Between What Is and What Could Be

Between What Is and What Could Be

Quick Summary: Our community must decide between 1) simply enjoying the city built for us for as long as we can or 2) building a Decatur that grows and thrives for the next 100 years. The One Decatur comprehensive plan, in addition to numerous extraordinary private and public sector efforts, offer an opportunity to build for the future – but our community must make and affirm that decision, define our identity, and invest in initiatives that can move the needle when it comes to growth.


We are currently living in the version of Decatur that has been built by generations of vision, risk taking, and hard work.  This is the city we currently know, the city we experience each day. We’re familiar with it.  Most of us love it.

We attach and connect this place to our real lives. My kids, for example, like to take get off the road and drive through one of the alleys that bring us closer to our home.  I like to take the 4th Avenue shortcut to pick up a cookie or the Point Mallard Parkway to get to work.  My wife enjoys the trails at Point Mallard.  You’ve got your own places.

Rhodes Ferry Park is a favorite for many locals

But no city is guaranteed to survive in its present form forever. Cities tend to thrive and grow or hollow out and become unrecognizable.

We can safely assume most citizens of Decatur want our city to thrive and grow.  That’s why the One Decatur comprehensive plan is seeking to gather and enact feedback from throughout the community.  That is why the building of key institutions related to robotics, natural science, higher education, etc. is so encouraging.  That is why families and businesses throughout the community are going above and beyond to build new infrastructure, keep their companies here (thank you!), and support our network of nonprofits.

    For those who want to build our future

If we want to thrive and grow as a community, though, we have to make a conscious decision to engage in a process that can accomplish the goal. Practically speaking, that means:

  1. Deciding to Thrive and Grow:  Again, I assume most people want Decatur to thrive and grow.  Understand, though, that many people in many cities will not choose this path.  They are content with their lives and are not concerned with retooling infrastructure or recruiting the next generation of employers, active adults, and young professionals.  These cities are already becoming shells of their former selves, because people decide the destinies of their cities.
  2. Defining Who We Want to Be: It’s about our identity.  Our identity, in turn, will set standards for what we believe is acceptable in terms of our brand, appearance, and culture.
  3. Prioritizing:  This is hard.  It means defining and investing in infrastructure, economic development, and other endeavors that can actually move the needle when it comes to growth – although results may take years or even decades to materialize (consider Chattanooga before the Aquarium).  It also means prioritizing growth when deciding how to invest limited public and private dollars.

Really pursuing growth will change things. We will invest in organizations and endeavors primarily because they promote growth.  We will enact policies not for a time, long past, when America was the world’s only dominant economic engine, but for a world where competition for good jobs is global, zero sum (the jobs go here or they go somewhere else), heavily influenced by automation, and certainly as tough as it’s ever been.  We will increasingly have to innovate, pursuing courses of action that may not always achieve the stated goal.  Our new comfort zone will be the lack of a comfort zone.  Yet, as we move forward we will have to remember what makes us, us – we should not abandon our history, should not try to be all things to all people.

Our history can – and should – be part of our future

Pure and simple, the decision point is upon us – will we build a city that can grow and thrive for the next 100 years, or not? This is a decision that cannot be avoided; our action or inaction guarantees a choice will be made.  And we cannot pass the buck – we must decide the destiny of this city and be held accountable for its stewardship.  There is no one else to do it for us.

Let’s support those endeavoring to help build our future




4 thoughts on “Between What Is and What Could Be

  1. Just one quibble (and it’s a matter of emphasis). I would submit that perhaps we should strive as if economic growth is zero sum, while planning and working together with the understanding that we can make the pie bigger. We have more than our share of folks who still revel in the SE vs. SW, city vs. county, this side of the river vs. that side of the river game. That can (and probably has over time) led to seeing every situation as zero sum. I do understand the power of the phrase “a rising tide lifts all ships” and am a proponent of thinking beyond the boundaries we so often set for ourselves. However (to push the analogy), that rising tide won’t lift this particular ship if we are busy shooting holes in the hull! Therefore, let’s run with the findings of OneDecatur and work together to enact practical applications for things that fall within our direct control or jurisdictions. While doing so, though, let us also keep our eyes on win-win opportunities across our wider region as well.

    1. Thanks for your comment, Scott! If I’m understanding you correctly, I agree – we need to be acting in the best interests of the entire city and county while also understanding that regional cooperation – if beneficial for all involved – provides one of the best pathways available to grow and win together. To the extent we grow our local economy, though, I think we become a more and more desirable regional partner. If we do approach economic growth as if it were zero sum, that level of focus ironically leads, as you said, to a bigger pie. Under no circumstances, though, can we afford to be divided in any meaningful respect internally.

  2. Post hoc, ergo propter hoc — correlation does not imply causation:

    Translated; Growth does not necessarily deliver improvement, bigger is not better.

    Better is better. Let’s work on becoming better.

    1. Hey Love River City, you’re right. I am assuming that quality of life, economic competitiveness, and other key indicators must improve if we are to grow, but quality will precede quantity. Thanks for pointing out the distinction.

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