Artists in Action: Leaders, citizens striving for a new Model City
by Hervey Folsom
Special to The Star
Aug 11, 2013 | 2035 views |  0 comments | 14 14 recommendations | email to a friend | print
A new day and a new way is on the horizon for Annie’s Town. Planning for a better town in which to live, work and play has been underway for several months, and in several phases, according to Anniston City Councilwoman Millie Harris.

The first meeting of the 25-member Strategic Planning Steering Committee on June 27 was a turning point for citizen involvement, bringing together people from different wards with various interests and expertise that can be used to capitalize on the city’s assets, Harris said. Also, the 130th birthday celebration helped to shed light on what all Anniston has to offer.

“It will take awhile, but the possibilities are huge,” Harris said of the committee’s plans. The committee is guided by American Communities Partnership, based in Columbus, Ohio.

Harris said the resources Anniston has to build on are almost overwhelming when listed, adding “our most important asset is our people.”

According to Harris, the meeting drew people who have lived in other cities and seen revitalization first-hand, as well as lifelong residents of Anniston.

“They all bring talent and knowledge to the table,” she said.

Indeed, judging from the discussions and actions taken at city council work sessions and the June 27 meeting, a new sense of community is present, said Anniston City Planner Toby Bennington. Issues promoting the city’s theme — “One City: One Vision” — that have been addressed include the completion of the Chief Ladiga Trail, revitalization of the downtown district, heightened awareness of local artistic talent, activities for senior citizens and the possibility of a retirement community at McClellan, conservation, economic development, and the continued development of the Coldwater Biking Trails. Public education progress will be handled by the Anniston Board of Education and board members are part of the Strategic Planning Committee.

“We are also looking at charting pedestrian and bicycle routes throughout the city,” Bennington added.

There was a high turnout for the “Music on Main” meeting on June 26, said Dianna Michaels, executive director of Spirit of Anniston. Community members and city leaders were in attendance, along with more than 50 area musicians.

Michaels told the gathering that her first project will be to start a program to encourage street musicians to perform at approved downtown locations. Musical talent exists in Anniston, Michaels said, but more opportunities are needed to showcase that talent.

“We need a venue,” she said, “We also need to find a way to get music on the streets of downtown in a fast, furious, fun and cost-effective way.”

Music has played an important role in Anniston since its early days. A string band was invited to entertain guests in the Anniston Inn the first summer after the hotel opened in 1885, according to “The Model City of the New South” by Grace Hooten Gates.

Then and now, the town has lots to offer. Perhaps the time is right for a community rebirth.

“We have a lot to be proud of,” said Bennington. “And a redevelopment can happen if we have the time, work and commitment from all who are involved.”
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