Over 200 people recently gathered to hear an update from Planning Next, hired to oversee the One Decatur comprehensive plan process, at the Summit on the Future. We heard a data-driven, outside perspective related to the opportunities and challenges confronting Decatur relative to population, economic, and income growth. The meeting had to conclude before we could hear many of the efforts underway to place Decatur on growth footing. Dan Durbin, who I’ve enjoyed getting to know through One Decatur, pointed this out to me. So, here’s an overview of efforts underway to use our real estate wisely, improve quality of life, and strengthen our economy – the things we have to get right to grow over the next several decades. This one’s for you, Dan.
Great cities utilize their real estate strategically. This is happening more and more in Decatur. Increasingly, we are asking whether key sites are being used for their highest and best purpose. The Central Baptist property is being developed in a way that will increase synergy with Downtown. Wheeler Wildlife Refuge is exploring new projects and proposals. Entities like the Decatur Housing Authority are helping to create consistent corridors of quality appearance as they undertake renovations. Meanwhile, as we contemplate future land use, conversations about establishing a signature waterfront presence should begin to focus around the few places where that can logically happen. The question will then become what type of development makes sense.
Wheeler Wildlife Refuge is already a destination and offers other exciting possibilities
We are in the midst of increasing our quality of life offerings on a scale that, over time, is consistent with Chattanooga, Greenville, Savannah. The Cook Museum of Natural Science already deserves to be recognized for changing our conception of what’s possible and creating a possible Aquarium moment for Decatur. The Alabama Center for the Arts has an opportunity to carve a niche and level of prestige that is similar to the Savannah College of Art and Design. I believe there could well be a day when Courteney Cox is being inducted into the Alabama Arts Hall of Fame with The Alabama Shakes kicking off a preparty at The Princess while people stand in line waiting to eat at local, recognized restaurants. River Clay continues to thrive and grow and bolster our reputation as an arts and outdoors community on the river. The Carnegie certainly shows no signs of slowing down – who didn’t enjoy the picture of a jam-packed Downtown for the Mardi Gras parade? Trey Atwood continues to doggedly pursue his goal of opening the Cross Eyed Owl microbrewery. Meanwhile we continue our tradition of annual festivals, concerts, and special events throughout the city and explore new possibilities that appeal to foodies, young professionals, and others.
One day this could be just another Thursday night in Decatur
We are having the right conversations about our economy, which is another way of saying we always need to be exploring strategies to increase opportunities for people. Our city’s leadership understands that we are not entitled to employers calling Decatur home and that competition for jobs is as fierce as it’s ever been. Being the best place in the world to start, grow, or relocate a company is the standard for cities that wish to find their niche in the global economy and remain competitive in the decades ahead. On the other end of the spectrum, Startup Decatur is training current and potential entrepreneurs to build the companies that angel investors and venture capital will consider funding. Notably, several of the young professionals who have recently moved to Decatur through The Best and Brightest Initiative have indicated a desire to start a company at some point in their careers. Efforts are now underway to explore how we can broaden our economic identity and continue to become a hub for startup, small, and mid-sized companies.
Decatur has an underrated tradition of entrepreneurship
Motion exists on numerous other fronts as well. Pastors around the city are discussing what it looks like to be a unified city. This is crucial – cities that do not get along well won’t survive, much less grow or attract name-brand employers. And, by the way, what’s the point of spending our finite, valuable days at odds with each other? Mayor Bowling has listened to the many residents who want a clean city and proposed a way to make that happen. At the same time, DCS has adapted to changed circumstances and is focused on hiring a highly qualified superintendent.
Coming in June!
Can you see it? Can you see how clear it is that Decatur has flatly refused to become one of the cities that fades into obscurity over time? Can you see that the community is supporting re-imagining the city while respecting our history so that we might thrive over the next 100 years and remain true to our core identity? Can you see people striving to make sure we fit into the global economy well? Can you see how we are continuing to achieve one win at a time, to beautify one Walden Oaks Park at a time? Does this remind you of the wins Chattanooga achieved, one at a time, that cumulatively created the momentum leading to the massive Volkswagen announcement?
DDRA recently dedicated Walden Oaks Park
And this is all before the One Decatur plans are released. I’m optimistic about the One Decatur process because city officials are serious about avoiding the top-down approach that our country’s very founding rejected and instead are listening to our residents and translating what they hear into actionable plans. Hiking, biking, marketing, entryways…more on all those things are coming. So much more, on so many fronts, is coming. The dominant narrative is no longer an endless loop of complaining by precisely 24 people about the challenges we face, as if every community doesn’t face challenges. The dominant narrative is that the people of Decatur are deciding to be one of few communities to do something about it. And for that, Dan, you and the rest of us can be encouraged and excited to be here at this moment in our history.
There’s a new narrative in town…