Letter – Community as ecosystem

Published 6:02 pm Tuesday, February 6, 2024

Editor, The Smithfield Times:

Back in the early 1950s, one of my great-uncles and his wife bought a modest house in the middle of a cabbage patch somewhere between Norfolk and Virginia Beach. Within a decade, the crops surrounding my uncle’s home were bulldozed and paved over with houses. Development out of control created the Virginia Beach-Chesapeake megalopolis. That can happen here unless we elect leaders who care more about our community’s quality of life than the quantity of prospective tax dollars. 

Right now, housing development, as has been noted by various writers to this newspaper, is out of control. As a science writer, I know that the health of ecosystems depends on a balance of the interrelationships that comprise them. In the human body, uncontrolled development of cells leads to cancer. Fortunately, medical science has developed treatments that can reverse this process and lead to remission, even cures, of some cancers. 

Subscribe to our free email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

But there is no such “treatment” for uncontrolled development in a community’s ecosystem. Without thoughtful planning, an invasive species can do irreversible damage to an ecosystem. On the level of our community ecosystem, developers function as invasive species, waiting like rapacious birds of prey to grab every available acre of farm, field and woods, if our leaders allow it. 

I recommend an ecosystem approach when considering any further development and requests for zoning variances. Consider the interrelationships of fields, forests, streams, schools, streets, traffic, sanitation, water, agriculture, medical services, etc., that comprise the ecosystem we call home. Otherwise the qualities of life that make Isle of Wight County the seventh fastest-growing county in our state will be replaced by a megalopolis that overcomes the area’s carrying capacity. 

I grieve to see what were once working farms bulldozed and paved over, increased traffic and pressure of growing population on the schools. I’m thankful that the farm where I was born and grew up outside the town of Smithfield is still a working farm. I applaud Supervisor Renee Rountree’s call for a pause in housing developments and the creation of a task force to study our county’s capacity to adapt to new residents. 

I have lived in three of the world’s great cities — New York, Los Angeles and Paris — and I doubt anyone who lives in Isle of Wight County wants to see our community morph into that level of urbanization, as exciting and wonderful as they are to visit.


Mary Batten Bland