This is not meant as a criticism, only a troubling observation. Much major improvement has been made since the community — and the taxpayers — carved this out from the many needs existing in Greater Rome as the one deserving of the highest priority. Those “big bucks” improvements have largely been completed with only the new Anna K. Davie/Southeast Elementary School waiting in the wings for property acquisition problems to be cleared.
Most the investments made have been on the South Broad corridor — the main drag — and while adding very beneficial attributes (Etowah Terrace senior housing, Boys & Girls Club, etc.) their placement has largely been for aesthetic impact, as is similarly the case with the new school location.
That’s fine, that’s important, but it’s heavily about changing the aesthetics in order to alter the impression left by those passing through in hopes of making an area with a slummy, crime-ridden reputation become more appealing to urban pioneers looking to carve a new and better place to live out of a sort of sociological wilderness. OK, some of that prettifying has misfired, such as the old-timey new lightposts dwarfed by telephone/power poles, but to this point it is plain what has been done has been more about looks than people.
South Rome has always involved a people problem — not so much a “bad people” problem as much as a long underserved and forgotten population living in an area where rot was allowed to set in.
FRANKLY, South Rome is not and never has been all that gosh-awful. Besides tourist-attraction Myrtle Hill Cemetery, it is home to the country club, an upscale residential neighborhood nearby, quite a few well-kept and owner-occupied homesteads still flowering amidst fields of weeds left untended by absentee slumlords ... or now abandoned by them. And it is flanked by Rome’s lovely and admired downtown and Darlington School.
Ultimately it indeed has the potential to again become what it once was a century ago — “the place” to live.
In recent weeks a variety of “next phase” ideas have been thrown about to deal with the true problem, largely not visible along the improving main drag but rather along the side streets into which few outsiders venture.
For instance, the South Rome Development Corp. now owns 39 properties in the area, many scattered parcels in need of from-the-ground-up changes. It is currently seeking a single developer to work with it on at least six sites with the intention of each holding a minimum of four housing units — quadplexes, townhomes, whatever.
A shotgun load of various tax credits to bolster repair efforts, the creation of tax-allocation districts (TADs) to jump-start job-creation efforts, and getting Habitat for Humanity volunteers involved have also been proposed.
Every little bit of improvement will help, particularly when getting down to the nitty-gritty part of this restoration to former glory of a big chunk of the original Rome, formerly the suburb of Hillsboro (itself incorporated from Feb. 25, 1856, to 1874).
HOWEVER, the current impression of the master plan is that there is no surviving master plan and particularly so when going back to look at the details and pretty pictures of the original restoration proposal. Remember the “artist’s village” of shops and studios, for example?
To a certain extent, now that the people portion must replace the main-drag aesthetics part of this effort, it may well be that this community and its supporters have reached the point of having bitten off more than can be chewed.
Sure, many “impression” items have yet to be dealt with. Bringing back the budget-lost police bike patrols will help ... and why not Segway-mounted patrols such as proposed for the downtown? The possibility that the well-kept historic flatiron building (Howell Grocery) may soon come down mostly to improve the vista of the new school planned for some distance behind it while the boarded-up old McCall Hospital, just up the street from the school site, might be left standing is simply amazing. And please, please ... can’t something be done about those power poles, big-ticket item or not?
However, at the risk of furthering bewilderment about what to do next, let’s add some apparently unmentioned possibilities.
Instead of tackling the out-of-sight “back streets” in piecemeal fashion, why not bite off more edible pieces by using an “enclave” approach that pours all firepower into one specific area, be it block or street, perhaps starting at the southern foot of Myrtle Hill and then marching southward?
AND WHILE it strikes some as incredulous that public housing plans a “gated community” opposite the Fairgrounds on Martin Luther King Boulevard, such a concept makes a lot of sense on South Rome parcels acquired for such a purpose, be it public or private. What is the main reason that living in South Rome makes both current and possible future residents nervous? Safety. Security.
Most of all, it is high time that the Roman rank-and-file not residing in the former Hillsboro got a good look at the scope of what has yet to be tackled. From the Rotary clubs to the garden clubs to all organizations with civic interests in-between, the members should finally get around to seeing what has been talked about, and invested in, for so many years. Those groups need to set up tours of the area for all their members — and not just drive-bys either but walking ones. And then they need to turn right or left off South Broad/East Main and start exploring.
Actually, it wouldn’t hurt to do such wandering in several other parts of the city, as South Rome is hardly the only place where “out of sight, out of mind” has created settings far less than idyllic.
The bringing back of South Rome is not some sort of magic wand thing. It is a slow, laborious process that will take decades to complete. Similarly rehabbing and updating and improving (or tearing down) all of the rest of the tumbledown “old stuff” sprinkled around town may well take even longer.
GREATER ROMANS, as a whole, are pretty proud of their overall community and even like to brag about it. They’ve got many good reasons to do so.
However, like most families that appear happy from the outside they’ve also got a lot to hide, even be ashamed about having let happen. Fixing South Rome will be a great start to overcoming this, assuming it can eventually get done.
However, it is well past time that all of us better familiarized ourselves with the scope of what is involved as well as all the rest of similar situations that still wait to even get mentioned.