Encouraging signs amidst the squabble

Published 7:41 pm Tuesday, August 25, 2009

A significant amount of effort has been expended this year by residents of North Suffolk and South Suffolk arguing over the relative merits and importance of their own parts of the city.

Many of the folks in South Suffolk argue that the people in the city’s newest communities — many of which are located in the northern end — do not appreciate the city’s history or the importance of its heritage. Old-Suffolk residents worry that the influx of residents without roots eventually will translate into a complete loss of the city’s identity.

Those engaged in the argument from the north end, on the other hand, often say they find Downtown Suffolk to be irrelevant in light of the other shopping and dining destinations available nearby. Downtown Suffolk, they say, has limited parking, limited shopping opportunities and access issues that make it unworthy of the drive.

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Both sides, of course, make some good points. People moving into Suffolk’s newest neighborhoods along Route 17 are less likely to feel a connection to the city’s heritage than they do to Norfolk or Chesapeake, and they are unlikely to be satisfied with a city that offers the limited amenities of a rural county. Those folks, in turn, have a point about Downtown Suffolk: There are too many vacancies and too few destination retailers in the city’s core business district to attract large numbers of people from across town.

The fact is, however, that both parts of the city are vital to its continuing success. Without the taxes raised in North Suffolk, the city would be unable to accomplish many of the goals leaders have set for it. And without a vibrant downtown area, the city would lose much of its soul.

Cities without vibrant downtown areas have trouble building their identities. Just ask anyone in Virginia Beach, where city officials believed the need to be so great that they actually began building a downtown area in the Pembroke area.

It is heartening to see that a growing number of businesses and individuals are stepping in to revive Downtown Suffolk and, thus, restore its heart. With the opening of new professional offices and a new restaurant, as well as construction of new retail and apartment spaces, things are beginning to look up again. Even in the aftermath of a fire that closed three W. Washington Street businesses recently, optimism shows in the fact that business neighbors have begun a fundraising effort to help get one of the building owners back on her feet.

Downtown Suffolk’s revival might be slow going, but it is vitally important to the city’s future. Folks in all parts of the city should encourage it.