Celebrate the diversity

Published 9:29 pm Thursday, July 23, 2009

One of the things I like best about living in Suffolk is the amazing diversity that the city boasts.

Spend an hour or two driving the city’s highways and back roads, and you’ll see what I mean. Start your trip around the Great Dismal Swamp, for instance, and you’ll be in a remote area where there are more bears than people. Less than 30 minutes away is the densely populated downtown area.

One of my favorite examples of the dichotomy that makes Suffolk a true “tale of two cities” is the drive along Route 58. Headed east from Franklin, a traveler passes a cotton gin, corn cribs and assorted farm equipment as his tour takes him through some of the most fertile farmland in the state before heading past industrial parks and growing suburban centers.

Take the exit in Chesapeake for I-664 and, soon after you re-enter Suffolk, you will pass through a community of some of the most technologically advanced industries in the state, a place where medical, computer and military innovations are helping to change the world.

There is much to appreciate in Suffolk, no matter where you are at any given time. Unfortunately, all those different parts of Suffolk haven’t yet learned how to appreciate each other.

The rancorous debate surrounding a proposal to move the city’s annual Christmas parade from the downtown area to North Suffolk is a good example of the low esteem the two parts of the city often have for each other.

“If I were going to drive all the way to North Suffolk, I might as well go on to Norfolk or Chesapeake,” is a common refrain from those in favor of keeping the parade downtown. I actually had a conversation with one well-known citizen recently who suggested that the 1974 merger between Suffolk and Nansemond County was never meant to create one city, just one government.

Meanwhile, retailers downtown continue to struggle and wonder why people from North Suffolk — much less the rest of Hampton Roads — often are so reticent about visiting their shops. And they completely miss the irony of their proclamations regarding “how hard it is to get to North Suffolk.”

Last time I checked, nearly all of Suffolk’s roads have two lanes, with traffic going in both directions.

Until Suffolk can learn to embrace all of its diverse communities for more than just the money they can contribute to the city’s tax coffers, it seems a bit unrealistic for city officials and business owners to expect that they can attract the interest — or the business — of people who don’t even live here.