Column – Let’s grow together to make it ‘one Suffolk’
Published 5:15 pm Friday, July 14, 2023
Suffolk is a dynamic and beautiful community that is growing. With any growing community, access to additional services and improving older communities must ensure that all citizens benefit from the growth.
Supporting our open space and agricultural areas are values that we represent. However, we also recognize that the increase in population requires expanded housing, shopping and job opportunities. According to a recent report by the Weldon Cooper Center, Suffolk has the most significant population percent increase between 2020 to 2022.
The April 2020 census shows the city’s population at 94,324. After the 2022 listing, Suffolk had a population of 99,179. This represents a 5.1% increase.
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As more people choose Suffolk as their home, the need for additional opportunities for access to fresh fruits and vegetables has to go beyond farmer markets.
Many citizens, including myself and most older neighborhoods downtown, live in a food desert.
Food deserts are marked by a need for more stores selling healthy food in local areas. The issue of equitable food access is a year-round issue that cannot be solved with temporary markets. Grocery stores choose communities based on many factors, including the number of rooftops in the target areas.
While serving as Suffolk’s parks and recreation director (2003-2018), I was honored to lead the planning and development of many diverse recreation opportunities.
During this time, I also served on the Executive Committee for Peanut Festival and led the first Taste of Suffolk implementation. I envisioned the Taste of Suffolk as a jump start to additional opportunities for citizens to gather downtown to support the business community long term. However, many vacant buildings remain on Main and Washington streets, and our current businesses must reach their full potential.
Downtown has the potential to be a thriving business community supported by citizens and visitors. It is challenging to achieve this vibrant community. But we can create a more inclusive approach to growth while maintaining what we have and increasing in areas we need.
Suffolk’s Peanut or agriculture heritage is not under siege by the development community, but by not addressing the “market” via training more professionals in the agricultural sciences and management fields. Currently, the growth areas are identified in the city’s comprehensive plan. When implementing the plan is challenged by the old mindset of NIMBY — Not in My BackYard, we will not improve our roads, expand our businesses, increase our jobs, or improve our community. When the vision of developing housing options, inviting companies, and expanding industries are limited to the perspective of one group of people, it negatively impacts the entire city.
If we consider our city a diamond in the “rough,” it has to undergo a process that includes pressure (growth), resulting in the beautiful stone (vibrant neighborhoods and businesses). My interest centers around our young city and the goal of unifying all elements that work together to create “one Suffolk.”
Lakita Frazier is the president and executive director of Smart Grow Suffolk Inc.