July 2018

Line in the Sand: “For the times they are a-changin’.”

Author: Barry Kaufman & Courtney Hampson | Photographer: M.Kat Photography

Opinion 1: Barry Kaufman

The Town of Hilton Head Island recently wrapped up its strategic visioning process, and as usual everyone has themselves worked up in an absolute tizzy over it. We get worked up into a tizzy so often around here, I feel like everyone’s walking around with, like, eight layers of tizzy, forming a cocoon of misplaced aggression around them. It’s a lot of tizzy, is what I’m saying.

And I get it; part of the problem this process tried to address is the fact that this tiny island has a remarkable amount of diverse lifestyles. There are, for example, those who drive their Lexuses up to their gated communities after a day spent on their yacht. Then there are those who drive their Maseratis up to their gated communities after a day spent on their yacht. It’s a wide swath of different perspectives. You’re just not going to please everyone.

But some of the charges being leveled against those who worked to formulate this vision, and the process itself, are inherently unfair. In discussing this month’s topic, Courtney pointed out that a firm from Minnesota isn’t the best arbiter of what makes Hilton Head Island special. To which I would point out that she is from New Jersey and I am from Ohio. No one is from here. We all come here to ruin Hilton Head in our own unique way. Why shouldn’t Minnesota get a seat at the table?

And just look at some of their recommendations. More integrated and accessible communities? Increased employment? Year-round tourism? How could anybody not be on board with that? Ohhhh, wait, I think I see the problem. Bullet point number one. Younger and more ethnically diverse citizens and a multi-lingual community. I’ll let you draw your own conclusion why some people might have a problem with that, but it rhymes with “race his hum.”

Look, my biggest problem with what was done is that all these meetings and brainstorming sessions produced a list of things we need to pursue that should be pretty self-evident in the first place. More mass transit. Enhanced environmental quality. Creating a diversity of recreational, arts and quality of life offerings. What is wrong with these ideas?

The only thing I see on their punch list that I can’t really wrap my head around is the recommendation that we should create a historical district. I’m not really sure how one goes about doing that. Don’t you just build a district and then wait?

Maybe I’m missing something here. A lot of the angry voices I’ve heard in the wake of this thing are laboring under the impression that the vision for Hilton Head Island includes tearing down the gates and opening up private golf courses so we, the unwashed slovenly masses, can get our stink all over them. That phrase pops up in literally every angry letter to the [Island] Packet I’ve read: “eliminating gated communities.” I’m not seeing that anywhere in this vision.

It’s not about tearing down the gates. If you want to live behind the gates, live behind the gates. You worked hard for what you have, and God bless you for it. This is about building something outside the gates that will make Hilton Head Island a better place for everyone else. It doesn’t hurt you, it doesn’t affect you and, if you want to sequester yourself, it doesn’t even concern you.

But just know that if the island outside the gates turns out to be as nice as this vision is predicting, you’re more than welcome to step outside and share it with us. We promise not to get in a tizzy over it.

Opinion 2: Courtney Hampson

I’m quite excited about this month’s topic. Primarily because for the first time since I began writing this column (nearly a decade ago), I might be qualified to comment on the topic. Shoot. You might even call me an expert. Or at least on the cusp of expert status.

When I am not penning prose to challenge Barry or teaching public communication, I am lucky enough to be employed by the Palmetto Bluff Development Company. It is the only job I’ve known in my 13 years in Bluffton and wildly different from what I did up north. If you had ever told me I would work for a real estate developer, I would have balked at the idea. But once I saw the place, I was smitten and the rest … is history.

And, indeed it is the history of the place that informs the present and the future.

In his epic ESPY Awards speech circa 1993, Jim Valvano said, “Know where you have been, where you are now, and where you want to be …”

I love that speech. I show it to my public communication students every semester. These days, most of them have never heard of Valvano. They may be aware of the ESPY Awards, but they likely haven’t watched the awards, and they certainly don’t know what the Arthur Ashe Humanitarian Award is or that Valvano was the first recipient. But what happens in my classroom when we watch that speech is magic; in 11 minutes, my students go from looking at me like I have two heads to laughing, maybe shedding a tear, but certainly knowing who Valvano is and understanding his message.

