Experts from all over the country are descending on Macon today and tomorrow to talk through one of Macon’s thorniest issues: blight. Macon is not alone when it comes to suffering from blighted conditions. Urban areas all over the country are in the same battle. But in Macon, the blight seems particularly acute. In some areas of town there are blocks of uninhabited homes and vacant lots. There are about 4,000 uninhabited homes in the county, and that number doesn’t include homes that are inhabited but in various stages of decay.
Mercer University’s Center for Collaborative Journalism is sponsoring the two-day conference along with the Sunlight Foundation. While the solutions to blight are elusive, it’s possible the conference will provide a strategy for fighting the condition. What we have been doing, while working, is not working fast enough. Blight spreads like a virus infecting home after home, block after block, and we haven’t been able to catch up. Demographic changes in neighborhoods, age of structures and numerous other factors contribute to blight. Many of the families that filled now blighted neighborhoods have moved on to greener pastures.
So what is a county to do? Some county commissioners want to add blight funding to the next special purpose local option sales tax, but that can’t happen until 2017. Others would like to float a bond issue now to kick-start the effort. Such a fund would allow the county to use its imminent domain powers to purchase properties, resell them to developers or create open spaces for parks and community gardens.
If you’re interested in the “unblight” conference, information is at http://signup.unblight.org.