As Mayor Robert Reichert said, there was bad news and good news in being one of seven out of 91 invited cities to get word it will receive a Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Strong Cities, Strong Communities Initiative grant.
The bad news is all around us. We’ve got problems. All one has to do is look around. Our community is one of the poorest in the nation when it comes to income, education, housing infrastructure and good jobs. While the per capita income in the state is $25,309, according to the Census Bureau, Macon-Bibb County’s per capita income is $21,443. Inside the former city limits, it’s $16,155.
But it’s more than income that bedevils us, and as the mayor said, “The bad news is that Macon has enough chronic problems to qualify” for this kind of attention. But there is good news: We’re trying to do something about those chronic problems, and according to federal officials, we have plans in place. It’s pretty evident that cities across the nation have big issues staring at them. It is also apparent that many of those cities don’t have enough of the one ingredient necessary to change course, and that’s brainpower and access to ideas.
The program isn’t just going to send a check and leave us to our own devices. Starting in February, there will be two federal officials on the ground here and probably many more as the yearlong program expands. They will have federal agencies on speed dial helping to reconnoiter through the maze of regulations and rules. They will be able to better guide the use of federal funds we already receive. AmeriCorps Vista volunteers, once the plans are developed, will help with implementation.
It’s good to know that the plans will come from us and the old saw “beware of officials bearing gifts” should not apply. The federal officials were impressed with our vision for the long term. Some of the ideas on the table will take decades to complete, long after those in elected office will have served their terms.
For politicians and some residents with an I-want-it-now perspective, this process will be frustrating. But as the mayor said, when speaking of light rail connectivity, “That’ll take 50 years to complete, but today’s the day we start.”
While this has been a work in process for some time, the award could not have had better timing. Can we imagine how this process would have rolled out if we still had two governments?