Salisbury a scenic and inspiring setting for conference
By Ronald Lee Fleming and Margaret Lloyd
For the Salisbury Post
Last fall the Board of Directors of Scenic America, a national coalition of organizations passionate about the visual character of America, met in Salisbury for a multi-day conference with representatives of scenic affiliates from 10 different states.
Hosted by Scenic North Carolina, the conference celebrated what has been accomplished here and elsewhere to maintain and reclaim community identity and also looked at many places around the country where local character has been lost. What is so refreshing about Salisbury, one of the state’s most historic towns, is the careful and thoughtful way that the town’s character is preserved and promoted by residents, business owners and public officials alike. We saw the historic downtown coming back to life, some great public art, including a spectacular wall mural depicting many of Salisbury’s local characters, and the astonishing replica of the Rebecca of the Well Fountain, originally installed in the town center in 1888.
Importantly, Salisbury is continuing to improve East Innes Street, the busy gateway that leads from the interstate to downtown. This street is the first impression most visitors will have of Salisbury and therefore it is important that it begins to convey a sense of place even before the traveler has reached the historic town core. Already there has been some attractive landscaping done near the interstate interchange, a reduction of overhead wires, and a diminishment in the number, height and size of commercial signs along this gateway. Corporate architecture and chain-store signage are forces of homogenization, and city leaders are to be commended for moving to limit their impact on the East Innes streetscape.
Nearly everyone we encountered in Salisbury was quick to tell us about their favorite local restaurant, park, historic building or entertainment venue. There seems to be a strong sense of civic pride at all levels of Salisbury society. Mayor Karen Alexander exemplified that kind of local pride during her remarks at our conference and in our other interactions with her. She is an energetic and engaging spokesperson and leader for the city. We admire that many of Salisbury’s most famous residents are still deeply involved with the community and are contributing to its revitalization through their own philanthropy. We applaud these leaders for “Taking the Long View” in Salisbury. Scenic America has adopted that title for our recent white paper, which challenges communities to take a comprehensive look at their visual character and take action to improve it over the long-term.
We also saw opportunities for Salisbury to continue its scenic renaissance. That finely crafted pink granite service station on the edge of downtown could be repurposed, and the stand of towering gas station signs immediately adjacent to the interstate should be remedied. Perhaps the positive energy and results of change elsewhere in Salisbury can encourage the owners of these signs to take them down and join the broader civic effort towards beauty. The many surface parking lots downtown could be made far more attractive with strategically planted trees and shrubs. A good downtown landscape ordinance would help accomplish this.
Scenic America was drawn to Salisbury in part because of our organization’s deep connections to the area. Charles Floyd, one of our founders, is a Rowan County native who along with his wife, Rebecca, has worked to ensure the preservation of the Richard Wainwright Barber Farm, their home. Our board member Ryke Longest is a clinical professor of law at Duke University with a distinguished record of environmental advocacy. Durham resident Dale McKeel is a former board member, current Scenic NC director and longtime advocate of intermodal transportation. Karen Hobson of the Historic Salisbury Foundation arranged a warm welcome for our board on the opening night of the October Tour. Local visionaries like Fred Stanback and Julian Robertson, who are helping to make community improvements a reality, further enticed us to gather in Salisbury.
So much has been done already to improve Salisbury’s visual character. Scenic America encourages residents, businesses and civic leaders to capitalize on this momentum and move forward to make Salisbury even more appealing. Thank you for hosting our inspirational visit. We hope to come back again and see even more positive change here … and elsewhere.
Ronald Lee Fleming is chairman of Scenic America and Margaret Lloyd is vice chair.