How to Stop Damaging Diamondhead: Part 2

There are telltale signs when a community begins to die.  Population shrinks or stagnates, taxes, dues, and fees grow inconsistent with services offered, property values sink or stop keeping pace with similar communities, rate of rentals and houses on the market rises, people stop paying dues and taxes, covenant enforcement slacks off, property maintenance gets deferred, buildings stand vacant, and neighborhoods go to the dogs, literally, as rising numbers of them roam the streets.

We’re seeing too many of those signs here:  population down 2.4% while those around us have risen, taxes and dues too high for services offered, property values fallen to the lower third tier compared to others, and so on.  This should compel anyone who cares about Diamondhead and their investment here to take action.

Adapt or die.  It’s as true for organizations as for species.  The world has changed for communities like ours.  Without city and POA leadership that can and will respond appropriately, Diamondhead’s future will just grow worse.  The changing conditions are well known —  realty and recreation industries have been trumpeting them for several years now:  across all demographics, there has been a major shift in what home buyers want in communities today.

It’s called connectivity.  Summed up, it means a convenient community with shopping, schools, and outdoor recreation in easy distance; walking, bike, and hiking trails, pocket parks, and multiple outdoor spaces available throughout; events that foster connection with family, community, and the environment such as farmers markets, community gardens, concerts, workshops, and festivals; and a unique, attractive, authentic environment.  In short, focus on amenities is out.  Focus on experiences that connect people with others and build a sense of community is in.

Today’s customers are prudent about amenities their HOA dues will pay for. They pass up country club facilities in favor of things they’ll use every day, says DTJ Design, a community planning firm.  Golf isn’t dead, but the golf-and-country-club economic model is broken except for luxury communities, experts told a recent realty editors’ conference.  People are opting for a simpler life, more family time, and getting off the consumption treadmill, say researchers of future trends.

Eye-opener:  golf courses are #2 in the most unwanted amenities list.  66% of home buyers don’t want them, second only to 70% who don’t want an elevator, says a 2013 survey of home buyers by the National Association of Home Builders.   All of these changes mean that Diamondhead’s most expensive amenity is now deterring far more buyers than it attracts.

Our elected leaders are not adapting.  Pitting its “belief” in golf’s resurgence against all the evidence from experts, the POA has poured millions into our courses and country club — the two amenities least wanted by today’s buyers.  It has inadvertently triggered the loss of continuing education and the crafts fair — two of the kind of events most wanted in today’s communities.  In the face of consumer demand for convenience, it has installed the new ball fields in the boondocks and removed the POA office from its logical location near the heavily frequented commercial area to an unhandy spot in a gully near the country club. 

The city, in the plus column, has brought the Water District under control, passed a smoke-free ordinance, and worked toward biking/hiking trails and transportation connectivity.  But it has also lost the library, abandoned the dog park idea, weakened the once-strong sign ordinance, and is threatening to “revisit” the strong zoning ordinance just as covenant expiration looms.  Worst of all for our future, the addition of the city’s budget to the POA’s has almost doubled the former cost of running Diamondhead, boosting property owners’ expenses to a degree that discourages buyers as well as owners.

Diamondhead’s elected officials have long been drawn from a pool of clubs that center around particular amenities, most profusely golf and country club.  That’s understandable.  The “resort lifestyle” on which Diamondhead was founded attracted many, some for the golf, some for the entire country club lifestyle.  Realists among them see the challenges change has brought and know that adaptation is preferable to loss.

But most of those who seek office from the old lifestyle pool unfortunately cannot adapt.  They care more about preserving their lifestyle intact despite its dwindling appeal in a changed world than about improving Diamondhead’s future.  In clinging like barnacles to the outmoded 2-course-plus-country-club model and refusing to recognize the danger, they are, like the dodo, heading down to their doom because they cannot manage change. 

The rest of us don’t have to go with them.  There are wonderful choices Diamondhead could make to improve its property values and its vitality.  We can have golf and green space without assuming the costly burden of supporting two 18-hole golf courses and a golf academy in competition with casino-subsidized courses.  We can have more of the things people want today and less of the things they don’t.  In coming elections, we can look for candidates from outside the old lifestyle pool and choose people who are able to see the big picture beyond their own confining club circles. 

We can adapt to change and remake our community for a much better future.  To get there, though, we must remove the dead hand of a fading past that’s molding a dim future for Diamondhead.