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January 16, 2009

Ackerman's City Park Full of Potential

I enjoyed visiting with folks in Ackerman on Tuesday evening during their First Impressions presentation. Several good things are happening downtown with new landscaping and other improvements. The Red Hills EcoPlex is certainly worth bragging about too.

As a community development practitioner, I stress the importance of capitalizing and building on community assets when attempting to reach consensus around an issue that needs addressing. Unfortunately, a city park that is a "diamond in the rough" so to speak is certainly underutilized. Vandals have caused the restrooms to be boarded up, chained, and locked. Even garbage cans are not immune to damage. Litter bugs have an easy excuse to leave garbage scattered across the grounds with no garbage cans available. A gate even limits assessibility to some areas.

With tennis courts, basketball courts, a pavillion, a GREAT outdoor amphitheater, and other amenities, this is a real asset to the citizens of the town. I hope the leadership and residents will rally around this park and realize the tremendous asset it really is.

May 12, 2009

Someweir or Noweir?

At the recent First Impressions presentation, it was obvious that folks in Weir are ready to take action to improve the curb appeal of their community. Small, rural towns like Weir have a tremendous opportunity to "get their arms around" their communities and get things moving.

Since Weir is only about a mile square, new street signage, trash receptacles, banners, flower containers and other amenities aren't really that far out of reach, especially when one local business owner was ready to "ante up" with a few thousand dollars left over from another community project if the town will come up with a match.

However, before any of these things are put into place, a general clean sweep of the town needs to happen. As Leland Speed, former executive director of MDA, puts it, "Pretty sells, ugly doesn't sell." It's obvious that a lot of volunteer capacity and excitement centers around the school, which is commendable. Now, it's time to leverage that community spirit in other ways.

We certainly want to see Weir be "Someweir" not "Noweir," and a community vision with accountable action steps defined and underwritten by the residents will help the town get to that point.

Capitalizing on a Unique Niche

French Camp is one of those rural communities that has a lot going for it. The Natchez Trace Parkway is literally steps away from the town center that gives an added boost to local tourism. Travelers often stop at the Council House Cafe owned and operated by French Camp Academy. The food is great, and the atmosphere is too. The Historic District offers the traveler a glimpse of the way life used to be. Walk through a farmhouse or even stay at a Bed and Breakfast!

Of course, French Camp Academy is another shining star of the community. A Christian Boarding School, it was started by a group of Scotch-Irish settlers in 1885. Visit www.frenchcamp.org to read all about it! Oh, did I mention the Rainwater Observatory?

French Camp already has foundational assets in place to help it become a sustainable and competitive community. A vision coupled with strategic objectives can really move the town to a brighter future.

June 2, 2009

Mathiston First Impressions Unveiled

I had an enjoyable visit with folks in Mathiston last week. Results of the First Impressions visit made last fall were presented to a group of people ready to learn how to better equip their town on the economic importance of leaving a better lasting impression on visitors and instilling a sense of pride for residents.

Mathiston has a unique asset in the Natchez Trace Parkway. Travelers are only about five minutes from the heart of town once they exit the Trace. This scenic byway attracts visitors from all over the country and the world; therefore, it's important to create a unique sense of place that will entice visitors to stop.

A real challege for the town is the campus of the former Wood College. Unfortunately, the buildings are falling into a state of disrepair fairly rapidly. As it stands right now, the challenges seem to be many in figuring out what can be done with this property. Although the challenges are significant, the campus also presents a real opportunity for the community. Hopefully, a positive outcome will result so all stakeholders will reap the benefits.

June 22, 2009

Community Interest is High at Weir's Encore Presentation

Jeremy and I were delighted to see 65 townsfolk attend Thursday's encore First Impressions presentation--that's right, I said 65 people! Do you realize that's 12% of the town's population?

Hats off to the Mayor and others who rallied the troops and got folks to the meeting. Great discussion was had by all, and we left feeling like residents were ready to take ownership and enhance their town's appearance. In fact, one volunteer has already made the frames for repairing the town sidewalks! She asked for volunteers to roll up their sleeves and pitch in and help on an upcoming Saturday.

This is what it takes--buy in and sweat equity from the local people. Communities that sit around and wait for someone to come in from Washington or Jackson (or anywhere else) with all the answers will still be waiting after other communties have rolled up their sleeves and gotten busy. Sure. It's important to leverage resources from external groups, but these groups can't (and shouldn't) do all the work. Local communities must solve local challenges by leveraging resources and asking for assistance along the way.

The spark is there in Weir to make significant improvements over the next few months and years. Moving from vision to action isn't always easy. Continuous encouragement and coaching by those of us who work in community development is important to keep them focused so they will see positive outcomes with short-term success.

If a small, rural community like Weir can turn out 65 residents, others can too. WEIR there's a will, there's a way!

