Bob Davis: Beating back Pottersville
Aug 17, 2008 | 3289 views |  0 comments | 36 36 recommendations | email to a friend | print
For the past three weeks, The Star has looked backward. We’ve marked the 125th anniversary of Anniston and this newspaper. Each section noted success and sadness, high points and low ones.

Today, the fourth installment of the Anniversary Project hits the fast-forward button. We enlisted the help of students from the University of Alabama’s Knight Community Journalism Masters Program here in Anniston. The question posed in the articles: What will Anniston look like 25 years from now?

We fully acknowledge our predictions are merely best guesses. We relied on the informed wisdom of many sources to prognosticate a possible future, not the future.

Earlier this year, when we were first planning the Anniversary Project, I sat down for coffee with David Christian, an Anniston architect and proud native of the Model City. I was looking for ideas about how our project could look backward and forward.

In discussing the future, David talked in terms of best case and worst case. He suggested pondering what might happen if Anniston’s residents neglected its crying needs. It reminded me of It’s a Wonderful Life, Frank Capra’s 1947 movie.

The film’s lead character, George Bailey, meets his guardian angel. With the angel’s help, George glimpses a vision of what would have happened if he’d never been born.

Among the horrors is a completely different hometown from the one George and his family had helped create.

The bad town had a different name, Pottersville instead of the customary Bedford Falls. Even worse, it was a gritty and depressing place. The wholesome businesses were gone, replaced by seedy dives.

With George, a typical small American town.

Without George, Sodom and Gomorrah.

Such is Hollywood, a neat and tidy story of one man influencing his community, all wrapped up in a couple of hours.

Anniston’s future will play out according to the efforts of many and in real time, slow-moving and full of twists and turns. Good and bad accompanies that fact.

The good: The consequences, while serious, aren’t likely to be as severe as the ones in Capra’s fictional Pottersville.

The bad: We don’t have a guardian angel who can snap his fingers and show us the worst case for Anniston.

A city’s slow deterioration is easier to miss. Passers-by are lulled by the constant presence of empty storefronts. Warning signs pointing to a workforce that isn’t reaching its fullest potential can be set aside for later.

It’s only natural. Proverbs warns the road to disaster can ease upon one with “a little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to sleep.”

As City Hall candidates mentioned during last week’s forum, what’s taking root — fast-food restaurants, convenience stores and predatory lenders —

is hardly a sign of a healthy and diverse local economy. The worry is whether the city has hit bottom, or if the worst is yet to come. No one can say for certain if Pottersville is just around the bend or miles away.

Of course, city planners and residents don’t need a special section to pose the question. Almost every city government meeting is concerned, in one way or the other, with the “what’s next?” query.

Yet, city leaders can’t carry this burden alone. An active and involved citizenry can put the wind in their sails.

Anniston’s past is filled with instances of deep civic involvement. Residents took a chance, stepped out in the hopes of making their city. The boldest stroke is Noble and Tyler’s vision of a grand company town, more equitable and civic-minded than others. Other examples include efforts at racial reconciliation in the civil rights era and rich community investment in education.

Now, gentle readers, it is your turn. We invite you to contemplate Anniston’s future, and your role in it.
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