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The future of Camden

Posted: May 18, 2017 1:39 p.m.
Updated: May 19, 2017 1:00 a.m.

Former elected officials, namely me, probably have no business writing columns about the city, but many people continue to imagine I can still address what they perceive as problems to be solved.  Probably the hardest part of being the former Mayor is listening to residents (still) telling me the town is going to pot.  

I used to answer the death wish crowd defensively with specific facts and figures, such as the increasing numbers of students in our schools, such as the fact that in every continent on earth the new generations leave their small towns for the big cities, such as the fact that Columbia is not only growing apace, but is heading in our direction.  If Camden eventually becomes a Columbia bedroom community, consider Greenwich, Connecticut and Bethesda, Maryland.  Another fact: Between 2000 and 2015, combined private sector employment in nine southern and gulf coast states grew 13.5 percent: Jobs are coming our way.

A couple of weeks ago someone told me city council doesn’t care about historic preservation, a keystone to financial and cultural growth, quickly adding, “I don’t mean you.”  Did this person know about the Bailey Bill Council passed last year?  “Gosh, no.”  The Bailey Bill offers tax incentives to people renovating historic properties.  Why didn’t she know about the Bailey Bill?  If residents don’t read the local paper, well and good, but don’t turn on council. What about the new and improved (and expensive) guidelines for historic renovation council went to great trouble to pay for and work with three years ago? If anything, we need a common will for better zoning in the downtown commercial district so we don’t look like every other small town in the South.  We have a distinctive, unpretentious, simple beauty we need to own.  It will serve us well as the century progresses.   At this point, the operative phrase is “a common will,” not just a council vote.  Council is not the Twelve Apostles.  They need your input -- and support.   We see the common will at work in our support of our military and our sports teams. What about the way we look?  A town’s prosperity has everything to do with how it looks.  In the meantime, we are burying power lines and improving signage. Thank you, city hall and public works.  We have incredibly good people at city hall.  Please thank them,  too.

My post-mayoral awareness about moving forward comes down to first acknowledging the founders of the country.  The frequently demonized Puritans -- and the first immigrants to South Carolina as well, moved into a new and uncharted land with no roads, sewers, public transportation, schools, hospitals, or libraries, much less theatres and art museums.  John Kennedy got it right when he said, “Ask not what your country can do for you.”  Yes, with our latter-day awareness of the immorality of slavery and of Native American wreckage, the founders nonetheless remain our role models: they created a country out of a wilderness.

My final comment is my conviction that the death wish crowd is not very informed.  Undoubtedly, friends and colleagues of Thomas Edison and Nikola Tesla and Henry Ford and Steve Jobs told them the world was going to hell in a handbasket too.  Being who they were, they went to work and created specific solutions that have only enhanced our way of life.  We are moving forward into an even more connected and interdependent world community.  Increasingly, we are learning that 99 percent of the planet wants the same peace and prosperity we do.  Increasingly, we are learning how to handle the war mongers among us who cannot seem to move beyond a barbarian mindset.  Increasingly, we are learning how to create cheap energy and cheap fresh water – and share innovation on a worldwide scale. Increasingly, we are aware that if we want to move forward we need to support the geniuses among us who come in every color from every economic group. Remember where we were 100 years ago: women could not vote; Americans were usually dead by 50; minorities were kept in their so-called place; we had no TV, internet, contact lenses, penicillin, central air -- and the specter of war invaded our waking dreams.

As the great lyricist, Oscar Hammerstein put it so well, “I hear the human race is falling on its face, and hasn’t very far to go.  But every whippoorwill is selling me a bill and telling me it just ain’t so!”

Take it from me, it just aint so.

God bless.

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