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The Chamber Blog

This space features conversations about issues affecting the Decatur-Morgan County area from leaders in our community.

Delano Park and Why It Matters

(Editor's note: this blog post originally appeared on DecaturNext, a platform by John Joseph of Decatur Corridor Development)

Our kids really enjoy Delano Park, Decatur’s oldest park, created in 1887 . We have to keep them from picking the flowers, but they still like to look at them. They enjoy running around the Park’s open spaces and playing with other children there. It’s a perfect place to have a picnic and slow down a little bit. 

It is a mistake, though, to think of Delano as “just a park.” A bigger picture exists, and I want to explore that here. Because it is a bigger picture we cannot afford to ignore.

As proponents of Delano have long said, great cities have great parks. When people visit a city and think about living there, they are not just looking at roads, retail, or housing. They expect such infrastructure if they are going to take you seriously. Beyond infrastructure, they are looking at what makes your city different from all the others they are considering. They are seeking to decide for themselves whether a community takes any pride in itself, prioritizes the availability of green spaces and common areas, cares about providing opportunities for its kids. Our parks, as much as any other undertaking, send that signal. So, if you’re interested in positioning Decatur to grow, pay attention to the parks. And especially to our historic ones like Delano.

Prioritizing our beautification efforts is also crucial because doing so sets a threshold standard for future endeavors. When you notice a spectacular building or natural space in a city, you usually notice a certain standard of quality in the surrounding area. On the other hand, when you visit a city that is declining, what you notice is absence. You notice the absence of attractive green spaces like Delano, or bold new endeavors like the Cook Museum, or key institutions like The Alabama Center for the Arts. If you are a proponent of creating and sustaining a certain quality of life here, key attractions like Delano Park should matter to you.

Returning to a key theme of DecaturNext, everything we do as a city should position us to attract high-wage employers and encourage their employees to live here. These employers and employees have high expectations, and everything they see will help them answer two questions: Can I envision myself living happily here? Can I envision employees and/or their families living happily here? In a time when we are competing for key employers with places ranging from Singapore to Taiwan to Germany, not to mention other locations in the United States, we have to present ourselves in a way that is appealing. Average is a waste of time. As you know, there is a time to talk incentives with employers, but in many cases the final incentive offers may not differ dramatically. We need to be well-positioned for that decisive moment when employers choose where to invest their resources. Can we present such a compelling destination without first choosing to invest in ourselves? Of course not. Thus it turns out that beautification and upkeep is also an economic development issue.

Then there is Delano’s potential to serve as a hub for unity in Decatur. Forget growth, the reality is a city that can’t get along will not survive in any meaningful respect in the long run. As we learn to live happily together here, we will need places where people from all over the community feel welcome. We will need places where time with family and friends, Pokemon Go, and young professionals working through Prioritizing our beautification efforts is also crucial because doing so sets a threshold standard for future endeavors. When you notice a spectacular building or natural space in a city, you usually notice a certain standard of quality in the surrounding area. On the other hand, when you visit a city that is declining, what you notice is absence. You notice the absence of attractive green spaces like Delano, or bold new endeavors like the Cook Museum, or key institutions like The Alabama Center for the Arts. If you are a proponent of creating and sustaining a certain quality of life here, key attractions like Delano Park should matter to you.

Returning to a key theme of DecaturNext, everything we do as a city should position us to attract high-wage employers and encourage their employees to live here. These employers and employees have high expectations, and everything they see will help them answer two questions: Can I envision myself living happily here? Can I envision employees and/or their families living happily here? In a time when we are competing for key employers with places ranging from Singapore to Taiwan to Germany, not to mention other locations in the United States, we have to present ourselves in a way that is appealing. Average is a waste of time. As you know, there is a time to talk incentives with employers, but in many cases the final incentive offers may not differ dramatically. We need to be well-positioned for that decisive moment when employers choose where to invest their resources. Can we present such a compelling destination without first choosing to invest in ourselves? Of course not. Thus it turns out that beautification and upkeep is also an economic development issue.

Then there is Delano’s potential to serve as a hub for unity in Decatur. Forget growth, the reality is a city that can’t get along will not survive in any meaningful respect in the long run. As we learn to live happily together here, we will need places where people from all over the community feel welcome. We will need places where time with family and friends, Pokemon Go, and young professionals working through a shared Google Doc on their laptops can all coexist. This is not feel good. This is economic reality for all who care about Decatur. This is the infrastructure for growth. This, ultimately, is survival.

As Delano Park continues to honor our past, contribute to our present, and strengthen us for the future, it continues to gain notoriety. For example, the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics, which teaches people how to enjoy the outdoors responsibly, has selected Delano as one of its 2016 national “Hot Spots.” As a result, LNT will conduct a series of educational programs in Decatur from September 19th through the 26th. Trainers will be camping at the Park all week, underscoring national recognition that Delano is a place worth protecting. We should conclude the same.

An aside. One of the limitations of recognizing anyone on this blog is that it’s impossible to know everyone who deserves to be recognized. That being said, I think everyone agrees that Nell Standridge, Barbara Kelly, and Sally Smartt all deserve recognition for the years of devoted service they have given to Delano Park. Their work is an example of what it means to be a striving city, which is to say a group of people who care about a place and spend significant time, money, and energy to make it better. I am thinking about Nell, Barbara, and Sally as I write this, because for every single word I write they have given at least an hour to Delano. And they have done so despite enduring the misunderstandings, misguided statements, or flat out misrepresentations that often accompany work on behalf of an entire community. Just goes to show that you can never truly love a person, or a place, without at some point paying a price. That’s how it works, but the undertaking is a noble one. Well done, ladies.

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