I have always found the culture of North Dakota to be a very fascinating one.
Being born in another state, but having spent most of my life here, it took me many years to truly adapt to the unique culture that we have. Our culture was formed on the East, primarily by emigrants from Scandinavia, who came from a culture of people that were fiercely independent and very humble, but also tended to keep to themselves.
The central part of our state was primarily settled by the infamous “Germans from Russia”. These people left the steps of Russia after having their autonomy within the Russian Empire taken away from them. While they have done a better job of assimilating to the American Culture, it is not unusual to still hear a hybrid of German-English spoken in some parts of the state. The western part of the state had historically been more of a “western” culture, with large ranches and very low populations.
The one thing each of these cultures appears to have in common is a genuine pride in their way of doing things, and a general distrust of the way the rest of the world does things.
To state the obvious, there are some really positive things happening in North Dakota right now. We have record low unemployment, our economy is growing at amazing speeds, and our population is growing. Things are so good right now in North Dakota that even our own Governor has one of the highest approval ratings in the nation (although nobody I ask seems to know why).
All of these positive things have led to many cultural changes in our state. To start with, after generations of families being split apart because the states “best and brightest” left for greener pastures, it is now possible for young North Dakotans to find jobs and be prosperous right her at home. In addition, new people are moving in to this state. A parking lot in western North Dakota is likely to be filled with license plates from several states.
However, I really don’t get the feeling that North Dakotan’s are all that happy with the changes to our culture. Let me be clear, people are happy we have jobs, and they are pleased the economy is good. However, I don’t think people are happy that their lives are being changed. I really feel that people want the good stuff, but not if it means changing their daily lives.
To be blunt, I think North Dakotan’s want the change, but “Not In My Back Yard “(NIMBY).
The first time I personally experienced this was about four years ago when I attended a Zoning Commission meeting in Minot. I don’t remember why this issue needed to be voted on, however, there were plans for a housing complex on the north side of town. The complex was being built for people who live on a low or moderate income. Despite the fact that the land in question was already zoned for multifamily housing, the NIMBY crowd showed up to protest having “those” people living in their neighborhood.
In support of the building was a local employer who talked about the difficulty hiring retail workers due to the exploding cost of housing. However, what should have been a routine vote by the zoning commission was way to close.
Further west in the Bakken, many communities have responded to the growth of employee housing (aka mancamps) by saying NIMBY. Now I understand local communities having a vested interest in regulating employee housing. I know the massive amounts of units have to be monitored for environmental and safety reasons. However, it is the role of government to respond to this increased growth, not to halt the growth. Really the same goes for the tight regulations on RV’s in town as well.
I have also long believed the Williston Church that was banned from housing homeless people also ran into a NIMBY issue.
As hard as we try to hide from this fact, life is changing in North Dakota, and it is going to change in our back yard. While I do think our local and state governments need to do a better job of planning and directing how that change will happen, however, we should not resist change just to protect the “way things have always been.” We are going to see new houses, new apartment buildings and new businesses built in places we never dreamed, and none of that will change what is good with our culture or the things that make North Dakota a great place to live.