For many in my classroom, that speech was delivered before they were even born, but Valvano’s words leave an impact, especially for a couple dozen 20-somethings who haven’t quite figured out yet where it is they want to be.

What does this have to do with Hilton Head’s newly adopted vision? Well, a lot.

Hilton Head Island’s most recent history is a result of the vision of Charles Fraser. His idea, born in the late 1950s, transformed a pine forest into the renowned Sea Pines. His 2002 obituary in The New York Times said, “Sea Pines became one of the first projects to combine golf and real estate development in a planned community, one of the first to use covenants and deed restrictions to protect the environment, and one of the first to promote intergenerational recreation in the same enterprise.”

And, it has forevermore been a beacon for other real estate development. “I felt you could be economically successful developing this beach either way, ugly or beautiful,” Fraser said in an interview with Southern Living magazine. “There’s no law of economics that says ugliness pays. I selected beauty and set out to make it work economically.”

You can’t change the vision of a place. I learned this early in my development career and live it every day. The vision for Palmetto Bluff penned on September 27, 2001 remains the guiding light for everything we do. With at least 20 years of development left at the Bluff, it is crucial that we keep these words top of mind with every decision we make. Sure, people have tried to deviate from the vision (they don’t work there anymore), but it doesn’t work. About two years ago, in our awkward teenage years, we stepped back and spent almost a year studying that original vision and talking through how the place has evolved. Evolution does not mean you change the vision. Our evolution has meant expanding our story and adding to the chapters as time goes on.

Hilton Head Island has a 60-page initial document regarding re-envisioning the island. Of all the ideas, there is one glaring miss for me: the desire for “a historical district that encourages a downtown/town center environment and enhanced walkability.” You can’t create a historical district in the present. A historical district becomes historical when it is old. Hilton Head, let’s not fabricate the past. And let’s not create a future that is not authentic to the past. Let’s focus on the issues that need to be fixed and use the past to figure out what happens next. Make Mr. Fraser proud.

  1. I take offense at this statement:

    “Younger and more ethnically diverse citizens and a multi-lingual community. I’ll let you draw your own conclusion why some people might have a problem with that, but it rhymes with “race his hum.”

    I was probably one of the commenters to the story about “Vision” in the Island Packet to whom you are referring. It isn’t racism to believe that the role of government doesn’t include this sort of social engineering. Your knee-jerk “racism” accusation is the sort of identity politics that is driving this country apart.

    Hilton Head Island doesn’t have any barriers to a person of any race, creed, or national origin. Everyone is welcome to move here. The government of South Carolina and the United States have already done their part. It is illegal to discriminate against anyone when it comes to employment or housing based on race, religion, or national origin. Any such discrimination should and would be punished if it is reported and verified.

    I’ve only been a resident for two years. I’ve wanted to move to Hilton Head from the first time I vacationed here in 2006. Two years ago I asked my employer for permission to work from home and it was granted. At 54, I may not be the younger citizen that this plan desires and I am just another middle-aged white guy. But as a work-from-home IT professional, I am part of a growing workplace trend that may result in a younger and likely more diverse population. Just give it time.

    No government strategy helped me move here. I don’t have a story of overcoming great obstacles to get here. I’ve put in more than two decades with my employer and they were willing to let me start a new chapter in my life and become a remote employee. Basically one day I asked, they said yes. That‘s it. Two and a half months later, I was an islander. I do live in a gated community because that’s where I found a house in my price range; the gates just happen to be there. I do have a vehicle, but they must have screwed up at the factory. Where’s it’s apparently supposed to say “Maserati,” it says “Jeep.”

    My point is that there is no structural barriers in place to keep anyone of any background from moving to Hilton Head. It’s not an easy place to move to. High-paying employment opportunities here are always going to be fairly limited. That is the nature of a tourism-based, service economy. The barriers are financial. The population is largely white, but that doesn’t mean that the government should step in to diversify the community. The American population was a whole is getting more diverse; as this is a great place to live, in time that diversity will happen in Hilton Head as well.

    — Ken Rosenzweig    Jul 1, 02:14 pm   

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