Blight smudges our good impression


holly audette opinions


By Holly Audette

Sunday, May 26, 2019

I know how many of you love northeastern North Carolina as I do. Just under two decades now I have made this region my home. I am still frequently in awe of our quality of life.

I chose to get into the hospitality business because I knew I would love introducing this gem of a location to people who have never experienced it before. More and more frequently I am hosting folks looking to relocate here permanently for retirement. They come with very specific lists of what they want in their home and we are fortunate to have much of it.

Folks love that we are waterfront communities with good dining to enjoy them. They like the walking and bike routes, history and local festivals. They also like our arts, architecture, museums and emphasis on local. They love our farms, fresh produce, diversity, our churches, institutions and easy access to much more.

Each week I print out our calendar of events and rarely does a visitor fail to remark at all there is to do, despite many locals claiming otherwise. Invariably one of the biggest compliments we get is about our hospitality. In a big world where civility is at a premium, this particularly stands out to them. They notice how Jim or Meghan will come over and greet them by name, genuinely appreciative of their business. And how Tina will pull pieces from her inventory for a particular potential customer she learns admires items like that. And how locals offer the extra seats at their table in the microbrewery that is always filled with patrons.

Visitors love that our ambassadors in business and government are never too busy to take the time to tell our story, leaving them with a lasting, positive impression. I hope the folks marketing our area never decide to remove the word “Hospitality” from their campaigns. It matters to people.

But the absolutely frustrating thing about being on the receiving end of visitors’ impressions, is the constant refrain about our blight. That we look like our best days are behind us. I know this makes all those people making yeoman’s efforts to improve things deeply frustrated. Sure, we are hampered by limited resources and too-often political mindsets that are maddeningly self-centered, territorial and short-sighted. But there is much we all could do, despite each of those obstacles.

More times than not I find myself steering guests through particular routes to avoid blight. Despite codes and ordinances, little enforcement happens. Certain areas are avoided and ignored altogether. The city spent more than $5 to send me a certified letter with a color photo of a single rose branch half an inch over the sidewalk. Yet, the same commercial and residential properties that have trash, unusable furniture, abandoned vehicles, and overgrown landscaping, etc., are ignored.

Blight does not equate to means. Many of us raised with modest resources or less were taught to be neat and considerate of our neighbors. Blight reduces property values and is often a first and lasting impression of a community. There is no excuse for trash to not be managed properly. Codes and ordinances have already defined trash versus treasure. Common sense tells you parking six cars all over the front lawn leaves a negative aesthetic with bad impacts.

I implore this community and others to make a serious, concerted effort to clean up and enforce codes. It isn’t complicated. No neighborhood should be immune. This city, for example, could give notice that in 30 days trash trucks will pass through each neighborhood on each Saturday for a month, and all trash displayed in violation of codes will be hauled off. Next, we could do something about abandoned vehicles and unusable outbuildings. Landlords should be held responsible for the condition of their property. Too many non-local property owners are not held to codes and could care less about the consequences of their violations.

I look forward to the day when I frequently hear from visitors that we are a beautifully kept community, and it is obvious we are appreciative and proud of what we have. It doesn’t cost a lot to leave a much better impression.

Holly Audette is a small-business owner active in political and civic causes.