Why do people move to cities? Why do they leave cities? Why do they come back, (as is often the case with Athenians,) and raise their kids in the same town in which they were raised? In a word, to achieve a sense of connectedness. If they are looking for it, and find it in a given town, they tend to want to stay. If they move away because they can’t find it, they tend to stay away. And if they tried to find it somewhere else, and didn’t, then they tend to work harder at finding it back in the “realm of their roots.”
Gary McCaleb, the author of The Gift Of Community, (which will serve as the basis for our chats for a good while, me thinks,) uses the analogy of bridges when talking about connectedness. He talks about the city of Amsterdam, which boasts over 1,000 bridges. I have had the chance to walk on some of them, they are gorgeous, and they connect the city whether on foot, bicycle or in an automobile with a beauty that is utterly charming. As a consequence, Amsterdam is considered one of the best designed cities in the world.
As lovely as are the physical bridges of Amsterdam, every city has a chance to be a “city of bridges,” even if they are out in a physical desert. Bridges of relationships, the arts, things like the new Library getting under way here in Athens, the community garden that is coming together, the Farmer’s Market, volunteerism, and the ongoing insistence on the part of the Mayor and others that Athens move toward the future in a true and just unity, are some of the “bridges” that make our town so special.
“Athens is alive with younger families,” said Mayor Ronnie, “and alive with activities like the mural that has been painted underneath the Forrest St railroad bridge.” As glad as I am to hear that, I must admit I am hoping that those of us whose families are no longer young will understand the need to invest in the future of our city by getting involved. McCaleb quotes the world famous futurist Alvin Toffler in his classic work, Future Shock, by saying that “long lasting relationships in our lives are becoming as rare as ‘long-stemmed flowers towering above a field of grass in which each blade represents a short-term relationship.’”
Continuing on with the analogy of bridges, McCaleb says, “Unseen bridges are built with trust, respect, compassion, encouragement, and love.” They are as crucial as physical bridges, and cannot be allowed to deteriorate. Happily, our physical bridges, (specifically the two on Forrest St,) are going to be able to get A.T.R.I.P.P. grant funding to help with their much needed repair. Each bridge needs about $1 million dollars in repairs apiece in order to be restored and able to well handle the rail traffic that is so much a part of our town’s culture.
The question that the Mayor would like to pose to all of us though, including himself, is what are we doing to repair the unseen bridges in Athens?
McCaleb finishes his chapter on bridges with a simple, but touching story of Arthur Ashe, the man who broke the color barrier in the world of pro tennis. Ashe knew his death was near, and he wrote a last letter to his daughter. In it he said, “Be ruled by that rule called golden.” Physical bridges take physical gold to repair and maintain, the unseen ones take ‘that rule called golden.’ And the desire to build both is one of the many things that make Ronnie roll.
By: Ali Elizabeth Turner