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I was at a ribbon-cutting recently at the DeBary SunRail station, for a new kiosk featuring maps of bicycle trails and cultural and environmental sites. 

Volusia County Chair Jeff Brower gave some inspiring remarks about investing in infrastructure that supports health and well-being, economic development associated with recreation and connection to nature, and activities that keep our young people around both for their weekend entertainment and longer-term after they graduate from high school or college.

I had been thinking about this quite a lot, too, because I have a 17-year-old who rarely stays in West Volusia for “fun.” 

She and her friends run off to Orlando for concerts, to Lake Mary for Topgolf, or to New Smyrna Beach or OneDaytona. What would keep them here?

I also hear what my Stetson University students do on the weekends (besides study, of course?!). They seek out cool, low-cost places to gather, to be active, to have fun competition, and to relax in nature. 

Even my uber-urban teen loves Blue Spring State Park and the Sandra Stetson Aquatic Center at Lake Beresford.

For those young people who don’t have cars or the ability to get to places too far from their home communities, how can we prioritize new development plans in West Volusia that add value to the people of all ages who already live here?

In addition, with the DeLand SunRail station now approved, we will have a new influx of visitors arriving without cars into our community for daytrips or weekend getaways. 

What will they do once they (somehow) get into town from the distant train station? 

Our Visit West Volusia office has plenty of great ideas, and the MainStreet DeLand Association has succeeded in making DeLand’s Downtown a vibrant destination. But could we provide more diverse, leisure and entertainment activities to make DeLand and other West Volusia communities an even more exciting place for visitors or for residents of all ages to enjoy local life?

Across West Volusia, communities are buzzing about ways to add new, distinctive, destination districts. 

DeBary’s Main Street development plan that connects to the DeBary SunRail station presents one interesting model for mixed-use residential and commercial and recreational districts. 

At the heart of DeLand’s current urban core, ideas are being seeded for how to support more economic development in conjunction with the forthcoming Voorhis Streetscape improvements that would connect Downtown to the rich culture in the Spring Hill community just to the south.

Two weeks ago, this column helped us imagine a more community-focused, mixed-use redevelopment of the abandoned Southridge (aka Sandhill) Golf Course a couple of blocks east of Earl Brown Park — in lieu of just more single-family houses. 

Infill development is considered smart growth, but infill can be more than just housing, and it can retain valuable green space that is being repurposed for more intentional economic activity and community gathering.

Last week, this column focused on the value of having a network of multiuse trails for nonmotorized commuting and recreation.

All of these contribute to quality of life in our communities, and they ultimately pay off in retaining our educated young adults and attracting new, enterprising businesses that create more well-paying job opportunities for young adults.

In any visioning processes, are we asking our youth and young adults what they want in their community?

— Dr. Wendy B. Anderson is a professor of environmental science and studies at Stetson University, and the chair of the Volusia Soil and Water Conservation District Board of Supervisors. She has been promoting sustainable community development for 20 years.

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