Many Missoula residents wonder how the Maclay Bridge controversy matters to them. If they don’t live in the Target Range, Blue Mountain or Big Flat areas or haven’t attended any of the 2012-13 public meetings, it seems irrelevant.
However, this struggle is a community affair. Its essence is about character.
Nearly to a person, residents of Missoula and Missoula County are proud of where we live and work. We honor integrity in how we live together. We expect transparency from citizens and officials alike. We work together to make sure that these qualities continue to define our community. Perhaps this local controversy does matters to us all.
Although a city, Missoula is part of a rural county that applauds and enjoys its spectacular surroundings. Whether city or county, residents have a sense of place rooted in our history with three major rivers connecting us. We have defined ourselves by our open spaces and our desire to protect them.
As we grow, collectively we want to do it wisely with careful consideration to our special sense of place. Each public issue affects how our community changes, retaining the things we value like a small-town feel amid the incorporation of dynamic social trends.
Does having the only one-lane bridge in an urban area left in Montana over a famous Montana river matter to us? Do we think it helps define who we are and what we care about? Is the community’s character compromised if we replace rather than refurbish it? Do we feel that our active pace slows pleasantly if we let a member of our community pass first? Do we find that thoughtfulness feels good?
These are questions for each resident. This local controversy does matters to us all.
Our local and state officials are elected spokespersons for our community. Implicitly, we expect them to stand for the integrity we honor in each other and to display the same transparency with us that we do among ourselves.
Are they listening carefully to citizen comment? Are they forthcoming with why a large-volume bridge is needed there? Are they responding disproportionately to special interests? Are they planning to use taxpayer dollars wisely? Are they putting our money first where it is needed most? Are they strong stewards of our community character?
These questions affect all of us. How well a community works together tackling large or small challenges defines its character. Missoula city and county have a strong reputation to uphold.
All citizens should weigh in. Do we all benefit if a dialogue ensues? Teachers and students are included. Would a high school civics project enjoy a local issue with community impact?
Like democracy itself, our character is strengthened through challenge and specific issues. Personally, my day is better when I wave and smile at a neighbor alongside a defining river right here in River City.