I was able to attend the Rome City Commission’s caucus time just before the Christmas holiday, where TSW presented their first ideas for the redevelopment of the River District. It was an enjoyable picture of clean, inviting, walk-able space that offered storefronts for shops and local restaurants as well as green space, townhouses and mixed-use properties. It would be, in many ways, an extension of Broad Street, a welcome development for a long underdeveloped area of town.
This is a good step forward for city planning and economic development. We as a community need to be actively involved in this project and others moving forward as we work towards shaping our city into a better place for people to live, work and play. Especially in this article, I’d like to address such development from the perspective of young professionals, the kinds of Romans we should look to retain for our future and the kinds of new Romans we’d like to attract to help our city thrive. One of the first issues I think we need to look at is addressing the lack of middle-tier housing in and around Rome that would interest such people in the first place.
Rome already has a wealth of high-income living space, and our city has done a lot of work with the Northwest Georgia Housing Authority to provide low-income housing, and hopefully those efforts will continue to reach out and shrink our homeless population. But something that is a more difficult issue to tackle is this middle-tier housing we need to attract young professionals, both single and young families, to help address further economic development through city revenue, economic impact and jobs.
I believe this type of housing needs to be of paramount importance any time we talk about development. In order to attract new commercial and industrial jobs, we have to attract the type of applicants into the job pool that those businesses want to hire. Of course, this can be paradoxical because some of those young professionals want to see those job opportunities in place before they commit to Rome. But there are other development activities we can undertake to attract people around my age to our city first, even if they initially begin as commuters and later make the move to Rome, especially as job opportunities increase locally so that they don’t have to go to work out-of-town every day.
Having green spaces, open-air and walk-able districts, enjoyable nightlife and a wide range of activities are part of the experience many young professionals are looking for, including housing opportunities that provide space to grow (especially for those young families) that’s in or very near to these attractions. Rome is lucky that we have a lot of those things in our community already, including the theater and our own symphony orchestra, not to mention Downtown Saturday events and many exciting annual events like RIFF or Fiddlin’ Fest and more similar events that are popping up all the time. The ball is already rolling, to a degree.
The City Commission and private developers need to jump on this opportunity and work with the organizations that attract so many to our community in order to help spur on the type of atmosphere that can cultivate new growth in Rome. This won’t happen quickly. We aren’t talking about a vision for five or ten years from now only. If we are serious about developing our city into a thriving, interesting place to call home, a place where our descendants will want to stay in order to live and work, a place that can provide more opportunity and economic mobility to its citizens, we need to look forward with a vision for the next quarter- to half-century, working towards that vision to inform our shorter-term goals while using those smaller goals as building blocks for the betterment of Rome for generations which will come after us. This is how we keep our children and grandchildren here at home as well as drawing in new Romans. As the proverb says, “A society grows great when old men plant trees in whose shade they know they shall never sit.”
Ben Amis is a local activist and organizer who lives in Rome. He studied theology at Asbury University and accounting at GNTC.