August 31, 2009

Rebuilding Continues on the Coast

It's hard to believe it's been four years since Katrina--America's worst natural disaster in history. Several of us recently got back from site visits to Bay St. Louis, Waveland and Diamondhead for our First Impressions program. In some ways, it's remarkable how fast recovery is happening. In other ways, it's unbelievable how many things look the way Katrina left them.

Having spent a week on the Coast right after the storm, I can remember the horror on people's faces and in their voices. The hurricane's fury was so shocking and so surreal the wounds run deep. Even today, folks are still talking about the storm like it was yesterday. While signs of progress are all around, signs of dispair and painful memories abound.

Several business owners were optimistic. They commented on the progress being made on a daily basis--even though it sometimes seems like recovery will never end. Others are not as optimistic. For example, a local businessman in the Bay said he has gone a whole week and not sold a thing. He's even poured his life savings into his shop of 60 years to keep the doors open. He's diversified his inventory trying to capture additional dollars; it's helping.

It's, indeed, difficult to remain positive during such trying times. The difficulties with recovery combined with an economic downturn only adds insult to injury. Good things are happening though. A determined spirit permeated the entire communitiy. Time will continue to help heal the phyical and emotional scars brought by Katrina's wrath.

September 14, 2009

Folks Turn Out in Marion

I enjoyed visiting with about 60 Marion residents last week for the First Impressions presentation. The folks in attendance were ready to take the reins and begin to make a difference in their town.

Bordered by Meridian on three sides, Marion has an opportunity to benefit greatly from its larger neighbor. The team was pleasantly surprised to find many newer subdivisions in town. Also, the confederate cemetery was a nice find as well. It was really interesting to learn that the Marion Dollar General store is at the top of the sales heap for all stores in that region. After a quick visit inside the store, it's no secret that goods are flying off the shelves.

Besides its limited tax base, a challenge for Marion is its lack of a downtown core. Downtowns are the "heartbeats" of any community. They provide a central location where folks can get out of their automobiles and walk, talk, visit, eat, shop...well you get the picture. In communities that are mostly designed for automobile use except for, perhaps, a few residential neighborhoods, it's more of a challenge to try to develop a sense of place and create an environment conducive to community gatherings.

Several folks last week told me they really wanted to see Marion grow and evolve in a positive way. Beginning with community appearance projects is a great first step to creating an inviting community to prospective families and businesses. Residents can get involved quickly, and the impacts can be quite astonishing after only a short time.

It's hard to think about planning for 25 years in the future, but it's important to do so. Creating communities that we want to live in tomorrow requires that we plan accordingly today. Just like many of small towns in Mississippi, Marion has an opportunity to carve out its niche too.

October 9, 2009

Getting Things Going in Hickory

I had the pleasure of meeting several volunteer Chamber of Commerce board members Monday evening at the First Impressions presentation in Hickory. The community is fairly compact with several tradional downtown buildings and a nice greenspace. A real challenge--as is the case in many small, rural towns across America--is to aggressively look for ways to revitalize their downtown area.

A destination furniture store is located downtown in several buildings. Folks from all over the state and from other states frequent the store to shop. Highway 80 used to be the major east-west corridor prior to Interstate 20. Highway 503 connects Hickory with Decatur just up the road.

I applaud the grassroots volunteer efforts underway to make things happen in town. A grant received a few years ago enabled a walking track/park to be built adjacent to the old school that closed a couple of decades ago. Unfortunately, the school grounds have fallen into disrepair for the most part. I hope the community's leadership and residents can band together and figure out a creative use for this property.

Hickory's future will be a brighter one if the elected officials and the residents work together towards a single vision and attainable goals for the town and work tirelessly to engage folks in the process.


October 12, 2009

Decatur's Downtown Is Coming Along

The First Impressions team that visited Decatur recently was pleasantly surprised at the activity going on downtown in this small community in Newton County. Several business owners are working hard to provide attractive storefronts with container plants and fresh coats of paint. Buildings renovated recently also provide living quarters downtown that are very convenient to East Central Community College.

ECCC is certainly a tremendous asset to the community as is the Turkey Creek Water Park located only minutes away. The schools are also real assets, as they are fairly new buildings that are attractively landscaped. As is is the case in many rural Mississippi towns, the limited tax base provides challenges to local government leaders.

At the presentation last week, a group of approx. 30 community leaders and volunteers were anxious to keep working towards improving their town. I applaud their dedicated service and vision to engage others as they keep moving forward. I would encourage Decatur to continue with beautification efforts downtown and along the major corridors, continue working on renovating downtown businesses, and explore land use planning as it look towards the future.

About First Impressions

This page contains an archive of all entries posted to Dawg Tracks in the First Impressions category. They are listed from oldest to newest.

Education is the previous category.

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