Right leaders, united attitude can help make city desired destination

Since The Augusta Chronicle reported on Georgia Health Sciences University President Ricardo Azziz's assertion that Augusta lacks a certain coolness factor ("Augusta lacks 'cool factor' for recruits, Azziz says," June 6), it seems the entire city is abuzz with opinions on whether Augusta is cool or uncool.

I'm often uncertain what is meant by "cool." Is it the ultra-hip hangout The Soul Bar? Or perhaps the more recent players such as Bar on Broad Street? A large number of my friends think local pub The Fox's Lair is the coolest hangout in all Augusta. I'm sure people from other areas in Augusta have wildly different ideas about which places are the coolest spots to hang out. Some people might not like hanging out at all.

AZZIZ ISN'T REALLY asking "Are we cool?" He's asking if we can attract and retain quality paying jobs and the people who will fill them. I acknowledge the need to educate native Augustans to fill those positions, but we need to look at why people want to stay in or relocate to a community.

Azziz calls it "cool" while others call it "quality of life." These quality-of-life issues go beyond salary and job satisfaction and reside primarily in what a person can hope to do outside of work. Events such as last weekend's Mudbugabeaux-n-Brew and the upcoming USA Cycling National Championship and Pride Festival are part of that quality of life. So are entertainment opportunities such as Loretta Lynn at the Bell and local theatre Le Chat Noir's performances of Amadeus. Public spaces such as the Augusta Common and Pendleton King Park play a role as well.

In fact, Augusta already has a great investment in quality of life, and if you pick up The Chronicle, especially the Applause section, or local papers such as Verge and the Metro Spirit, you'll find out about hundreds of community events and places that make Augusta an enjoyable place to live.

But Azziz is not wrong. Augusta lacks something. Just visit a comparable community in the region -- such as Greenville and Charleston, S.C.; Athens, Macon, Savannah and even smaller communities such as Washington and Dahlonega -- to see that somehow, at first blush, Augusta doesn't stack up.

In these communities, I noticed a greater investment in public spaces and a higher participation in community events. With everything Augusta has to offer, why aren't we as jam-packed with "coolness" as Greenville or Charleston?

I see two main obstacles: leadership and a sense of community.

ON THE FIRST point, our leaders, even those we love, are not doing a great job of leading. There are plenty of studies and proposals. We have "master plans" and ballparks and reorganizations being tossed about by a group that had difficulty agreeing to change the language of the law so they can keep meeting uninterrupted at the municipal building.

But where is the voice giving a vision to Augustans for what sort of community we could have with a proposal for how we get there?

This goes hand in hand with the second issue: We are a community divided. By race, by district, by economics, by artifice we stand apart when in fact we are one Augusta. We should be looking with a view to what we can do as One Augusta for All Augustans, instead of what is most expedient for my district, my neighborhood, my church, myself.

It is us, not my, that should begin to dominate our thinking and vocabulary.

Where do we go from here? Let's start with looking out for one another. Instead of making Cheddar's and Olive Garden the most crowded restaurants, let's find a place to eat owned and operated by our neighbors. Instead of heading to Wal-Mart or a box store, take a few minutes to see if one of your fellow Augustans can fill your need.

Looking for something to do? Pick up one of our numerous local publications and find out what's going on this weekend -- then go do it. This is how a community is built: by getting to know each other and looking to each other first.

While everyone plays a role in building community, leadership is absolutely vital. We need to demand our leaders actually lead. When I went to Charleston earlier this year for a conference, I visited City Hall and discovered it credits a mayor with a strong vision for helping build the city into what it is today. The people have kept him in office more than 30 years because he continues to guide them toward a greater Charleston.

When I was in Greenville, I was told a story about a man who brought a revitalization project to Augusta 15 years ago and was turned down. So he took it to Greenville, and they said yes. Today, it boasts a densely populated downtown with festivals nearly every weekend, amazing public spaces such as Falls Park and some really great downtown shopping.

WE NEED TO demand our leaders provide us with the kind of vision that shows us what we can be and how to get there -- and if they don't, we should stop re-electing them.

I know it's not as simple as doing these two things. There are other questions we need to answer about how we educate, how we protect and police our community and how we care for the needy among us.

But the cool thing is we can start answering these questions today. Call your elected leaders. Demand they lead or step aside. Then be a leader yourself. Spend a little time figuring out how you can help your fellow Augustans.

(The writer, a book store owner, is president of the Downtown Augusta Alliance.)

Augusta lacks 'cool factor' for recruits, Azziz says

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