Thank you, Bruce Anderson, wherever you are.
You may remember Bruce. Now editor of VIA magazine, Anderson, '79, is the former editor of Stanford, who, out of either compassion or neglect, left his sofa-bed behind when vacating this office several years ago. It has been put to good use recently.
Actually, the research by a cadre of reporters on our land-use cover story produced only one legitimate all-nighter, and the hundreds of hours we collectively logged were enough to induce heavy caffeine consumption. Not that we're complaining. The time we devoted to our story was nothing compared to the work of the folks who produced the documents that we were reading and writing about.
I realized, though, that I was spending too much time mired in mitigation agreements and environmental impact reports when my 4-year-old son, Griffin, challenged me one evening in late November. "Daddy," he said, "I don't like you reading papers all the time." Ouch.
The truth is, the General Use Permit controversy that you'll read about in this issue produced several casualties. Goodwill suffered mightily. For a while last fall, it seemed that all the contributions Stanford had made these past 100-plus years--educating kids, cranking out discoveries--were disappearing like the tops of houses under a fog coming in from the coast. University officials got a whiff of the noxious land-use problems Stanford will deal with from now on and how much work will be required to repair its reputation as a developer.
Not that all of the fiery rhetoric aimed at Stanford was fair, or even accurate. Indeed, truth sometimes took a beating during the GUP process, too.
But that is subtext, really. The question we needed to focus on was why any of this was relevant to a reader in, say, Baltimore, where I'm reasonably sure the words "Supervisor Simitian" carry somewhat less resonance. There are a couple of answers. The first is obvious: the GUP process presented a significant moment (if two years can be considered a "moment") in the history of the University. The outcome had real and lasting implications for Stanford's health. But it also was relevant because of what it suggested about where we are as a country as we debate and reconcile the growing dilemma of urban sprawl. Stanford and Silicon Valley offer a microcosm of what may be the most serious issue facing city planners and city dwellers in the 21st century--where are we going to put everybody?
Boomtowns all over America, often fueled by New Economy money and success, are quite literally changing the landscape of the country. People are understandably alarmed at the disappearance of so much land in formerly pristine countryside, and every acre that goes under increases the resolve to save what's left. How will we do that without inhibiting desirable growth?
For me, the GUP process was an interesting preview of this collision of competing interests--the laudable goals of open space protection and the very real need of a dynamic institution to adapt and change. And this was an internal as well as an external debate--University planners themselves have long valued Stanford's open grasslands, otherwise there would be no foothills to fight over.
We've tried to chart some of this territory and to fairly represent the players. Nevertheless, it's a story that probably won't make any of the principals involved particularly happy. And I can understand why. For both sides in the fray, this process was a gut-wrenching, character-testing ordeal. Lives were turned upside down for months on end. Harsh things were said. I hope our coverage shines a light on the complexity of this issue and provides our readers with an understanding of the serious stakes involved. If we haven't done that well enough--or even if we have--I suspect our word on the subject won't be the last.
I know this much. My 4-year-old is happy it's over.
You can reach Kevin at email@example.com.