Anticipating an important report

Published 10:19 pm Wednesday, December 7, 2016

It might seem counterintuitive that a city with as much rural area as Suffolk would need a group of citizens devoted to protecting and encouraging green spaces, but the experience with the Obici Place development along North Main Street last year brought into focus the pressure of development on Suffolk’s “green infrastructure.”

When a group of citizens organized to fight a plan to develop the former Louise Obici Hospital site for an apartment complex and retail uses, there had been some hope that the property might be turned into a park or leveraged for its riverside location.

Those pleas fell on deaf ears with City Council, but something good came out of the conversation. With the blessing of the city’s administration, those residents formed a group that sought — and secured — a grant to study Suffolk’s green space needs.

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A meeting last week gave about 100 residents a chance to weigh in with their thoughts on the matter. Participants were able to rank their desires for recreational opportunities, discuss how to create more natural areas accessible to the public and even consider how much of the city should be covered by trees.

Should Suffolk have more water access? Should there be additional access points to the Great Dismal Swamp? Where should the next bike trails be located? What sorts of parks are in the city’s future?

Those are the kinds of questions that could eventually be answered by this study.
And make no mistake: These questions are just as important to Suffolk’s future as questions dealing with economic development and educational opportunity.

Studies consistently show that citizens want robust choices when it comes to a municipality’s recreational opportunities. And research continues to prove that ample recreational facilities improve the health of a community, the resale values of its homes and the desirability of its neighborhoods. This is not simply a crunchy-granola environmentalism masquerading as civic pride.

We will be watching for the results of this report with great anticipation. We look forward to further opportunities for civic engagement in connection with it. And we appreciate the efforts of this citizen group to make all this possible.