mom to the curb and tell her she’s on her own.
Viewing the proposal to merge the Des Moines city and Polk County governments through the same lens, as one prescription to keep the capital city healthy, may help residents sort out the impassioned debate that is sure to precede the Nov. 2 election on the measure. State, county and city leaders have taken great steps to nurse the city back to health, moving forward with $1.6 billion in public projects that will be used by residents statewide. Those and other projects are ambitious and well thought out, but are they enough to cure what ails Des Moines?