April 26, 2017

Envision Athens Attendees Set Priorities for the Community

City Dope

Photo Credit: Austin Steele/file

Athens-Clarke County Commissioner Sharyn Dickerson leads an Envision Workshop in February.

Why won’t Athens realize its full potential and become the best community that people want it to be? A lack of coordinated leadership and a lack of dedicated funding.

Those were the reasons a majority of respondents picked during Thursday night’s Envision Athens Community Summit at the Classic Center. The summit was an interactive meeting, held by consultants from planning NEXT as part of the $244,500 Envision Athens process, which will continue into the summer and fall.

“The key is to trust the process,” planning NEXT’s Jamie Greene told participants. “There are no hidden agendas.”

Begun in October 2016, the process is designed to envision a future for the community and create “an achievable strategy” document that guides Athens’ economic and community development for the next 20 years. County officials also hope to use the results in updating the county’s comprehensive planning documents.

The 225 or so participants at Thursday night’s gathering ranked several goals for improving Athens that have emerged in other Envision Athens sessions. Some participants have been in Athens for as little as two weeks, while others are Athens natives now working professional jobs. The goals were gleaned from 3,700 comments offered by 600 people during the public meetings and focus groups, and online, over the past few months. Participants at the Community Summit heard some of the community assessment research the consultants shared. The full assessment can be found at

Some of the information is widely known, but some isn’t. Athens Clarke County has a 36.7 percent poverty rate that falls to 28.4 percent without UGA students. The number of families with children is decreasing, while the number of those 65 and older is increasing. The number of multi-family housing units exceeds single-family housing units. In the last 10 years, roughly 2,000 manufacturing jobs have disappeared, and 2,000 in health care and social assistance have been added. Half of the population is 26 or younger. Between 2000–2015, the county added 7,000 residents, and it’s likely to continue its steady growth.

Attendees used their cell phones or tablets to participate in a live poll, ranking various topics as important or not. How important is a vibrant arts scene? What about the unique character and value of all of Athens’ neighborhoods? Should we protect agricultural land? Is public education important? What about improving transportation choices, including transit, biking and walking? Is there support for having diverse housing options for residents?

How could anyone but a Grinch dismiss any of these topics?

The consultants wanted to assess the level of support among the participants for various topics cited by earlier participants. It’s as if a yard has been sodded, seeded and weeded, then mowed with a high blade, and now it’s being mowed again with a much lower one until, finally, we’ll have a perfect putting green.

Come June, there will be a Community Choices Workshop. Stay tuned.