EDITORIAL: Frills no longer

By NEMS Daily Journal

Once upon a time, people went where the jobs were. They didn’t pay a whole lot of attention to the attractiveness and amenities of the places that had those jobs.
Today, however, the young business and professional people that cities need to ensure economic and social vitality often decide on a place they’d like to live and then look for work there. They’re looking for a community with a unique character, aesthetic appeal and a variety of activities and amenities.
As Tupelo seeks ways to reverse a trend of outmigration, it needs to keep that understanding at the forefront. The point was driven home last week at the Development in Tupelo workshop at the Renasant Center for Ideas.
Joe Fratesi, program director with the Stennis Institute of Government at Mississippi State University, put it this way: “People are choosing where to live based on how they feel in that community.” That means sub-standard building design, neglected commercial areas, deteriorating neighborhoods and the cluttered chaotic appearance of so many urban strips are deterrents to drawing new residents.
A community that doesn’t provide the kind of ambiance people want will also have a harder time attracting industry in the future as well.
For some long-time residents in Tupelo and other communities, aesthetics and quality-of-life features – pedestrian-friendly streets and neighborhoods, bike and fitness trails, mixed-use developments, public parks and gatherings spaces – are still considered frills and even a waste of money. That might have been the case 30 or 40 years ago, but it demonstrably is no longer true. Communities that look and feel essentially the same as they did in the 1970s and ’80s will be left behind.
That’s why efforts to continue the renewal of downtown Tupelo and to achieve the potential of the Fairpark District are defining challenges for Tupelo’s future. So, too, is building on the city’s historic strengths in arts organizations and parks and recreation to enter new and more expansive phases in both. So is neighborhood renewal and adherence to a city comprehensive plan that calls for creating more livable, walkable, old-fashioned living areas within easy reach of uniquely local stores, shops and restaurants.
Tupelo has made much progress on the quality of life front in recent years. It has a growing cohort of young professionals who are helping create and are responding to initiatives to develop a stronger sense of Tupelo’s unique identity. Economic development experts aside, those Tupelo citizens already are providing the evidence of what can attract and hold them here. If Tupelo is to grow and prosper, it needs to harness that energy and keep the momentum going.