Building Character in South Arkansas
I’ll start out with a simple reminder that I choose to live in South Arkansas. There are plenty out there who can say that they were raised here. I’m one of those. Proudly from Stephens. But I’ve now somehow reached the age where I can say that for a larger portion of my life, I have purposely decided that this is the place where I will live, raise my family, and grow my business. In doing so, I’m personally investing in a region and actively promoting others to do the same. So when I titled this post Building Character in South Arkansas, I actually see two purposes to that statement…
First, I look at “building character” as an observation of our built environment. It is an analysis of where we are and where we’re going. We live in a time when 100 year old buildings have ten times the character of most of the new construction happening today. Up to this century, craftsmen built our homes and businesses. Few still exist in that trade. Many homes now are “spec houses”… a row of the same style with one mirroring the next so the “developer” can call it two different homes. Then sale them as if they are prime real estate sitting on a quarter acre lot. Many of our commercial buildings are pre-engineered metal buildings (aka cheapest, fastest, easiest) with the hopes of cladding the front to look presentable. Don’t get me wrong. I’ve done plenty of these. Our client’s budgets can’t withstand fine masonry detailing or elegant woodwork. I call it building to the “lowest common denominator”. An approach where the construction needs to be the simplest form possible so that it can become a reality. Anything more puts the entire project in jeopardy. While a “modern” building and a “traditional” building might use the same materials, it simply costs more to do something… different.
Second, I look at “building character” as an investment in our communities. A seven year return on investment for a developer doesn’t account for community growth over decades. It takes a truer vision to build character. The type of vision where the one casting it is content to never see its reality. The type of vision that is happy to know that others will enjoy it somewhere down the line. I’m painting with a broad brush, but community growth isn’t flourishing around strip malls and pawn shops. Large parking lots many times have more loose buggies and potholes than it does cars. However, most of our prime development areas are just that. The state and city can spend millions improving a main road through town… just to have it lined with metal building after metal building after metal building. Over time, we might as well name that road Industrial Drive. Look at a thirty year old brick structure and compare it to a thirty year old metal building. That is the vision that is being cast in the main arteries of our towns. We need fewer developers looking to make a quick buck and more investors looking of a better reward.
So what do we do? How can we achieve “building character” as we look to invest in South Arkansas? The quote “the first one through the wall always gets bloody” has always interest me. This refers to the simple fact that when you are the first one to try something, run counter to what is currently accepted, or simply want to try to do something different, it can sometimes feel like you are attempting to crash through a wall. I am by no means presuming myself to being the first one to tackle this subject in our area. Many others have invested tremendously in these efforts over decades and lifetimes dedicated to these goals. But the wall is still there in many ways. I am a firm believer that very little lasting change comes from government, corporations, or those outside our region throwing money at these issues. Lasting change comes from grassroots investors in these communities. Local individuals and businesses looking to lead in these issues. And while I’m at it… do not limit “investors” to those writing checks for these brick and mortar projects. The desire for community growth goes beyond a conversation of how we pay for it (even though that is a huge part of the discussion). These are quality of life issues in our community that benefit the entire community. We need more people looking to make that investment and willing to support others who are doing the same.