Finding a vision for city's future

Published 8:30 pm Monday, September 29, 2003

By Staff
Quick; what's the first image that comes to mind when you think of Brewton?
Did you say the Welcome Center or mural in downtown? How about the YMCA or one of the historic homes or churches?
What do you think a visitor to our town would say that image would be once they returned home? That's a question that about 40 community leaders were asked this week during a strategic planning session for the Greater Brewton Area Chamber of Commerce. When prompted, the group gave the usual answers. They were the images we would hope people take with them.
The point of the exercise was to force us to ask ourselves what we want visitors to visibly remember about the town. The answer is not always a landmark, although first impressions are usually lasting ones.
The speaker, Ed Noriega, teaches graphic design at Troy State University. He was one of two speakers talking to the group about Brewton's image, and how it is formed in people who live and visit here. To use one of their terms, they spoke about Brewton's legibility.
While most residents know where historic downtown Brewton is, and how to get to Belleville Avenue to find the beautiful old homes, they asked the group how a visitor would know. Drive down Highway 31 far enough and you'll hit downtown, but once there, where does a person park? From there, how do you find the homes?
Historic Downtown Brewton is the heart of this community. Despite bad flooding, loud railroads, heavy traffic and hidden parking, downtown is the beginning of our community. It is logical that the focus of our city's growth, then, be centered there and work its way outward. To do that, though, the community needs a plan. Logical, and planned, growth is vital for communities. It allows infrastructure to be maximized, not just extended. Planned growth means attracting the right kind of businesses, ones that reflect the values and character of a community.
Those are just two of the elements that are necessary to get a person to first visit our town, and then to return or possibly even move here. From there, they are more likely to contribute to the town in some way, and invest in its future. In order for our area to continue to grow, we need those new investors, both private citizens and businesses.
Strategic, long-range planning is about setting a path for the future.
When planning a cross-country trip, we look over maps and make a plan for how far we plan to drive, where we plan to stop and which highways we'll take to get to the destination. It doesn't make sense to simply get in the car and begin driving, because a variety of obstacles, like getting lost, not finding a room or running out of gas can keep us from reaching the final goal. As has been said before, failing to plan is planning to fail.
However, if we make a plan, and set some objectives, we then give ourselves a roadmap to follow. It works for families and businesses, and it works for communities as well. While recognizing our weaknesses, we must plan to build on our strengths, and this community has many. By planning, and being methodical in our approach, we can make the most of the good assets our community already possesses and expand on them.
Sometimes it takes an outside observer to help a community find those strengths. They will see our community in ways we might take for granted.
Noriega said he was going to remember not downtown, our mural or the homes. His memory of Brewton will be Union Cemetery, in particular the older section. That's not a bad image, just one many of us wouldn't think of.
But that's what taking a fresh look at Brewton can do.