“All Americans pay for sprawl with increased health and safety risks, worsening air and pollution, urban decline, disappearing farmland and wildlife habitat, affordable housing, and erosion of community.”
-Robert D. Bullard, 2000
“It’s something that we’re skirting around. We have lost white population in this city, and we have gained black population in this city. By us gaining black population in this city, surely the blacks ought to gain another ward.”
-Kenneth Stokes, 2012
As part of Auburn’s MRED curriculum, we have the opportunity of taking two classes with Dr. Michael Clay (Michael Clay Bio). A few semesters ago we took Urban Economics and now taking Real Estate Development Law. Michael presents the information that leaves the class ready to take on the development world. He is especially knowledgeable in the area of urban centers.
One reason I listen to what Michael has to say so closely is because I have the perfect project in my own backyard, Jackson Mississippi. Jackson is a perfect representation of the above quote by Robert Bullard. A visit to a handful of Jackson suburbs and you would agree they are as nice (ready: generic) as any in the country. Our Target’s look just like the ones in Salt Lake City, Utah and Dallas, Texas! However, all of this came at the expense of Jackson. Jackson is only one of many examples of this. It has many names. You can call it “sprawl” or “white flight” but the bottom line is that people have left the urban centers for a nice house on a large lot that looks just like everyone else’s.
However, this phenomenon is reversing itself in cities across America. Jackson is a perfect target of a city that can make this change. The handful of developers that have gone into downtown district over the past few years have been very successful. Residential vacancy rates are virtually zero. People, especially young professionals, want to be at the urban core.
For real estate developers, the statistics should have started a feeding frenzy. There are dozens of buildings downtown that can be purchased very inexpensively and redeveloped into residential units or mixed use space. However, this has not exactly been the case.
You may ask, what do all the cities that have experienced radical redevelopment growth have in common. Among a short list you will always find “City Leadership.” A municipality must have leadership in place that sets a high priority on positive growth and redevelopment within their city. However, I am not naive enough to not see what determines what a politician says and does not say. Votes! However, it does not take a phd to connect the dots. Development brings buzz. Buzz attracts people. People move into attractive areas. People vote within the district they live.
It is for this reason that I am deeply concerned about the second quote from former city council member, now county supervisor Kenneth Stokes in a recent article about district rezoning within Jackson (side note: His wife now has his city council seat.) Read Full Clarion Ledger Article Here. Reading the local newspaper would have you believe that the leadership is more concerned with the location of a football game between two local colleges, the appropriate waist height men should wear their pants, and the race of the leadership board itself. While they discuss these “important” issues, their city is missing a huge opportunity that could be a great benefit for generations to come.
Does it make to much since to vote the most qualified people into our leadership regardless of race and ask of them to put the business of the city first? The two quotes above address some of the same issues. However, they tell me two completely different things. The first tells me to look into areas like downtown Jackson for the hidden gems that could produce much higher returns than what can be achieved in the suburbs. The second suggest that I stay away from Jackson. They are focused on the wrong things.
What do you think?