Countless residents spoke up in favor of a better tomorrow for Anniston. Yes, they bemoaned the city’s lowly plight — closed storefronts, declining population, weak city schools and toxic leadership at City Hall. But while cursing the darkness, they also lit the candle of progress, searching, talking and wishing for a recovered Anniston.
Catharsis played a role, as well. Dozens of Anniston residents from across the city gathered to affirm what we already know — across lines of race, income and geography, Annistonians agree that they want a better city. The message was reaffirmed: This city isn’t dysfunctional, and corrections must be made.
A spring 2011 poll of Anniston residents conducted by New South Research found enormous agreement that their city is in decline. Words like “stagnant” and “dying” to describe the city found huge support.
This is the reality, one a progressive-oriented city can’t simply sweep under the rug. Phil Noble Jr., a South Carolina-based political consultant who grew up in Anniston, told The Star he sees positives in the numbers.
“There’s a surprising amount of unanimity here,” Noble said. “Across race, across age, across incomes, there’s a surprising amount of agreement on the city’s priorities.”
A city sunk so low in the public’s mind is an opportunity, said Noble. “That’s important,” he said. “It’s saying that you’re stuck in neutral, not that you’re going backward.”
Residents, he added, are “just waiting for something to happen.”
The signs of a thaw are already here. Several community organizations dedicated to renewing Anniston are already on the case. The organizer of Tuesday’s meeting — city prosecutor Ted Copland, who we should make clear was not operating in his official capacity — said he wanted those burgeoning activists to get together, to share ideas, to put names with faces and ideas to actions. We’d say he accomplished quite a bit of that ambitious to-do list Tuesday.
Copland deserves a tip of the hat.
Anniston deserves even more. This city can work together to deliver a more prosperous future. The aim is not to merely sweep out the incompetents sitting on the City Council; the city’s problems go deeper than the buffoonery at 1128 Gurnee Ave. every other Tuesday. We commend those future-oriented residents at Tuesday’s townhall who set their sights far beyond the four-year election cycle. Anniston needs a long-term plan for smart growth. It needs to harness its resources and fix its weak points.
When we boil it all down, that makes education the top priority. A strong, high-performing education system is what Anniston needs. Among their many benefits, good schools (a.) attract potential employers to a city, (b.) produce bright and capable graduates who will constitute an attractive workforce, and (c.) engender a strong sense of community self-worth.
Strong schools produce good jobs, which produce prosperity, which builds even more success. Let’s keep talking, Anniston. With a set of goals, hard work and an ongoing dialogue aimed at the future, brighter days will be ahead.