WAEM Town Offers Strength and Value for Communities

The Leadership Kemper class of 2014 graduated on June 10. Front row, left to right are Leah Holliday, Brenda Pickens, Carolyn Carroll, Tammy Rigdon, Carolyn Palmer: back row; Craig Hitt, Mindy Aust, Annie Brown, Sissy McKee, Annette Taylor, Totsettia Kirk, Faye Wilson, Grace Gibson, Paul Gigandet and Joy Saucier.

Community planners in action: ‘town’ groups identify the strengths and weaknesses
of their community; then formulate plans to enhance assets and opportunities.

LOUISVILLE, MS – “I am going back with a renewed strength to make changes to benefit our community and our youth,” said J.J. Williamson, Director of Parks and Recreation for the City of Collins, MS. One of 40 leaders representing communities throughout East Mississippi, Williamson participated in WAEM Town Designing Our Future workshop at Lake Tiak O’Khata, April 22- 24. WAEM Town is a “place building” project of the WAEM R e g i o n a l Initiative.

“I appreciate the opportunity to come here and be around some of the most brilliant people I’ve met in a long time,” Williamson said.

“I believe c h a n g e comes from a vision,” stated Mark Robinson, of Reynolds and Robinson in Noxapater. “To me this route is a sure way to create a vision for our community.”

Cheryl Morgan of the Auburn School of Architecture Urban Studio gave the keynote address - “Planning to Succeed.” Jim Murrian, State Director of The Nature Conservancy, and Jack Moody, of the Mississippi Development Authority, discussed natural resources and how to preserve and capitalize on them. David Preziosi, Executive Director of the Mississippi Heritage Trust, discussed the value of cultural resources and historic preservation. Other presentations included case studies on Carthage, Mississippi by Jan Miller of the Mississippi Mainstreet Program and Marion, Alabama, by civic volunteer Judy Martin. A presentation on Economic Development was also delivered by Nisa Miranda, Director of the University of Alabama Center for Economic Development.

The workshop included a h a n d s - o n design exercise that focused on problem solving in a hypothetical town in Mississippi. Participants were d i v i d e d into groups where they r e c e i v e d key inform a t i o n about their town. The information included strengths and weaknesses, culture components, topographical resources, background and historical elements, and physical conditions and surroundings of the community. Each group was tasked with identifying a vision and then developing a design plan for the community. The design plan was formed by listing assets and opportunities the community should take advantage of. The key for participants was to make sure the community design plan and the vision aligned.

Vision and design are key components of place building. Group ideas were built upon the strengths, assets, and opportunities of the community. The ideas did share a similar theme of capitalizing on the natural setting of the town. One group wanted to converted the abandoned railroad into “Rails to Trails” walking and biking trails. Another group enhanced their downtown by added more walking and strolling sections. All ideas were presented to the mayor and council members of the town.

“Everyone who attended WAEM Town is a winner,” said Ken Dupre’, WAEM Program Coordinator. “They can now bring this valuable community place building process back to their own communities.”

Many of the participants from WAEM Town will do just that. Columbus, Covington County, DeKalb, Heidelberg, Marion, Newton, and Noxapater are participating in WAEM’s place building process with a team from MainStreet Mississippi. The process involves a series of charrettes where community members provide input on how to improve their community. This is the same method participants in WAEM Town engaged in. In real time the entire process takes about three months.

“This [WAEM Town] is too good, too important, and too valuable for this not to continue,” said John McClure, planning consultant in Newton. “We need to find a way to institutionalize this program for years to come.”
The WAEM Regional Initiative is a U.S. Department of Labor demonstration of Workforce Innovation in Regional Economic Development. The demonstration concludes next January.

Volunteering to serve as facilitators for WAEM Town were Ben Wieseman, KPS Group; Randy Wilson, Community Design Solutions; Jeff Pruitt, Top of Alabama Regional Council of Governments; Patrick Scoggin, Jones County Junior College; Kelly McLaughlin, Architect from New Orleans; Holly Hawkins, Belinda Stewart Architects; Chuck Kelly, Gresham, Smith & Partners; Bruce Hanson, East Mississippi Community College; Joey Hester, North-Central Alabama Regional Council of Governments; John McClure, Engineers & Surveyors, LLC.

Reprinted from the Kemper County Messenger


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