DECATUR — For more than 100 residents tasked with helping city leaders develop neighborhood revitalization goals, discussions on Tuesday reached far beyond demolishing homes and installing flower beds.
Those who split into groups in the lobby of MacArthur High School grappled with systemic issues surrounding poverty and access to opportunities in Decatur, whether it was knowledge about well-paying jobs, job training, building home equity for working families in a bargain real estate market, and encouraging entrepreneurship among the city's youth.
As one group put it, they were working to "put Decatur back on the map." The passion and engagement is exactly what city leaders were hoping for when they devised the plan to include working groups in the first steps of the the initiative to help restore Decatur's core neighborhoods.
"I think it was the beginning of the something great," said Marvell Manns, one of the volunteer residents.
Decatur city leaders have spoken for years about the need to strengthen neighborhoods and address issues that lead to declining property values. Tuesday's resident-led meeting was the first of six, which city officials say will wrap up before council members debate and approve a final revitalization plan in the spring.
Officials say what the participants decide collectively will provide the framework for what city staff members prepare for the city council.
"We had a diverse group with a lot of different ideas, so I think there will be a lot of great opportunities coming out of this," said resident Jacqueline Jameson.
City staff asked the volunteers to find the table that corresponded to the topic they were most interested in. The nine groups created by officials are defined as:
- "Connectivity and Partnerships," tasked to look at existing organizations and initiatives and how to leverage them for the city's work.
- "Housing, Building, and Land Re-use"
- "Community Appearance"
- "Local Government Regulations"
- "Energize Existing Neighborhoods," will focus on potential initiatives devoted to specific neighborhoods.
- "Economic and Social Growth and Vitality," which will look at the project through the lens of inter-generational poverty.
- "Community Health and Wellness," dealing with medical and mental health issues.
- "Jobs and Job Readiness"
- "Inner-city Opportunities," focusing on the "unique challenges" of Decatur's inner city.
"There were a lot of great ideas that really I had never thought of," said Andrew Jordan, another volunteer. "I think there's a lot of momentum in my group."
City Manager Tim Gleason said despite the new budget challenges faced by the city in 2018, $300,000 will still available for revitalization efforts. Councilwoman Lisa Gregory and Mayor Julie Moore Wolfe have hinted at interest from private donors to contribute money, but both said donors will not announce any commitments until the project plans are further along.
In preparation for the next meeting, which is Nov. 28, city staff asked participants to prioritize the ideas that groups came up with.
"I the (city) really hit the nail on the head this time," Manns said.