I happen to live in a city that ranks as the 11th worst city in the state of Georgia. To be precise Macon ranked #5184 in Georgia and #9024 in the USA on this website. Now I take these types of lists with a grain of salt because you can’t really quantify happiness or quality in life of a city since it is so subjective. Some people will love or hate a city no matter what it offers. But at the same time it is a problem that at least merits more serious enquiry. This website had a similar list that ranked the top 100 best places to live in Georgia and Macon didn’t make the cut even as one of the top 100.
Before anyone in neighboring Warner Robins gets too smug though, you guys didn’t make the cut either. That doesn’t surprise me because when you drive down Watson Blvd. or Russell Pkwy. all you see are chain restaurants, fast food, strip malls, and ugly electric and telephone lines and wires as far as the eye can see. Warner Robins is a perfect example of the strip mallification of U.S. cities.
I realize Warner Robins is a very new town, but so are many other cities in America that have managed to create an attractive downtown space with promenades and plazas that are more pedestrian friendly and invite people to congregate and enjoy a good meal and perhaps listen to live music afterwards. These other new cities have managed to enforce strict building codes to maintain some charm and identifiable town centers and a character. The fact that Perry, Byron, and Centerville made the top 100 list doesn’t surprise me since they have done a far better job at managing growth and limiting sprawl away from neighborhoods and still retain some charm in their downtown areas.
I lived in Atlanta and know the area well. Metro Atlanta is a megalopolis with a collection of towns and communities that spans 39 counties with more than half of the state’s population so it doesn’t surprise me in the least that most of the top 100 list come from this region. I happen to have a friend who is originally from Macon that moved to Peachtree city and raves about the livability factor there. It made the top five and in years past has been listed as #1.
I decided to take a look at their Planning and Development website to snoop around and see if I could learn any of their secrets that eludes Macon. The first thing that struck me was just how much information was available on their site in comparison to the dearth of info available on the Macon-Bibb P&Z website. Right away you see a comprehensive plan, maps, and loads of other essential information that would take you several days to adequately look at it all. Please take note of this map in particular which clearly delineates single family living spaces and commercial areas with open green areas as buffers. The small image above comes from the much larger map on this link.
When you look at Johns Creek, Avondale Estates, Alpharetta, Druid Hills and indeed most of the other most livable cities that ranked highly, you will immediately notice just how much information is available and how serious they take their strategic plans and community input into decisions. When you visit cities in other states you see the same similarities that also include pillars like protecting, repairing, and enhancing neighborhood livability. In Eugene, Oregon for example they state boldly for Envision Eugene: The purpose of Envision Eugene is to develop a vision and strategies for how Eugene will grow in the next 20 years that is firmly based on the values, hopes, and needs of the community.
They also actively seek out input and participation from the community as they develop their 20 year strategic plan for growth,. “Participation – Community involvement is a strong value in Eugene, so it has been a high priority for the Envision Eugene process to include many different opportunities for individuals, organizations, and other groups to have a say in the goals and strategies of the vision.”
Before anyone jumps down my throat and thinks I am forgetting about crime, education, high wage employment opportunities, or median home value as areas of concern…I haven’t. All of those areas can’t be forgotten and need to be improved in Macon. But I also understand that sprawl creates blight which leads to crime, loss of jobs, lowers property value, and ultimately hurts the schools as well. All of the problems need addressing but I think it essential for Mayor Reichert and others in our city government to consider looking at other cities planning departments and implement those changes here in Macon-Bibb.
Macon has so many untapped advantages. We are ideally located right in the middle of the state with two interstates. We have a very attractive downtown that just needs more people living there to bring in retail shops to service all those new residents. (No city can truly grow from the suburbs unless you have a strong core like a downtown as the heart of the city) We also have so many beautiful historic areas that could bring in many more tourists from Atlanta if there was better coordination and advertising. I realize government can’t force developers to build in blighted areas, but are they offering enough incentives to encourage redevelopment of blighted areas before they decide to expand the sprawl into Zebluon road and other areas? What are the plans to redevelop areas like Eisenhower or Pio Nono and so many other vacant commercial properties all over Macon? Does Macon-Bibb have a planning department on par with cities that made the top 100 in the state? I am beginning to have my doubts…..
Macon needs a 20 year strategic plan that includes community input and we need it yesterday. Too many bad cooks in the kitchen and none of them seem to know how to boil an egg let alone create a soufflé. It’s time for some new ideas and likely some new cooks.