Jeremiah Dumas: Change for a better community

August 11, 2010 10:55:00 AM



I have read with considerable interest the many opinion pieces and articles in the paper pertaining to personal freedom infringement by the current and past actions of the Board of Aldermen. I not only disagree with these statements but find it interesting that a community with our potential cannot see the benefit of local regulation in order for us to shed the past ideas of development that have produced the many unsightly areas of our community.  


A drive down highways 12 or 182 in Starkville on any given day provides many case studies of what the lack of sound design or planning principles will produce in a community: vast parking lots with no tree cover; countless curb cuts and access points that cause visual clutter, confusion, and safety problems; oversized signs that can be seen for miles, car centric development with no access to alternative transportation types, etc.  


Unfortunately, we are living in an era of unprecedented partisan politics, and these ideas are being brought to the local level in regards to this administration''s stance on regulation at the municipal level. 


Typically these are issues of the national scale, but since the election of this city administration, the liberal, conservative, tea party label has been applied to most along with the principles of those parties being talked and touted within the boardroom, in the papers, and on the message boards.  


I personally see a big difference between the national basis of freedom infringement and the need for regulation within a community. This community has many obstacles to overcome and much hard work ahead in order to reach our potential and set the proper framework for sustainable growth and development. I truly believe that we have turned the corner from doing-things-like-we-always-did to setting a new standard. Remember, and to quote my good friend Jerry Emison, "If you always do what you always did, you will always get what you always got."  


Merriam-Webster provides several definitions for the word "community": "A unified body of individuals, the people with common interests living in a particular area, a group linked by a common policy." These are only a few definitions, and I think it is important for the City of Starkville to begin the process of becoming a true community versus remaining a divided town.  


I like to abide by a quote from George Bernard Shaw: "I am of the opinion that my life belongs to the whole community and as long as I live, it is my privilege to do for it whatever I can. I want to be thoroughly used up when I die, for the harder I work, the more I live." Herman Melville said, "We cannot live only for ourselves. A thousand fibers connect us with our fellow men." The great Urbanist Jane Jacobs wrote in her seminal book The Death and Life of Great American Cities, "There is a quality even meaner than outright ugliness or disorder, and this meaner quality is the dishonest mask of pretended order, achieved by ignoring or suppressing the real order that is struggling to exist and to be served."  


It is my belief that this order Jacobs mentions is only achieved by a community with a common goal/policy being enacted in order to produce sound, aesthetically pleasing development.  


My favorite author Wendell Berry states, "Our past is our definition. We may strive with good reason, to escape it, or to escape what is bad in it, but we will escape it only by adding something better to it." As part of the Starkville community, I want to escape stripped land, sprawl, huge parking lots with no trees or definition, neighborhoods with no trees, and commercial and residential development with no sidewalks by adding something better to it so that we can develop a community that reflects the pre-1950''s Starkville of the Greensboro, Main, and Overstreet districts.  


This isn''t a question of nostalgia, partisan politics, or personal freedoms; it is a question of realizing that change is needed to produce a better community and that change includes levels of regulation that are above the anything-goes concept of the past. The great communities of the world understand and embrace this concept instead of doing what they can to remain stagnant and "do what they have done so that they get what they always got." "Never doubt that a small, group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has." Margaret  


The writer is the Ward 5 Alderman for Starkville.