Wednesday, September 15, 2010
Over the last several years, the Jackson Free Press has followed a tradition of celebrating our birthday every September by dedicating the issue to the city's progress. Our birthday cover stories typically explore just how far the city has come over the last year. We launched in 2002 pushing the "local" mantra out of the gate, pushing smart, mixed-use development in the city, and countering myths spread by some folks beyond the city limits who seem to be clueless that the state's fortunes are intertwined with the capital city's.
So much has changed over the last eight years. But the biggest change is our city's collective attitude. Now, Jackson enjoys a can-do spirit when it comes to renaissance and development (one that we started a whole glossy magazine, BOOM Jackson, to chronicle). Jackson's urban warriors, as we like to call the people working to lift up the city, now believe that Jackson can not only crawl up off the bottom of the barrel; it can be among the top cities in the country for progress, diversity, compassion. We can be a model. We can lead.
And one advantage of being a little late in the revival game is that we can learn from other cities' mistakes. We can look at cities that have gone whole-hog to fund luxury hotels and sports arenas, for instance, without enough safeguards, financial planning and even due diligence in place. We can learn from areas that have tried to fund huge developments with too much taxpayer money or by using eminent domain to benefit private companies and developers.
A wing, a prayer and visits to gawk at other cities' progress aren't enough to make smart development happen. Study and serious conversations that welcome all points of view are vital to keep us from making costly errors.
One of the biggest lessons we can learn from other cities is what Ward Schaefer explores in his cover story this issue: Smart urban development is never done for people beyond the city limits, whether commuters or tourists. It is done for residents of a city first. It celebrates authenticity of an area. Such as in Chattanooga, smart urban planners take a city's special circumstances (and finances) under consideration, and then make the best of it over the long haul. As former Downtown Jackson Partners President John Lawrence told Ward: We can get ideas from other places, but we have to be our own city.
Fortunately, there are many people working in Jackson who want the city's progress to lift everyone up, folks who want the development to spread to Highway 80 and West Jackson and beyond. Our focus as a community must remain on ensuring that our redevelopment helps Jackson residents first: We might need a grocery store before we need an arena or a parking garage, for instance.
Let's do this smart, Jackson, with lots of voices welcome at the table. The beautiful thing is that cities that are (re)built in an authentic way for residents first are the ones other people most want to visit and relocate to. And we don't need huge, expensive public-works projects to make that happen.