Call to Beaufortonians: “Step up to the plate”

Call to Beaufortonians: “Step up to the plate”

By: Deborah Gray

The recent city of Beaufort retreat (March 22nd and 23rd) brought to the forefront multiple concerns, questions and considerations as Beaufort officials continue to grapple with the updating of the community’s strategic plan.

  • How is the priority of a safe environment ensured when 60% of Beaufort’s crime is attributable to non-residents?
  • Is economic innovation dependent upon growth?
  • With demographic influx skewed towards retirees, how does the city hold onto and attract work-age individuals to enable economic growth?
  • What can be done to address the disconnect between city and county when park maintenance, for example, is the responsibility of the county and usage is increasing?
  • How can communication with the state be improved?
  • What new players should be included in the strategic plan – cybersecurity, the Black Chamber of Commerce?
  • How can growth be managed to protect another priority, environmental sustainability?
  • Are the various quantitative reports being compiled and released sufficient for contextual background, accurate depiction, planning and satisfaction of citizen queries?
  • How might growth be fostered without rural sprawl?

Constraints emerged: limited investment monies; staffing loads; difficult application processes; prospective company incentive demands as a condition of locating to Beaufort; citizen distrust and inadequate citizen education. While many fear too much development and in-fill has, and is, occurring, residents of the Northwest Quadrant are vocalizing their sense of city neglect.

Lessons from the past were shared, such as: financial incentives for home repairs may increase temporarily the life of at-risk housing stock, but a one-shot fix doesn’t address the financial ability of homeowners to maintain the property long-term.

Mayor Murray underlined the growing citizen concern about growth and the direction it is taking. Many fear Beaufort’s unique historic fabric is at risk. Murray stressed that change is undoubtedly coming; the city’s challenge is to shape that change to benefit all of Beaufort’s residents. Additionally, consideration needs to be given to what makes Beaufort desirable as a destination for both tourists and those seeking to relocate.

Crucial to how all of the above plays out in real time will be resolution of the fundamental retreat question: do we approach the issues of land use, development, growth and in-fill from a neighborhood by neighborhood approach or from a comprehensive lens?

I would advocate a temporal and binary approach rather than choosing between the two. First, assess each neighborhood/quadrant. What is the unique historic fabric, current conditions and usage, physical, economic and demographic; needs and actual or potential contributing strengths to an overall vibrant and unique Beaufort? Once such a survey is done of all of Beaufort’s neighborhoods the data and portraiture should be aggregated. That highlights problems to be addressed, whether they be of funding, resources, zoning and regulations, perceptions or other. What patterns emerge? What possibilities can be unleashed through procedural and specification updates consistent with Beaufort’s existing and agreed-upon character? These findings then need to be synthesized into a visionary, yet workable blueprint for Beaufort’s evolution forward.

City leadership and management involves representation, vision, planning, execution and oversight. Also crucial to a positive outcome is informed and widespread citizen involvement. Let’s not drop the ball, but rather as Beaufortonians step up to the plate.

A Massachusetts native, Deborah Gray taught history on the college and university levels for many years, retiring from WPI (Worcester Polytechnic Institute). Among her frequently taught courses was urban history, an interest stoked by her own coursework in American history, historic architecture and preservation. In addition to her teaching career she held numerous positions in Clark University’s (Massachusetts) Goddard Library. Having relocated to Beaufort in 2016, Deborah is now employed in the USCB Library.

Editor’s comment:

If you are concerned about the direction the City of Beaufort is taking, especially in its Historic District, you are automatically a member of the Beautiful Beaufort Alliance, sponsored by The Beaufort TribuneClick here to see the goals of the Beautiful Beaufort Alliance and what you can do to help.