Community Members Lay Out the Future of Athens

Envision Athens has big plans for the city.

Athens-Clarke government and institutions are working with local residents to develop the community in a newly launched project called Envision Athens.
Sharyn Dickerson, who is Athens district 1 commissioner, is a co-chair to Envision Athens, Dickerson said the goal is to create a plan that addresses and improves issues such as transportation, housing, health, safety, jobs, and the physical appearance of the community over the next two decades.

“Envision Athens is a community-wide effort to develop a community economic development strategy for the next 20 years,” Dickerson said.

The communities efforts lie within the three workshops Envision Athens has created: 1) Focus on the Future workshops, 2) Summit on the Future workshop and 3) the Community Choices workshop.

Envision Athens is being funded by institutions, but led by members of the community. Dickerson and Googe are leading what they call “steering committee members.” Dickerson said the committee members gather input from the community to find what issues need to be addressed and the best way to go about doing so.

Alison McCullick, The University of Georgia’s communication relations coordinator, said the steering committee originally consisted of 11 people, but after much deliberation, they ended up appointing 27 more members.

“We really wanted it to be reflective of the county, so we looked at the demographics as far as age, race, gender,” McCullick said. “And then it was very much reflective of our community, which is exciting.”

Bob Googe, the co-chair of Envision Athens, said he is excited to work with such a diverse team to be working with. As he spoke to the attendants of the final focus group workshop, Googe said, as reverend to First Presbyterian Church in Athens and owner of Jittery Joe’s coffee shop, he felt he had known everyone in Athens, but beginning this initiative has taught him otherwise.

“So, now I’m excited that there are people that, you know, look different than me, that live different places than me,” Googe said. “So, it’s a great opportunity to listen to people that maybe you don’t normally listen to.”

Googe, Dickerson, and steering committee members said their ability to identify and improve issues within the community will come from responses they receive from the community during their 3-phase program: 1) Focus on the Future workshops, 2) Summit on the Future workshop and 3) Community Choices workshop.

Between Jan. 30 to Feb. 2, Envision Athens conducted five Focus on the Future workshops.

“The Focus on the Future Workshops are an opportunity for you to share your ideas, concerns, and hopes about the future of Athens-Clarke County within a casual, small-group setting,” the Envision Athens site read.

During the final focus group workshop, members split the attendants into 11 small groups and discussed what issues he or she felt were prevalent in Athens. Dickerson said this phase was to assess how the community feels about what’s going on and what they’d like to see.

The next phase isn’t until April but the project nor the members will be idle during that period. Dickerson said members will receive reports on trends and economic developments and such in their area of specialty.

“And then the information from these meetings will come to them before that community stakeholder meeting,” Dickerson said.

After discussing goals and potential actions to achieve these goals with members within their group, the groups are expected to travel to another table unrelated to their specialty and discuss issues and solutions with them, as well.

“The problem within our community is we tend to always stay just in our area and we don’t understand how they all interrelate with one another,” Dickerson said.

“[Steering committee members] are going to get together, come to a meeting at the end of February. [They] will start at a table just on their major area of expertise,” said Dickerson.

The second phase, the Community Summit workshop, will then take place almost two months later. Kyle May, one of Envision Athens facilitators, said they are taking everything they’ve learned from the focus groups and stakeholder sessions and “try to make sense out of it.”

“So that will mean we will have like a test set of goals that we can have the community basically come in and let us know if we’re on the right track,” he said.

“And then April 20 we’ll come back with all that information that we’ve sorted out and put in buckets and come back to the public,” Dickerson said. “And then the public will then decide what are the priorities within each one of those buckets.”

In the third phase, the Community Choices workshop, the members will look at what the community voted on and where to go from there.

“That information will come back to the steering committee and then we will create an action plan that designates what groups will be working on those things,” Dickerson said.

Through discrete projects, programs, and policies, Envision Athens will be able to positively shape Athens over the next two decades, said May.

“There’s going to be a range of things suggested, but in reality there going to be discrete items. But, they lead to achieving the goal and they lead to achieving the vision.”

By: Chi Warui and Janey Murray

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