Citizens create ‘ideal vision’ for a new Columbus
On Saturday, in a small room tucked away in the back of Friendly City Books, a group of Columbus citizens came together to create a vision for the city in the form of a comic strip on a sheet of card stock.
At the New Black City event, leader Shari Davis gave about 20 attendees the space to imagine what an ideal Columbus would look like and the steps they could take to get there. Davis is co-executive director of the nonprofit Participatory Budgeting Project and a TEDx speaker.
Ideas big and small, short-term and long-term, were shared and explored. Participants envisioned their dream Columbus as a city free from racial divisions, embellished by the renovation of private and commercial properties and offering many opportunities to nurture and improve the lives of young people. Primarily, they were looking for one where the community was directly involved in the government processes that impacted them the most.
“People identified the issues that affect our community, but now everyone is also looking at the solutions that exist,” said Columbus resident Malcolm Carstafhnur. “People have shown they are ready to come together.”
New Black City is a nationwide workshop tour that aims to encourage cities to reinvent themselves, particularly in designing a system of local government that more directly engages its citizens and includes more voices from its marginalized populations. , such as African Americans. It also focuses on participatory budgeting, a process that more directly engages residents to work with elected officials to generate ideas, develop proposals and vote on how to invest in their communities.
The comic is meant to represent the culmination of the participants’ shared vision.
Some of the group’s goals for an ideal Columbus were more achievable than others. They discussed turning the abandoned K-Mart into a target, opening an Italian restaurant, revitalizing Seventh Avenue North and reviving the Queen City Hotel, which was once the center of African-American business. Americans in Columbus.
Carstafhnur, for his part, said he supports foreign youth programs as well as a “lottery” to select a group of citizens to bring together for participatory budgeting.
“(I support) the use of a lottery to enroll people in public service and get them on a participatory budgeting committee with a government stipend as an incentive,” he said.
Mayor Keith Gaskin and Ward 5 Councilor Stephen Jones both attended the workshop.
Gaskin later told The Dispatch he thought it was exactly the type of event the city needed.
I wish I had an even bigger audience than us, but we had a lot of great minds here today,” he said. “We were talking about things that I think we need to focus on in this city. And it’s coming together as much as we can. We don’t want to be a city divided…and I think programs like this help spark good conversations and good ideas about how to improve our city.
Jones agreed, adding that he would like to see all of the shared ideas implemented, including participatory budgeting.
“I liked it. I thought it was very interactive,” Jones said. “And it was good for learning too, as an elected official. other places and ideas that could help the community.
“I know it takes a lot of people, money and a lot of work,” he added. “And things all have to line up for some of them to happen, but I thought those were all good ideas.”
Many participants at the event highlighted the need for opportunities for young people to get involved in city government. Gaskin mentioned the return of the Mayor’s Youth Council, a public service program for high school students that was temporarily halted during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“What we’re hoping to do is implement the mayor’s youth council in the fall and set it up in a way that council members actually interact with our community leaders and our council members,” Gaskin said. “So many times, as elected officials and people, we kind of stay in our own groups of people and we don’t listen to young people as much as we should. So we want them to actually work on ideas and listen to advice to show them that they can make an impact in their local government.
Chuck Yarborough, a history professor at the Mississippi School for Mathematics and Science who helped coordinate the Columbus workshop, was among the group that focused on breaking down divisions.
“I have constantly heard people wanting there to be less division in Columbus – wanting there to be more conversation about common goals and more people participating in shaping our community in a positive way. “, did he declare. “Everyone here has things they love about this community, and everyone who has something they love has things they would say we need to improve. I think discussions like the ones we had today help us move in that direction.