What Makes Ronnie Roll: For The Love Of Cities, Part 1

Our first meeting of 2017 began by Mayor Ronnie showing me the book he had received for Christmas from some of the City Hall staff, and it’s a sure bet that it will be the topic of several “Ronnies.” It’s written by Peter Kageyama, and I read eagerly while he made his morning rounds. The book is called For The Love Of Cities, and the subtitle is “The love affair between people and their places.” It was voted one of the Top Ten books on urban development and city planning in 2012, and a good read for anyone who loves our amazing Athens. Mr. Kageyama presents some statistics with regard to being genuinely attached to one’s town, as opposed to being neutral or unattached, and he makes a compelling case for the goal of leadership to be one that brings energy to a city, and I don’t mean oil. I think it’s safe to say that the City of Athens experiences an unusually high level of attachment on the part of its citizens, and I know for a fact that the Mayor only wants to see that increase.

We have just finished up what was a wonderful year, with much being accomplished, and much to look forward to. “For the first time in the history of Athens, we have been able to spend a million dollars on improving our streets,” said the Mayor. That has been in part because several years ago the City Council had the foresight to set aside three million dollars as matching funds for improving streets, just waiting for ATRIPP money to be released. And, there are still several ATRIPP projects that are in the offing. The hope is that the next major project will be improving Washington Street, which goes all the way from Hwy 72 to Highway 31.

He talked about his vision for 2017, and said that recently he “had sent a note to the City Council. I said, ‘We have 46 months left in this term, and we need to build Athens into a place people love.’” I then asked him, “What does that look like, building a town that people actually love, without it being “squishy?”’ He showed me some charts of Kageyama’s, definitely not squishy in nature, but will have to be addressed in a future column. What he did say though, to illustrate his point was, “Have you ever been in a room that felt dead, or a church, or a meeting…..or a city?” Without naming names, we both have a town that comes to mind with this kind of discussion, a city we don’t like to go to and that has such amazing, yet squandered potential. He wants the people of Athens to honestly be able to answer the question in the affirmative: Is Athens convivial? That is, is it a friendly, enjoyable place, one that feels alive?

Here’s the vision:

  • Keep the momentum going with economic development
  • Successfully negotiate the landfill contract
  • Work to convert the eyesore that is Pilgrim’s Pride into a central park, a dog park, and a place that all Athenians in the downtown core can enjoy, as well as visitors
  • Continue to tear down unsafe structures
  • Continue to work on ATRIPP projects

If you are interested in hearing more about our city’s plans, projects, and dreams for the future, Mayor Marks will be giving the State of the City address on Tuesday, January 31, 2017 at the Athens State University ballroom. We talked about the amazing times in which we live, we prayed, and then it was time for Ronnie to roll.
By: Ali Elizabeth Turner