Sisters!

Hilton Head Island now has a sister-Verona, Italy-and she wants us to come visit. Last year, when Town Council unanimously agreed to form a pact with this wonderful city, we did so knowing we have a lot in common, as sisters often do. But there are a few differences too.

Just like sisters, there are similarities between Hilton Head Island and this historic northern Italian city. For starters, Verona is the site of the love story of all love stories, Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. This fact entices multitudes of tourists to its attractions. Similarly, our Island attracts romantics as a preferred setting for beautiful ocean- and marsh-front weddings (hopefully with happier endings) and honeymoons. In addition, travelers flock to each of our communities to enjoy the music, art, culture, history and food they’ve heard about or perhaps previously experienced. In spite of expressing these attributes in different ways, the intrigue and engagement are analogous. Both we and our Italian sister are poised on beautiful waterways, diligently preserving our natural resources for current and future generations to experience.

We also have distinct differences from our sibling. Most markedly, Verona’s attractions are man-made, while our Island’s are not. Verona is known for its remarkable structures, intricately and painstakingly constructed during ancient times. Some date back to the Roman Empire and are still visible and in use today. Sites such as arenas, basilicas, portas and piazzas evoke emotion as they roll off the tongue, even more so as they come into view.

On the other hand, our character and values here on Hilton Head Island are primarily derived from what was not built. It’s the land, the water, the sky-and all the vegetation and animation that fill them-that daily tantalize the senses of those of us who call this Island home. Those who’ve historically dwelled here, particularly the Gullah-Geechee people, have set the standards. They leave little impact on the land, using its resources in a sustainable manner and creating a culture of fishing, farming, food, story-telling, art, music and more.

Having a sister with these similarities and differences begs several questions. Conversations that can be difficult arise – such as: Would Verona tear down its historic treasures to accommodate more visitors to fewer attractions, as some other Italian cities have done? Should our Town tear up some of what we hold dear to allow more people to enjoy less of it? The challenge for Verona and for Hilton Head Island, and any other location with attractions that others want to experience, is ever increasing. It is the challenge of preserving and protecting those special qualities for now and in the future – all the while allowing those who would join us in experiencing it to do just that.

Which brings us to where we are today, hearing more and more of these terms emerging in community conversations and the media: balance and sustainability, pillars and visioning. Should things become unbalanced, we must make certain that our largest industry doesn’t derail our current and future quality of life. It is of paramount importance.

As your Mayor, I ask you to take the time to read the Hilton Head Island – Our Future Community Engagement Report and Strategic Action Plan, which you can find at http://lab.future-iq.com/hhiourfuture/reports/. Talk to your friends, neighbors, Town Councilors and me about the Plan. Our sister half way around the world is dealing with some of the same challenges we face right here. We must remember that we are both part of bigger families. And family is always a high priority.

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