Gary McCaleb in his book, The Gift Of Community illustrates in detail the five resources or elements that help define a city and make it a community. They will be discussed briefly here, with the emphasis on the geography of Athens, and how it has made us what and who we are. The five elements are: geography, history, demographics, heritage and culture.
The geography of Athens Limestone makes for an interesting hub of interests, peoples, history, and commerce, and was radically altered when the TVA became a presence beginning in the mid-1930s. The Elk and Tennessee Rivers were dammed, their courses changed, and in the ‘40s nuclear power began to change everything. Several industries were born as a result.
Athens could be defined as many towns, actually. It is a farming town, a railroad town, a college town, a manufacturing town, and although this would not be a popular perspective for most of us, an unwitting bedroom community of Huntsville. It’s not quite a river town, but nearly, and, all of it has come together to make us what we are. Cotton may no longer be king, but it is a prince, and gins abound. International companies are courting us as manufacturing sites, and former farm land continues to become converted into housing developments.
The categories are all interconnected, and at times even blur. For example, the U.G. White store was once a part of the geography in that it made it possible for farmers to alter theirs by selling farm implements, tools, and hardware. Now it’s part of the history, heritage and the culture, because someone took a risk, preserved it, added a restaurant, and made it into an icon in our town.
It is the understanding of how all the elements work together, and not compartmentalizing them that makes cities into communities. Mayor Ronnie had been reading McCaleb over this past weekend when in Sunday School a study of the city state of Corinth, as well as Paul’s epistle drove home the fact that just as God gives gifts “severally as He wills” in order to make His body work, (hopefully in love,) so it is with cities. An orchestra certainly has soloists, but without everyone making music and shining in their own right, there is either discord or silence.
Some of what makes our city a community is embracing technology in a way that is positive. The Mayor has the privilege of tooling around town in a Compressed Natural Gas powered Honda, and after going down to Decatur to view the arrival from Germany of a barge carrying a 160 ton radial press as part of the construction of the Carpenter Technology plant, on his way back he filled his tank with CNG at the station located at Elm and the Sportsplex. “Ali, guess what it cost us,” he said with a twinkle in his eye. I didn’t have a clue, but my own jaw dropped when he told me, “Ten dollars and seventeen cents.” A CNG car these days is one of the things that makes Ronnie roll over our geography, literally, while he helps make Athens a true community, one that is highly gifted and blessed.
By: Ali Elizabeth Turner