Athenians have inspired me with their courage, determination and civic engagement. Earlier this month at an Athens-Clarke County Planning Department meeting, community members expressed their desire for a vivid, healthy, more inclusive environment that is centered around the needs and aspirations of local residents. It gave me hope as we continue to tackle the issues of development and zoning.
You see, I attended the 2018 Comprehensive Plan Steering Committee meeting on Dougherty Street that was held on Wednesday, Feb. 7. Several constituents had reached out to me to express their concerns regarding the comprehensive plan for development in Athens. Some felt that the meeting for public input of the state-mandated 10-year plan was announced without adequate time for residents to review the posted document and make arrangements to attend. They were worried that things were moving too quickly for hard-working individuals like themselves to be able to do anything about it. However, what actually transpired showed promise that when individuals make time to engage with their local government, they can alter the course of their community for the better.
I was lucky to have arrived early, because what I witnessed was standing room only at the Athens-Clarke County Planning Department. A diverse and varied body of concerned members of the community all took turns providing valuable perspectives. I saw working professionals, entrepreneurs, college students, activists and folks who had called Athens “home” their entire lives. I also heard a common theme resonate from each speaker who was brave enough to stand at the podium and provide their input. Despite the diversity in age, gender, race and vocation of each person who spoke to the committee, their voices reiterated similar concerns and created a unifying theme for the night: inclusion, fairness and access.
The power of this display of civic engagement by local residents is heartening to see for many reasons, the least of which being that it is far too easy, and understandably so, to believe that an individual has no sway over the power of their local officials and government agencies. However, as a direct result of the determination and courage of those who took time out of their day, the steering committee responded to their constituents. Instead of moving forward with the comprehensive plan, the committee scheduled another meeting. This would allow the members time to assess and analyze the public comments received that evening, allow for time to collect more input and allow time for the committee to address the concerns brought before them by local residents.
I would like to personally say thank you to all who took time out of their evening that night, to all those who stepped away from family, friends and loved ones to show up and speak out. This is what democracy looks like. This is the power of civic engagement. This is the future of Athens. And this is the community that I want to continue to live in and see grow, prosper and thrive. There is still much work to be done in many aspects of our community, but I am confident that an emerging number of residents involving themselves in their local government will help shape a more inclusive, fair and accessible community for all. Thank you, Athens.