“Livability simply means would you want to live here? Do your children want to stay here once they are grown up?” said Johnnie Aycock, a consultant for the Washington-based group Partners for Livable Communities, one of the partners for the project.
The first discussion, which was held in April, focused on identifying priorities in the following areas: cultural development, health, transportation, education, housing and community engagements. Participants were asked to fill out surveys about their most important priorities.
“We went to every single county and asked three questions,” said Jennifer Maddox, president of the Community Foundation of Northeast Alabama, one of the partners for the project. “We asked what do you love about your community, what would you like to change and where do you see the future of your community?”
Aycock presented the results of over 5,400 survey responses from the East Alabama Region. Employment opportunities and quality education were the top two priorities for Cleburne County residents.
“Unemployment continues to be a problem,” said Aycock. “More people are moving outside of the region to work.”
Aycock said that many residents desire industrial growth and downtown revitalization but are still hesitant about outside businesses coming into the community.
“It’s a delicate balance,” Aycock said. “You want the small-town feel but you also want the opportunity to grow.”
Aycock said residents took great pride in the outdoor beauty of the region but were also concerned about maintenance of local parks. Aycock said there is a need for leadership at the local and regional level in order to achieve these overall community goals.
“Growing leadership, both private and public is critical,” said Aycock. “That is either where you move forward or you don’t.”
Partners for Livable Communities and the East Alabama Regional Planning and Development Commission will continue to hold public discussions across the 10 counties through the month of August. The partnership hopes to come up with a proposed plan for the region by November and a final plan in January 2014.
“To make East Alabama the most livable region in the state and eventually the South is our goal,” Aycock said.
Staff Writer Katie Turpen: 256-235-3548. On Twitter @KTurpen_Star.