Some residents of the greater Valdosta area are confused about the meaning of our new "metropolitan" status. They seem to think it's a synonym for "cosmopolitan" or "urbane." That's not the case.

The federal government agreed to declare Valdosta and parts of the surrounding area as metropolitan based on population growth and commuting patterns. It's a way for the feds to define areas that need help solving growth-related problems such as traffic.

The designation also is used by retail chains and other investors to determine whether an area has the demographics necessary for a new store, restaurant or industry.

The more individualistic and human traits of our area did not change when the Metropolitan Statistical Area notice appeared June 6 in the Federal Register. There is no other place exactly like Valdosta, and residents who have lived elsewhere may not necessarily find the same amenities seen in other metropolitan areas.

Do we really want to be so similar to every other metro area, with endless subdivisions and numerous commercial centers containing the same stores, restaurants, etc.?

We should want to hold on to those elements that make us distinctive -- the ancient oaks dripping with moss that line our streets, the Craftsman-style bungalow homes, the numerous lakes and pecan orchards, our quaint downtown.

It's important to balance new growth and greenspace. Visit parts of the Atlanta metro area, and you'll find what we don't want: fields of asphalt creating stormwater runoff problems, air pollution from too many cars on roads that are never big enough and higher temperatures because of the depletion of trees.

MSA status will bring a bigger tax base, more jobs and better wages, but elected leaders must learn from others' mistakes and be prudent when approving plans. They must carefully consider the impact on roads and other infrastructure.

The characteristics of the area we truly don't want to lose are the graciousness and small-town informality often found here.

We should never become so hurried and harried that we forget to say "please," "thank you" and "yes, sir." We must maintain the casual ambiance that goes with living in a balmy, sunny climate.

The Valdosta area has a fan in Blanton Wright, a recent visitor from Asheville, N.C., whose letter is elsewhere on this page. In a note to me accompanying the letter, he wrote: "The above note is a heartfelt letter. I do not care if you publish it or not, but believe citizens of metro Valdosta would appreciate it."

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Elsewhere in today's edition readers will find a four-page section related to our new metropolitan status.

One story focuses on a newly formed MSA Image Committee to design a campaign to promote the area to retailers, industries and tourists. That sounds like a great idea. I understand, however, that part of the study might include reconsidering Valdosta's moniker as the Azalea City. I'm sure that the committee will think long and hard before changing that.

Even though they bloom only for a short time, the azaleas are beautiful and more abundant here than anywhere I've visited.

On the front of today's Living section, Features Editor Dean Poling writes about the agricultural heritage of the area as it relates to metropolitan status. It's a fine column. Please check it out.



Ron Wayne is the editor of The Valdosta Daily Times. He can be reached at 244-3400, ext. 229, or e-mailed at ron.wayne@gaflnews.com.

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