Mayor Ronnie came zooming in, having just welcomed utilities workers from several states who were beginning their first day at a conference at Leak City. “I talked to them about working hard and having fun,” he said. He then added, “Those two ladies, the ones that turned 103 and 104 that I spoke to last week, you know what they said is the secret to their long life? ‘Make sure you have fun every day.’”
The mayor talked further about how risky it is for cities to take the “love approach” toward growth and wholeness, because people tend to look at love as soft and maybe spineless. The “love approach” is thought to be inappropriate. “The question is,” he said, “Why is it that love is out of place to talk about at the political level? Because we have political rhetoric and budgets, but a city is about far more than repairing streets,” he said. He finished with, “We run the risk of getting stuck at the bottom of the triangle.” By that he meant, never moving past having a city be safe and functional.
Enter the effect of the arts and festivals in the life of a city. “It is difficult to justify the role of the arts to some people,” the mayor said. We talked about how, for example, refurbishing the Scout House, to the point that it even has a sound studio, could have a huge ripple effect. Kids could learn music, a skill that has been shown to help increase SAT scores. They could be part of a team. They could bring beauty to the community while building community. The sound studio could be one of the many outstanding small indie studios in North Alabama that rival anything in Nashville for a fraction of the price, and that would bring revenue to Athens. The question is how does that concept make sense when “the potholes are screaming?” As always, it is about balance, something with which all of our elected officials grapple.
We just had a successful 25th anniversary Poke Sallet Follies, this past Tuesday we had a St. Patrick’s Day dinner celebration at Athens State University, and once again a tour group from India is going to be visiting us because they love our city so much.
Besides setting aside funds to repurpose the Scout House, we also need to take personal responsibility when it comes to making our city lovable on an individual or community basis. City Councilman Chris Seibert recently spoke of a challenge set forth at Rotary to “Take 10 minutes to put your phone down. Slow down, walk your do.” We could stand to return at least once a week to rocking on the front porch and actually visiting with each other. “Visiting,” in the Southern sense, is a lost art that could use a revival.
Peter Kageyama, author of For The Love Of Cities, puts the need to make a city more lovable this way: “Government is not responsible for legislating happiness, but smart communities make it a little more likely to happen by their policy decisions. Communities have embraced the notion of becoming more creative and innovative because they see the economic benefits of those characteristics. So, too, should enlightened cities recognize that happiness has economic benefits; happier citizens are healthier both physically and mentally, live longer, and enjoy more success at work.”
It was clear that there was a weight on the mayor’s shoulders, and that was the number of people who are battling cancer or families who had experienced unexpected deaths in their families. He had gotten a call in the wee hours of the morning about yet another loss. So, we took time to pray for them, and then it was time for Ronnie to roll.
By: Ali Elizabeth Turner