Passing of a Developer – Podcast
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Podcast 56: Insights of a Developer
Hello. This is Scott McDonald and welcome to the Perfect Place to Put a Practice Podcast. In case you have missed is, we have introduced a video podcast called “The Demographic Whetherman.” These audio podcasts tend to deal most with trends in demographic issues. The Whetherman is intended to take a national perspective on specific aspects of demography like the differences between the States. Let me start by apologizing to our listeners for not posting a podcast episode for a few weeks. In this case, it was rather unavoidable. About three weeks ago, my father was put in the hospital for a necrotic bowel and things went downhill quickly. He was 92 years old and one would expect that at that age, things can go wrong.
I brought him home and got working with a hospice organization. For days I had the opportunity to attend to his needs 24 hours a day until he passed. And for those of you who have gone through this, getting his affairs in order including the funeral can be exhausting. I am not asking for your pity but if you wanted to bring by a casserole, I would be grateful.
My dad was the one who inspired me to consider the study of demographics. When I was about 11 years old, my father and I were spending a Saturday together, catching up on a little “field research” for his general contracting business. He was Henry McDonald, a self-taught general contractor and architect of homes located in Southern California. We were visiting Thousand Oaks and Hidden Hills not far from where the Ventura Freeway entered Ventura County. It was 1968 and the area was almost entirely undeveloped. We hiked along a dusty dirt road for about 20 minutes as it gently curved around a hill with a few oak trees and lots of dry, native grass. He stopped and told me to look around the road we had taken both in front of us and behind. Then he asked me what I saw.
Being a pre-teen, I told him the obvious facts of the scene. I included the puffy clouds, the dust, and the hills that surrounded us. He smiled down at me. He said that he saw a four lane road with retail stores set back from the street, several restaurants, and a strip mall (or its equivalent) lining the road that branched into local residential roads heading up the various hills. He said that while the tops of the slopes were single-family homes. Toward the bottom were two and three story apartment buildings surrounding a club house. Further along would be a “pitch and putt” golf course in a little valley that could just be seen in the distance.
Did my father really see all this?
As remarkable as it sounds, he not only saw the little development, he knew how much the houses would cost, would you likely finance the construction of the apartments, and several potential anchor store brands that would provide the retail outlets. Now, you should know that my father had a high school education and no college at all. He learned about construction and contracting, architecture and land-development “in the streets.” In a more cynical age, potential clients would have thrown him out the door and no lender would have considered his proposals without a researched impact study and lots of data. Southern California was serving veterans, men and women who had been through the Great Depression and World War II. This was a time of building and development and my father was a builder and a developer.
For my part, I had no interest in drawing plans, considering elevations, sweating over permits, and then spending evenings with subcontractors and clients, trying to get all of them to see his vision. Being close to one’s father’s profession can certain make one sour to the “wonder” of it. I had other plans in the world of market research, speaking, and writing. I was sure I would avoid the trap of my dad’s business. But here I am, still looking at dirt roads in empty landscapes and seeing things that aren’t there. My father was fairly successful, part of a breed that had a native sense of the relationships between people and places. There is something he taught me that has changed my life, my career, and my perspective: a place has no meaning, no value, and no context without people who live and work on it. To understand a place on must understand the people who endow that place with something that breathes, and eats, and works, and loves, and dies in that location. While a place will still have the same longitude and latitude it has always had, that space will be different based upon the people who are found there. There is an inextricable relationship between a place and the people. To know the one, one must know about the other. To see into the future, one must learn of the past. And while there are some who will doubt that is possible, one can certain get a glimpse of the future by seeing what a place has been and the people who are there and have been there.
James Burke is famous for his books and television programs entitled “Connections.” These works tended to draw together what appeared to be unrelated acts, inventions, thoughts, and people into a coherent story arc. The invention and implementation of water-power made the creation of industrial textile plants possible which inspired exploration for new sources of cotton is just one such relationship. The world is full of demonstrable relationships between what people do (and where they do it) that can almost appear to have been “guided” by a human impulse or a divine drive. This appears to be an invisible hand (as described by Adam Smith in The Theory of Moral Sentiments and the later The Wealth of Nations) that provides an impetus for development that appears coherent.
My dad has passed and I will miss him. But I want to say one thing in this podcast that I hope will inspire you a little: what you are doing in a building a practice or small business is a miracle. Every project is new. You need true vision and faith and guts to make it come off. And I honor you for trying to do something hard, something that hasn’t been done before, something miraculous. And I am proud to work with you on your visions and dreams. Let’s keep up the good work.
This is Scott McDonald of Doctor Demographics.com. And thanks so much for listening.