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BEACON PHOTO/MARSHA MCLAUGHLIN DOING COMMUNITY — Doing community can mean sharing your bread with the ducks that live in the Earl Brown Park pond, as Carter O’Fray does during the July Fourth celebration at the park this summer. Writer Wendy Anderson asks if DeLand has set aside enough public spaces for “doing community” and gathering for informal exchanges.

How do you make a difference? How do you effect change? You have to show up.

It’s time. While many of us have followed public health recommendations and pulled back from too much public engagement during the pandemic, policymakers have continued to make decisions that impact all of us.

DR. WENDY ANDERSON

Maybe you’ve emailed or shown up for Zoom meetings, but at some point, if you’re vaccinated, it’s time to show up — in person.

This is not about the pandemic, though. In 2019 B.C. (Before COVID), the City of DeLand staff invited public feedback on an update to its DeLand 2050 Vision document. And even then, the general public offered very little input. Among the very few people who showed up to an in-person visioning session were a couple of land-use attorneys. Hmmm …. explains a lot, eh? Let’s do better next time.

When we talk about what we love about DeLand, we often talk about its walkable scale and the cultural and business features of Downtown. Let’s acknowledge that the architecture is important, too, for creating a certain character.

Most people recognize that those features translate to a sense of community. But “doing community” requires showing up — showing up to “do Downtown,” showing up for events, showing up in the places and spaces where we see and meet others and share a kind word, express our concerns, or simply exchange a smile.

As we continue to grow toward 40-, 50- or 60,000 residents, have we set aside enough public spaces for “doing community”? Do we have enough public parks for walking, biking and reflecting? Do we have enough public “plazas” for gathering?

Do we have a variety of recreation spaces that are inclusive of all ages and socioeconomic groups? Do we have enough places to participate in the arts and to celebrate our diverse cultures of DeLand? Do we have enough spaces in our urban core that are dedicated for new locally owned businesses to stimulate our local economy?

No, we don’t have enough. For a city that claims to be “The Athens of Florida,” we invest so much less than other cities do in community assets and quality of life for our residents.

These are the types of places for informal public exchange that we need to prioritize if we are going to continue nurturing the strong sense of community that defines DeLand even as it grows. For all the new residential developments being approved, how will we ensure concurrent investment not just in roads, utilities and schools, but in the urban infrastructure and architecture that facilitate community?

It’s time to show up and share your views. When the Beresford Reserve proposal to redevelop the Sandhill Golf Course returns for continued consideration by the City Commission, it will be time to tell your elected officials and city staff what you think about the plan to add more houses to the urban core of DeLand.

Shouldn’t this massive, green space be saved as an asset for the entire city to create more public spaces for recreation, the arts, and small-scale, locally owned businesses that stimulate community interactions? (Let’s not forget, though, that part of this site is also an old dump full of buried waste and surface contaminants that shouldn’t be too disturbed.)

And it will be time to show up again later this fall when a call goes out from a loosely affiliated group of citizens to create a vision for A Better DeLand. Stay tuned by sharing your email with BetterDeLand@gmail.com. We need your voice.

— Anderson is a professor of environmental science and studies at Stetson University, and 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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