I have been thinking a lot about our community. It is spring and it is beautiful outside. I've enjoyed riding my bike in this glorious weather. The Historic District and Uptown are thrumming with life. Indeed, we have lovely neighborhoods all over Columbus, and when you add blooming azaleas to the mix, our town can be visually stunning. It gladdens the heart to see people out and about, enjoying what Columbus has to offer, from the riverwalk and whitewater to the Fall Line trace, hanging out for coffee or a meal, going to a play or concert. Business at our B&B is hopping, and we have a constant stream of folks coming through and giving rave reviews to our town. Columbus seems vibrant and moving in a positive direction. Columbus, especially in the spring, just makes me happy!
So imagine my chagrin when I discovered last week that my emotional state is delusional. I have been duped or have simply duped myself. I'm just a Pollyanna in rose colored glasses. A recent Gallup well-being poll published on Yahoo ranked the Columbus area as the 7th most miserable place to live in the United States. Boy! My delight in this community is wildly misplaced. The Ledger summed up the findings of the poll this way: "We're depressed, underpaid, undereducated, unhealthy and hungry; we don't like where we live, we don't like where we work, and we don't like the people with whom we live and work."
Miserable? Miserable! I'll show you miserable!
My initial reaction, of course, is to unleash a rant, to mock and curse this poll as just another media stunt. The good name of our city has been sullied, and I feel compelled to defend her. Nobody asked me for my opinion when Gallup compiled its data. And I'll bet none of you were among the 475 people queried about life in Columbus.
Well? I thought not.
While standing on my bully pulpit, I might possibly suggest that the poll confuses cause and effect. It is not our town that makes people miserable. (After all, according to another recent poll, Columbus was numbered among the BEST places to live.) No My theory is that Gallup inadvertently, or perhaps maliciously, picked a bunch of overweight, undereducated, poor, clinically depressed smokers for their survey. They gathered the opinions of ungrateful, angry, irritating people who would be miserable no matter where they lived.
This sort of thinking is why I am rarely granted access to the bully pulpit.
In contrast to my uncharitable comments, both the Ledger's editorial board and the mayor offer more measured, thoughtful and helpful responses (if somewhat less personally satisfying than my own opinion.)
The Ledger pointed out on Sunday that the poll does not really tell us anything that we don't already know. "Georgia is a poor state. Poverty, despair, low nutrition and health problems are hardly strangers to one another. We know that a wide, deep income chasm has split the city for decades; and that the struggle to grow and nurture a thriving middle class is our perpetual and sometimes frustrating challenge."
While we may not be miserable here, while we may even take pride in and love our community, "it is important to know what our assets are and what our problems are." As the Ledger states, "We fail ourselves and each other if we ignore either."
Mayor Tomlinson sees our appearance on this ignominious poll of the miserable as a teaching moment. She states that "we can use these findings to understand the importance of walkable communities, urban gardens and healthy cities, and to understand the importance of reducing poverty in our cities and creating access to resources for all." A noble goal.
Those remarks of the mayor segue right into the role of Historic Columbus in building our community. Historic Columbus may not be directly involved in misery abatement -- eliminating poverty and hunger, improving educational opportunities and access to health care. Nonetheless, its mission is to create a community that we can be proud of, to help build a livable city with its own unique identity and assets.
As president of Historic Columbus, I must say we have a great story to share. Did you know that HCF has put $12 million back into the Muscogee County tax rolls through its Revolving Redevelopment Fund? Did you know that the organization has invested over $800,000 in our historic neighborhoods through interest-free façade loans? Or that they have given out over 25,000 books about our community's history to our school children?
Right now, Historic Columbus is working with the city and private entities to revitalize one of the most crucial neighborhoods to the overall downtown area -- City Village. HCF is also creating new exhibits, developing new partnerships, and educating our community in ways no other organization can.
Without the work of Historic Columbus and its 48-year history, Columbus' urban landscape would not be what it is today. In our own way we attempt to alleviate misery. We do want a city full of happy, healthy, fulfilled citizens.
You only have to look at Uptown revitalization to see the positive economic and social impact. And the mayor's statement alludes to our future involvement with progress in Columbus. Her vision of a livable city is embodied in the City Village Project between the TSYS campus and Bibb City along the river. Our organization has a leading role in this huge game-changing redevelopment plan.
So how are we to feel? Miserable? Nah We may feel a bit dismayed to find ourselves on "the list," but that list hardly defines us. In fact, we may be able to use our status as a "miserable place" to prod and cajole the powers-that-be into acquiescing to our vision of a far better -- less miserable -- future.
Garry Pound, a Columbus artist, is president of Historic Columbus Inc. This essay is adapted from a recent address to the Historic Columbus membership; www.historiccolumbus.com.