There are a variety of things that can drive a community into decline. Combine enough of the negatives and a once respected and livable location can crumble. We have seen it many times in metro Atlanta.
I am always puzzled by the people who flee areas in serious decline, move to a much better community, and demand that the high-quality location change to emulate the place they just left.
It’s not so difficult to believe that the most successful communities in Georgia and around the nation are the ones that attract well-educated and high-income families. The inverse is also true with the least successful communities having the least educated and lower-income families.
The statistics do not lie. So, what needs to occur if we want to remain a sought-after and prosperous community? The obvious answer to me is to concentrate on what attracts well-educated, high-income families, the prized demographic.
For clarification, I am referring to statistical averages and our community certainly has a diverse assortment of demographics.
I realize when writing about “well-educated and high-income” that a “trigger warning” might have been necessary at the beginning of this column as some of the readers with Marxist tendencies would rather see more social and racial justice virtue signaling even though those efforts tend to be much more divisive, exclusionary, and repulsive. They can provide their argument in the comments under their anonymous and fake identities.
Perhaps, the most important aspect of a community to the prized demographic is the school system or access to quality private schools. As most know, Fayette County has been strong in this category. However, local school systems like ours are becoming a national cultural battleground and the communities that can keep the focus on academics instead of divisive politics will have the advantage.
Our Fayette County Board of Education is going to have to ensure that parents are intimately aware of what is going on in the classrooms (not the “if I don’t hear anything, it must be okay” routine). Likewise, the FCBOE needs to make a serious effort to engage the parents of our Tier I schools and increase parental involvement.
Public engagement is critical to maintaining a successful community. Local governments that dismiss the constituents and have no effective two-way communication are doomed to decline. Show me a successful, sought-after community and I will show you where they have a higher level of public engagement.
In the past, Peachtree City could have been held up as a national example of remarkable public engagement. Many of the opportunities for public involvement were created by the city government through recruiting citizen volunteers, citizen commissions, and public participation in government meetings.
Regrettably, Peachtree City is painfully regressing by literally targeting public engagement as an unnecessary evil and moving to shut the constituents out of the process by eliminating opportunities and butchering what remains.
These wayward attempts at silencing the public by Mayor Vanessa Fleisch and Councilmen Mike King, Phil Prebor, Terry Ernst, and Kevin Madden include attempting to actually use taxpayer dollars to sue constituents who are critical of their actions, secretly eliminating the citizen recreation commission without a public vote, drastically limiting citizen speech in public meetings, lying to the public about their desire to urbanize the city with dense apartment complexes while creating bogus public input sessions that negate opposing views, and stripping our long-standing citizen planning commission of all its authority.
Consequently, when citizens have complaints about library hours, recreation issues, dense urbanization, etc., it’s just too darn bad, go away. This is how a city loses its luster and begins to decline. Mayor Learnard is off to a really bad start in her administration and I truly hope she can change course.
The built environment within the community is also important when attracting the prized demographics. Fayette County has maintained a rural suburban feel through some years of tremendous growth. This has been a lucrative niche for us which benefits both the government and private sectors.
The political candidates who want to homogenize our communities into the typical metro Atlanta suburban model of development are essentially proposing self-annihilation. There is a reason Forsyth County and Fayette County are better statistically than the rest of metro Atlanta.
In Peachtree City, the citizens are one election away (November 2023) from solidifying an anti-dense-urbanization coalition on the city council.
Fayetteville, on the other hand, needs to take a moment and figure out what long-term, sustainable success looks like. The city council has overbuilt multi-family housing and it will bite them during certain economic cycles. In today’s market, those complexes do not age gracefully. Additionally, the council is aware of the increase in local traffic congestion they are creating but they do not care.
Over 20 years ago, I railed on in The Citizen about the dangers of the big box stores coming to Fayette County and supplied a list of negative impacts they have on the community. Well, the manure is hitting the fan in Fayetteville, especially northern Fayetteville.
I am praying the city council in Fayetteville is paying serious attention to the criticisms and complaints of their constituents regarding the built environment. I read the anxious protests every week on social media. Waning restaurants and a declining Pavilion shopping center are chief complaints.
The elected officials desperately need to wake up and realize how these failures negatively impact the image of the city and the county. One example from last week on the Living in Fabulous Fayetteville page on Facebook discusses the deteriorating conditions of the largest retail stores.
C. Masson, a 35-year resident, said he “just had to say how totally disgusted I am at the condition of the Fayetteville Walmart. Place looks like crap, food on the floor, and the employees act like they don’t give a crap.” He continued that he shops at the new Publix in Senoia and that he “can hardly recognize what once was a desired city to live in.”
S. Cooley observed, “It seems to be a combination of patrons and employees not connected or invested in keeping the community clean.” She maintains, “In the past, people took pride in their community and made an effort to keep it clean and orderly.”
H. Etheridge remarked, “The Fayetteville Home Depot is the same! Dirty, unorganized, employees that don’t care. When you look around, this is true for almost every store in Fayetteville except for Publix and Ingles!”
T. Spillane says, “I stay away from the Pavilion altogether.”
A. Barrett added, “Fayetteville Target is the same exact way. There is no pride in that store.” She continued, “That’s why I will always go to the PTC Target. I can’t wait for the Walmart to open again in PTC.”
J. McMillan’s experience with the Fayetteville Walmart goes like this: “It’s awful! I was there last week and in the food aisle two female employees were talking and cursing using F Bomb with an aisle full of customers.”
Fayetteville mayor and council members, you should be alarmed. You should be doing something about it before it’s too late, and there is plenty you can do. Once an area goes into a state of blight, it takes a massive effort to turn it around. It will hurt the entire county.
There are no set rules to identify a declining community, but it’s easy to determine what factors will cause your prime demographics to leave. If our local governments wait until per capita income drops, standardized test scores fall, social and recreational infrastructure fails, house prices decline, and businesses flop, it’s too late.
Local governments need to act with a purpose. Tell us what your plans are because quite a few things are not working, and the image is slipping. And please, don’t make things worse.
[Brown is a former mayor of Peachtree City and served two terms on the Fayette County Board of Commissioners.]