Prepare for the inevitable

Published 7:05 pm Tuesday, October 20, 2009

For the “Keep Suffolk the Way it Always Was” crowd, last week’s news that officials expect the city’s population to double during the next 20 years must have hit with the force of the proverbial ton of bricks.

For many of the folks in this group, Suffolk began a terminal decline when it merged with Nansemond County in 1974. All those folks in the hinterlands, it is argued, have diluted the services that the city provides to its residents. The population and economic growth that have occurred in those newer areas of the city — especially in North Suffolk — have provided little benefit to Suffolk proper and have been a drain on everything from education to roads, they claim.

During that period, Downtown Suffolk has foundered, experiencing cycles of resurgence and retreat that have left it in a position that is arguably no better than it enjoyed during the 1970s. Conversely, notwithstanding the current economic climate, North Suffolk has experienced an economic boom with little sign of letting up.

With little room available for new developments in the city’s core, it’s clear that most of the growth anticipated for Suffolk will be in its outlying areas — North Suffolk and other parts of the former Nansemond County. As the city contemplates the best way to handle such an influx of new residents, it would be helpful to leave behind the old attitudes that continue to split Suffolk into separate parts 35 years after they were joined.

We might all prefer to go back to the days when there weren’t so many cars on the road, when neighbors all knew and cared for one another and when there was no need for task forces to fight gang violence. Sadly, those days are gone forever.

The population study should serve as a wakeup call to city leaders and to the back-to-the-past group. Like it or not, Suffolk is a desirable place for those who wish to settle somewhere outside of Hampton Roads’ core. Instead of wishing it were not so, those who want the city to retain something of what has always made it different should focus their efforts on looking for ways to control the expected growth and fit it into a Suffolk that includes housing and agriculture, retail and industry, new and old.

Anything else is just tilting at windmills.