Tonight I attended my very first civic community meeting, a kickoff meeting focused on the Harrisburg Area Land Use Planning effort. The meeting was a couple of hours in length, and drew what I would guess to have been about 150-200 people (though I'm really bad at estimating such things). I thoroughly enjoyed myself there — enjoyed seeing other folks in attendance that I know, enjoyed meeting some new folks (including our town's mayor), and enjoyed feeling like I was participating in something of value to my community. I learned several things about my town that I didn't know beforehand. And overall, it was a good opportunity to just listen to what others in my community think about the direction our town is heading.
Harrisburg, NC has in recent years been at odds with itself about land use. Our residents are fortunate to have some of the highest personal income levels in the area, and the town offers some of the lowest tax rates in the area. But we're growing like mad, and that necessarily has town planners busy, you know, planning to accommodate that growth. But how that growth happens has become a bit of a sticking point. It's easy to find folks with extreme opinions about the matter. Many oppose "big-box" commercial development, citing concerns about increased traffic, crime, and low-paying jobs probably filled by folks that can't afford to live in the town itself. Many others are begging for the entrance of large-scale commercial development, hoping that tax revenues from such places will fund the town's growth so that increased personal property taxes don't have to. Some read the phrase "bedroom community for Charlotte" with disdain; some with delight. Reconciling these viewpoints will certainly prove challenging for those tasked with doing so.
I look forward to the next meeting in this series, though I'm more than a little concerned that as the presentations and discussions progress from the general to the specific, these will devolve into battles of opposing viewpoints. Tonight's meeting intentionally cast absolutely no direction, at all, for the town. And yet there were already plenty of folks willing to voice strong opinions about how things ought to be, some of which were definitely assuming a defensive position. That's really not helpful. If you are a Harrisburg resident and happen by some misfortune to have wound up on this blog post, please, please do your fellow citizens the courtesy of not assuming that they want to ruin your quality of living — while a perfect solution that pleases everyone might not be possible to achieve, you can be pretty sure that forsaking honest communication for bickering will hinder the creation of even a tolerable solution.
(Oh. And no, Mom and Mom-in-law, my attendance at this meeting does not mean that I'm gearing up for a bid on a Harrisburg Town Council seat. It was just another way to connect with our community. Sorry to disappoint.)