08/20/11 — Critical juncture: Downtown revitalization requires vision -- and an examination of the obstacles

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Critical juncture: Downtown revitalization requires vision -- and an examination of the obstacles

A vision for Goldsboro and Wayne County: That is what every citizen with a stake in the future of this community hopes its leaders have as they make decisions about which direction to turn.

In the olden days, a community could survive a little poor decision-making and maybe even a scandal or two. Times were much different and the situation was not as dire.

Today, communities are competing for jobs, attention, funding and residents -- and the focus seems to change each year. Competing means having what businesses and residents want -- and positioning and marketing a community to take advantage of possibilities.

And unfortunately, that requires a vision that extends beyond influence peddling and self-interest to what will really make a difference for the future of Goldsboro and Wayne County.

It is not about another term or building a career in politics. And it is not about re-electing the same old crew with the same old lack of ideas and grasp of reality.

It is about making sure the leadership we have in place understands just how critical a juncture this is -- and is determined to reach beyond the normal constraints of politics to plans that really will build a Goldsboro and Wayne County that has staying power.

So what should the priorities be? That really is the $1 million question.

In an age when public money is likely to dry up for momentous projects and big ticket improvements, many communities across the country are starting to wonder -- how do they make the changes necessary to turn a future of uncertainty into one with promise?

There is little question that perhaps the place to start might be downtown Goldsboro -- but with a few caveats.

To really make a plan for downtown that will be more than window-dressing, there have to be a few realities faced.

Building a downtown with pretty sidewalks and nice places to sit will be of little use if there is not a vibrant business community surrounding it. People who want pretty scenery can go to one of the city parks -- another area that needs serious attention.

This city needs to figure out just what it will take to get businesses that are able to support themselves and to draw interest downtown -- and to support the ones that are already making a go of it. More than a small task, by the way.

And it will be great if new living spaces really draw young people downtown -- but will they stay -- that is the real conundrum. Without the amenities that young people want -- first and foremost, an active social scene -- the answer is probably no.

And despite what some people say and some officials ignore -- there is a problem with vagrants and crime downtown and in the immediate areas surrounding downtown. It is just a reality that must be dealt with -- and a perception that must be changed -- if a downtown improvement plan is going to work. Perhaps the first step might be to go after the landlords and property owners who provide housing and dilapidated structures that encourage vagrants and drug dealers and users.

The final piece is a discussion that is often held behind the scenes, but never really examined out loud -- government housing, the crimes that occur there and the environment in which hundreds of Goldsboro children are growing up.

Maybe looking hard here might solve more than a few problems and remove a few more obstacles to that bright future so many of us hope is just around the corner -- and make it sustainable for the long term.

Published in Editorials on August 20, 2011 11:21 PM