Looking back, looking forward

"Today begins the New Year. Let each resolve now to make it the best in the history of the city we all love so dearly."

-- Editorial, The Augusta Chronicle, Jan. 1, 1908

Funny how some things never change, even after 100 years.

The spirit of that New Year's Day editorial from a century ago rings just as true today. Just look around at Augusta. It's poised to embark on a fresh year full of hope and opportunity -- and enough strong-willed, hard-working people have vowed to help make positive things happen.

The old editorial quoted above struck several chords that have a familiar ring now:

From 1908: "We need united, concerted effort in promoting the work of the Chamber of Commerce. This institution is capable of great good. Its plans in process of formation, or already secured, are encouraging, but each one who is a member of it -- and every citizen should be -- owes it to the city to work zealously in its behalf. If every present member even would throw himself into the cause, there is no reason to doubt that a surprising benefit would accrue to the city in a very short while."

In 2008: The Augusta Metro Chamber of Commerce has evolved into a strong community advocate, and this year it has committed to turn its scrutiny toward arguably the most important issue to come before the General Assembly this term: the statewide water management plan.

The plan is in its final development phase, but there still are dozens of questions about how responsible and doable the plan really is. Water is the chosen beverage of economic opportunity, and the chamber will be at the front of the charge to protect our water supply from irresponsible interbasin transfers that would take Augusta's precious resource to slake the thirst of drought-parched Atlanta.

From 1908: "We need an auditorium. The agitation for this has completely died down and there is no immediate hope of its resurrection, but it is a pity nonetheless, and 1908 has it on the debit side of the ledger. Whether it will be transferred to the credit side this year is not to be said, but we can at least hope so."

In 2008: We've needed a new "auditorium" for a while, and the civic center complex we have now is no great shakes. Complaints against it have mounted to the point that Richmond County's legislative delegation plans on investigating the center's operations.

A bright spot for this year, though, is the Trade, Exhibition and Event center, which could begin construction in 2008. And it comes with a bonus -- when the Augusta Commission voted last year to move forward with the TEE center, it also enacted a hotel tax to go into effect this year that will go toward revitalizing historic, inner-city neighborhoods, to the tune of $37.5 million.

From 1908: "We need a Carnegie library. The outlook for this is not as encouraging as for the city hall, but it is hoped that the citizens will get together in a united effort to secure this library, or another equally as good, and stock it with books that will be suitable for all classes. The situation under which Augusta labors in this regard is not creditable and the sooner this work is inaugurated the better."

In 2008: Two-dozen Georgia cities got Carnegie libraries, but not Augusta. Apparently supporters couldn't overcome the strong anti-Andrew Carnegie sentiment from people who chafed at the idea of taking charity from a millionaire who lived up north.

But today, residents are getting a library that the city deserves. Construction is expected to begin on the new main branch of the Augusta Public Library this year, with the ground-breaking for the 90,000-square-foot facility planned for this summer.

From 1908: "(W)e need civic pride. We need more boosters and fewer knockers. If no other good were accomplished in 1908 and knocking were eliminated the year would be memorable on that account alone. There is so much to be proud of in Augusta, so much that is pregnant with increased prosperity, such vast possibilities, that it is a shame that some go around endeavoring to find flaws to accentuate their own miserable pettishness. It is notable that the persons who are loudest in running down the city are those who do least toward building it up."

In 2008: Sound familiar? Change the date in the above paragraph, and it would match up perfectly with past roils within the Augusta Commission.

But look at the progress the commission made in 2007. They actually started forming a track record of consensus and common sense. The mayor and commissioners rendered sound decisions that sent a message -- that the dysfunctional brand of obstructionist politics no longer will pollute this city. Now we have three newly elected commissioners who have committed to maintaining the government's positive momentum in 2008.

There truly are "such vast possibilities" lying before Augusta this year. The improving government. The implementation of a downtown Business Improvement District designed to enhance public safety and beautification. The burst of economic development. The steady swell in civic pride.

This is an exciting time to be a resident of the CSRA -- with each person having something to contribute to make Augusta even better.

To urge all of us toward that end, we borrow one more time from the words of our 1908 predecessor on this page, Chronicle Editor Thomas W. Loyless:

"To accomplish much for Augusta a beginning must be made some time in the year, and the earlier the better. Start with January One, then not a day will be lost unnecessarily."

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