How is Clearwater’s Character Defined?
By Frank Dame
The question came up of how Clearwater’s character is defined at a recent Citizens Advisory Committee (CAC) meeting where volunteers provide input to the city’s staff on matters of the Comprehensive Plan. Just what is Clearwater’s character, how is it defined and what sets it apart from other cities?
This is an interesting question. Urban planners face a growing concern over threats to community character. The Lexicon Webster Dictionary defines the meaning of character as “a distinctive trait, quality or attribute,” something’s “essential quality or nature,” and “reputation.” A community’s character may include a specific population living within a specific geographic area, amongst which there are shared institutions, values and a significant social interaction. But it may also include the natural, visual and cultural characteristics.
One could say Clearwater is unique to many other cities in that it has an abundance of waterfront, that it is home to the Church of Scientology headquarters or that the county seat resides in this city. But are these really elements of a city’s character that would provide some feeling of character for a stranger visiting the city?
Throughout Clearwater’s Community Development Code emphasis is placed upon preserving a neighborhood’s character when re-development occurs. However, there is a great deal of flexibility in the code and it is important for a neighborhood’s residents to be involved and to guide its redevelopment by defining its character and monitoring its development or redevelopment.
Clearwater is slowly going through a metamorphosis with many alterations to its landscape. The Beach is a good example. Small hotels, once abundant, are being replaced with upscale hotels and resorts. This past week the city celebrated the grand opening of Beach Walk, a $30 million dollar project to attract tourist and citizens alike to its white sand and water. The downtown area is gradually being revitalized with remodeled buildings, new shops and art work. A new marina is about to be constructed adjacent to Coachman Park on the Clearwater Harbor waterfront.
One of the recent pieces of artwork placed in the downtown area, “Sorcerer’s Gate” stirred quite a controversy with its purplish colored arch topped with a ringlet. Some are calling it evil or that it symbolizes a serpent. While there can be many interpretations of any art, it does become a part of defining a community’s character, just as the liberty bell has some significance to Philadelphia, PA’s character. Therefore, significant thought should be given to public art and how it may affect the character of the city.
A couple of members of the Citizens Committee suggested the city incorporate Clearwater’s historical past as well as present into artwork, monuments and plaques in the gateways to the city and in neighborhoods that may help define both the character of the city and its neighborhoods.
In the coming years, our city planners and community leaders will continue to face the issue of community character and the task should not be taken lightly, especially if Clearwater wishes to promote itself as being unique from other cities and having a high quality of life.
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