The author, who served as Southern Pines town manager from 1988 to 2004, has returned in retirement after a three-decade career in city management in three states.

Returning recently to the Sandhills, I have been struck by the familiarity of the public discourse related to development and the environment.

Too often, a no-growth-versus-growth dichotomy has been on display. I have always felt that we should all be advocates for quality growth. We need to elevate the quality of what gets built and where it gets built.

Are we producing a new built environment that rivals what Patrick and Tufts created in the original development of Southern Pines and Pinehurst? Are we preserving the best features of our natural environment for ourselves and its other, nonhuman inhabitants? And if not, why not? Do we not deserve to live in beautiful surroundings? Do we not owe it to future generations to create a better environment that they will also cherish?

While I lived elsewhere during my three-decade city management career, I returned frequently to the Sandhills and often went for strolls in downtown Southern Pines. In fact, I sometimes visited this downtown more often than I did the downtowns of the cities where I was living at the time. However, I never sought to spend any time in any of the newer commercial developments that have sprung up around here.

This illustrates for me the disconnect between what is cherished from the past and what is being built in the present.

Another aspect of the public discussion that frustrates me involves writers who make no effort to convince readers who do not already agree with them. Unfortunately, we see this in the opinion pages of The Pilot every week, whether in the personal columns themselves or in the letters-to-the-editor in response to those columns.

There is too much polarization in this country, with each of us reading or listening only to those with whom we already agree. Why can’t The Pilot be a place where well-reasoned discussions still have a place in public discourse? Can we not have debates that use logic and facts to try to persuade a reader to consider an alternative position? My hope is that The Pilot can help close the divide that seems to exist in this country, at least in our small area, by fostering more well-reasoned discussion and less polemics.

The paper wants to have more commentary focusing on local issues. I think that there may be more opportunity to bridge the gap on local issues, where there may be less of a partisan divide in the first place than on national issues. I always used to say that there is not a Republican or Democratic way to patch a pothole.

Here and elsewhere, my vocation and avocations have been all about supporting quality growth, creating a livable, well-designed community, and preserving the natural environment. During my three-decade city management career in Delaware, North Carolina and Texas, I reviewed and made recommendations on rezoning and development plans ranging in size from a single-lot subdivision to a new community of over 9 square miles.

Here in Southern Pines, I oversaw the creation of the first Unified Development Ordinance, a master plan for parks, and many of the facilities and infrastructure we use today. I supported our business community by playing leadership roles in the Moore County Chamber of Commerce and the Sandhills Area Land Trust — and, at the state level, the Municipal League and Conservation Trust for North Carolina.

In Delaware, I chaired the Nature Society’s statewide land protection efforts and headed the entity that managed a National Wild and Scenic River for the National Park Service. On the land development side of things, I chaired the Delaware chapter of the Urban Land Institute, the nation’s leading organization of land-development professionals.

Here’s the point: During my career, while writing hundreds of recommendations to Town Councils on public policy issues, I could not assume that everyone reading these recommendations already agreed with me. I never found it helpful to use ridicule or sarcasm. Neither was it helpful to denigrate anyone in the process of making my point, as opposed to using facts and well-reasoned arguments.

That is the spirit I would like to see reflected in these pages. In the exploration of matters of growth, development and preservation of our natural environment, I hope the discussion here will shed more light on issues while generating less heat. Since my life and career have been dedicated to the proposition that rational analysis of problems can result in solutions that provide a better future for the greatest number of people, I look forward to contributing to that debate.

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