Build the infrastructure and they will come. That’s what design master Charlie Arrington and purist land planner Mark Permar hope to do with Ocean Park, Kiawah’s newest neighborhood. With the intent of cultivating connection and immersion, the 250-acre development will incorporate extensive parklands. There will be tree houses, bike trails, a kayak launch, and the Marsh House—a community venue with a pool and marsh views. “Each homesite is a way to connect to the world,” says Permar. “And it’s an experience well beyond simply buying a lot.” The home spaces will extend into the park spaces in an organic and inspiring way.
“The first parks were cemeteries,” explains Arrington. “There was this open green space, and kids went out there to play. People thought, ‘We need a space where kids can get together that isn’t a cemetery,’ and that’s where this whole idea of parks came from.” We all possess an innate need to connect with the natural environment, and with each other. The earliest parks simply happened because they presented the opportunity to connect with humanity and nature.
On a sunny November afternoon, Permar takes an interested party around Ocean Park in his Defender. There is something extraordinary about this place. As we listen to Permar, afternoon light filters through the Spanish moss, and the air is faintly salty. The maritime forest opens into wide marsh views, and a heron picks its way along the tree line. Throughout the Park there are views of Bass Creek, the Atlantic, Little Bear Island, and The Ocean Course. These corridors of open spaces forever will be preserved. “The landscape is dynamic, not static,” says Permar. It’s true; this end of the island is layered with incredible textures—Cathedral oaks and marsh bluffs, southwesterly trade winds and towering palmettos.
Permar talks excitedly about the views and the breezes, but he also touches on deeper concepts. “I want to be a better person, like anyone, but there are very few places that precipitate that. When you’re in a beautiful, natural environment, there’s something energizing about being there. What will the park cause people to do? How will the park inspire?”
Social capital, a sticky buzzword for close relationships and reciprocity, is essential to survival. Without social capital—casseroles from the neighbor, lifelong friendships, bridge clubs—communities fall apart, people fall apart. When we value friendship and family above all, when we welcome an unexpected visit from the neighbor, and when we embrace civic engagement as second nature, then we have created an ideal culture in which to raise our children. And what’s more, civic engagement is borne of a responsibility to a people and a place. People come to Ocean Park and they understand. “It’s about families and friends coming together,” says Permar. “People view this park setting as a game changer in their ability to reconnect, to strengthen or create new connections.”
Building a strong and authentic community requires a rare brew of ingredients. When it happens, the whole is greater than the sum of the parts; it is transcendent. And it starts with green space. “Seeing many generations using the park together,” says Arrington, “that will be success in my mind.”
Imagine a rolling parkland shaded by a canopy of oaks. A young boy shouts from a tree house, and a couple lounges in the grass, reading. Porches peek out from the trees, and the smell of dinner wafts through the air. It’s a Saturday afternoon. Idyllic? Perhaps. But deep in our hearts lies what Permar calls biophilia. “It’s about the relationship of humans to natural systems, but it goes beyond that even—it’s sort of an emotional, psychological relationship to the living world.” In other words, we need nature and we need each other. If it feels a bit too much like The Andy Griffith Show, imagine a neighborhood where generations of families grow up with one another, where porch sitting lasts deep into the evening, and it simply feels good.
In our fast, hyper-tech culture, the opportunities to experience the embrace of the natural world seem remote. Green spaces like the parklands of Ocean Park offer a chance at restoration and meaningful connection to our environment and to each other. — H.W.