Monday, October 06, 2008

The Future Ain't What It Used to Be: Discussing Community Prosperity in Tifton

On Tuesday, September 30th the Russell Library hosted the first of three public forums in the community of Tifton, Georgia – a town located less than 200 miles south of Athens, Georgia. The topic, “Pathways to Prosperity: Choosing a Future for Your Community,” brought out 25 attendees, including several candidates for public office and individuals engaged in a diverse range of professions in the surrounding area. The discussion was lively and established that attendees have many shared goals for the future of their community.

Dedicated volunteers Dr. Margaret Holt and Sharon Gibson served as co-moderators for the forum. Holt, a retired UGA professor, is a longtime associate of the National Issues Forums Institute and has moderated numerous forums in communities across the country. This fall, she has comoderated several forums as part of the Georgia Deliberations initiative by the Russell Library, the Jimmy Carter Library, and partners around the state.. Meanwhile Gibson, a University of Georgia Cooperative Extension family and consumer science educator, brought a special connection to this deliberation – she is a former resident of Tifton. Both moderators directed a smooth and impartial discussion, guiding attendees through three approaches to achieving greater prosperity. Russell Library staff members Jill Severn and Jan Levinson were on hand to record and observe the deliberation.

The topic of this forum hit close to home, especially in light of this week’s news from Wall Street, and inspired some great discussion. In recent decades the South has been transformed by increased wealth and population, but the region is still grappling with how to manage that growth and what these changes mean for the future of individual communities.

Notable moments in the deliberation with Tifton residents:

  • Moderators began by asking the group what, if anything made the South a distinct place. Responses ranged from descriptions of small-town living to comments about poverty, rural life, and the high rate of illiteracy
  • The crowd largely criticized Approach 1. Comments suggested that before employing a “trickle-down” approach by bringing more jobs to the area, you have to combat poverty and illiteracy in the region. You have to create a strong work force before attracting the right kind of businesses.
  • One citizen astutely commented that before you can pick out a path to prosperity, you have to decide what prosperity means to your community. He noted that it isn’t always about money, but about the quality of life in a place.
  • The crowd seemed to favor Approach 2, investing in people first. The suggestion was made to establish more informal, community-based education opportunities rather than depending solely on the public school system.

  • Everyone favored taking a smart approach to managing growth, citing the results of poorly managed growth in nearby cities and recognizing that good zoning and public-private partnerships would most benefit Tifton.

The next public forum, The Energy Problem: Choices for an Uncertain Future,will be held on this Thursday, October 2nd from 3:00-5:00pm at the Jimmy Carter Presidential Library For more information on this, and other upcoming public forums, please visit Russell Library homepage or call (706) 542-5788.

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