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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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