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Oxford still has time to get it right

LETTER TO THE EDITOR

In response to my column in last Sunday’s Oxford Eagle, a number of people have asked me whether Oxford can avoid becoming a sprawling city that has lost its soul.

Oxford can avoid the fate of wealthy resort destinations if its rapidly beating heart can pump lifeblood into Water Valley and Holly Springs, steering new investment to those old Southern towns while providing an escape valve for new money and investment that would otherwise clog Oxford with too much prosperity and too many high priced homes. In the case of Water Valley, this may be happening already.

Oxford is awash in trendy restaurants, but one entrepreneur could stand out from the crowd by putting her new restaurant in Water Valley. A destination restaurant can put a town on the map as a place to eat. A place to eat then becomes a place to visit. Then a place to visit becomes a place to live. Just look at Taylor, where Taylor Grocery preceded the new “front porch neighborhood” that my brother-in-law, Campbell McCool, is building there.

Holly Springs could use a Laurence Rockefeller, the scion of John D. Jr., who invested some of his wealth to preserve and reinvigorate the New England town of Woodstock, Vermont, once a faded backwater, now a vibrant and popular destination. Mississippi has men of wealth, but are there men of vision and civic sense?

No power broker has the ability to awaken a sleepy town like the University of Mississippi, the 800-pound gorilla in North Mississippi’s regional economy. Ole Miss has satellite operations in Tupelo and Southaven. Future university expansion into Holly Springs and Water Valley could spawn jobs and other good things there, relieving pressure on Oxford to be all things to all.

There is no going back to what Oxford used to be. Getting the future right, however, requires leaders of Oxford – city and university officials, property owners, bankers, business people and officeholders at the county level – to stretch their understanding of how best to grow this city and its surrounding region to make it better than it is, and as good as it can be.

Communities have choices: settle for the future you get, or shape the future you want. Oxford still has time to get it right.

 

Carter Wilkie

Boston