Time to rise above

Published 11:32 pm Wednesday, December 21, 2011

If there were ever a question about whether Suffolk remains a divided city more than 36 years after its merger with the former Nansemond County, members of the city’s Planning Commission laid that doubt to rest during their meeting on Tuesday.

The division became evident during a discussion of capital improvements priorities, when a Whaleyville community center and a North Suffolk elementary school briefly became controversial issues. It would seem there’s nothing like a multi-million-dollar construction project financed with taxpayers’ dollars to prove which part of the city a planning commissioner represents.

With $705 million worth of capital projects planned in Suffolk during the next 10 years, one might be tempted to think there will be plenty of pork to go around, no matter which borough is home. Some planning commissioners, however, were quick to find fault with the proposed capital improvements plan.

Email newsletter signup

Instead of a $3-million community center in Whaleyville, which grew by only 249 people from 2000 to 2010, Commissioner Jim Vacalis wondered whether there was a need for a community center somewhere with a few more residents? How about a new downtown library? Or maybe a boat ramp in North Suffolk?

But the mention of North Suffolk proved too much for other Planning Commission members.

“I can’t see depriving the people in Whaleyville and Holland any longer,” Commissioner Arthur Singleton replied. “We’re like stepchildren over there for the past 35 years. To take money out of Whaleyville to build a boat ramp doesn’t make any kind of sense to me.”

When it comes to spending $3 million to replace a small, aging community center in a part of the city that saw such minimal growth from 2000 to 2010, all logic is out the window for some folks. Set aside the fact that during the same period the Nansemond Borough grew by 6,625 people, and the Sleepy Hole Borough added 7,008 residents. What’s important to those who see Suffolk as two cities is that folks who live in the right part of Suffolk — which, of course, depends on who’s speaking at the time — get their fair share.

Incredibly, many of those same folks who argue that Whaleyville and parts of Old Suffolk have been overlooked since the merger also trumpet the rural nature of their communities. They don’t want wider roads, or factories or subdivisions to change the nature of their community, but they’d gladly accept a bit of traffic congestion for a flashy community recreational center or a big new school, even if the demographic evidence proves spending money on those projects would be wasteful.

As long as people are people, many of them will be petty, selfish and egocentric, and those traits will shape the political discourse of government at all levels. But unless Suffolk’s local politicians learn to hold themselves to a higher standard, those basic human frailties will sap the city of its momentum and ensure a permanent and costly division between its citizens.