From the Ground Up

by Phil Hardwick

Published: June 14,1999

The e-mail file has been filled with community development questions lately. Here’s a sampling:

Question: I live in a town that has a beautiful downtown and a lovely residential area. However, the bypass around our town looks terrible. Signs are everywhere, some of which are old and rusting. Litter is a problem. We have clean-up campaigns, but it looks the same way a week later. My concern is that our town’s image is what’s out there on that bypass instead of the other part of our beautiful city. What have other towns done to solve this problem, or is our situation unique?

Answer: You are by no means alone in your dilemma. From my experience in dealing with communities, it seems that the best solution is the adoption and enforcement of strong sign, litter and landscape ordinances. For some reason, some members of the public don’t believe that litter is really a problem.

Likewise, some law enforcement officers don’t believe enforcing litter laws is real police work. If you own a pick-up truck, you may be part of the problem. A survey in Texas revealed that much of the litter on our highways comes from people who throw trash in the back of their pick-up trucks only to have it blown out onto the highway. Unfortunately, it seems that effective laws and strong enforcement of those laws works best to solve the problems you mentioned. I suggest that you contact at least three cities that have adopted sign, litter or landscape ordinances.

Question: You wrote a column recently on the subject of outsiders being welcome in Mississippi. I want to tell you about a man in our civic club who was transferred here by his company. He runs down Mississippi all the time and says he can’t wait until he’s transferred to another town. We have had much discussion about him and have really tried to make him feel welcome. Some people just can’t be welcomed.

Answer: A “wise” friend recently told me a story that you will probably enjoy.

A man moved into a town and passed by a neighbor who was sitting on his front porch.

“Hey,” said the newcomer. “What are the people like in this town? Are they friendly or unfriendly?”

“Well,” said the old man on the porch. “What were they like in the town you moved here from.”

“Oh, they were just wonderful and friendly. Nicest people I’ve ever met.”

“Well,” the old man replied. “You’ll find exactly the same kind of people here.”

The newcomer smiled and went on his way. Before long, a second newcomer walked by.

“Hey,” said the newcomer. “What are the people like in this town? Are they friendly or unfriendly?”

“Well,” said the old man on the porch. “What were they like in the town you moved here from.”

“They were terribly rude and unfriendly,” he huffed. “Wouldn’t give you the time of day. Always griping. Worst people we’ve ever met.”

“Well,” the old man replied. “You’ll find exactly the same kind of people here.”

Question: What is the neighborhood life cycle? How can you tell what stage of the cycle the neighborhood is in?

Answer: The neighborhood life cycle is growth, stability, decline and renewal or death. The best indicator in determining the current stage of a residential neighborhood is the home ownership rate.

The home ownership rate goes down as the neighborhood declines.

Question: Our church wants to adopt a neighborhood in a poor part of town. Any tips?

Answer: I could write a book on this one question, but I will attempt to restrain myself. I applaud your motive and your effort. After you determine the boundaries of the neighborhood you want to serve, you must make a very important decision. You must decide whether you want to improve the lot of the current residents, or whether you want to replace some or all of the current residents. Your decision will drive your actions from that point.

If your decision is to remove certain undesirables from the neighborhood and replace them with more productive people then you must control the real estate. If you don’t control who lives in the neighborhood you will fail. If, on the other hand, you want to help the lot of the people who are living there and will continue to live there, then other strategies are more appropriate.

Phil Hardwick’s column appears regularly in the Mississippi Business Journal. His e-mail address is hardwickp@aol.com.

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