Karen Patel has been on the job as Elizabeth City’s new city planner fewer than two months but already he’s encouraged by what he sees here.
From the city’s charming six historic districts to residential and commercial developments along the Halstead Boulevard Extended corridor, Patel sees a lot of potential for growth.
“Since I came here, I’ve seen some interesting projects come up for discussion,” Patel said. “There are interesting ideas for improvements downtown and in public spaces. When you have multiple commercial and basic services for people living in a particular region, it can attract more people.”
Patel accepted the city planner job in the Harbor of Hospitality in November after working nearly two years in Norfolk, Virginia, and earning a master’s degree in urban planning from Texas A&M University.
Patel is a native of Vadodara, in the state of Gujarat, India. After earning a bachelor’s degree in architecture, he worked as an associate architect there.
Patel said his interest in architecture stems from his passion for creating connections between places and people. That’s possible to achieve, he noted, in small towns where city planners can easily receive feedback from citizens.
Many small-town residents deliberately choose to live where they do, he said, to avoid the drawbacks of urban areas like traffic and congestion.
Patel said when he lived in Texas he saw cities similar in size and population to Elizabeth City. He believes citizens of these communities are more transparent and honest about what they actually want, particularly when it comes to public infrastructure and amenities.
“The people speak about changes they want to see, even in the use of sidewalks, for example,” he said. “I hope to have conversations with the people here so we can determine what we can do that helps the entire community.”
Patel acknowledged that Elizabeth City, like other communities across the country, likely won’t see citizens returning to public spaces in larger numbers until the COVID-19 pandemic is under control. Vaccination efforts currently underway will help accomplish that.