By Jack Gurner
WATER VALLEY – About 90 people turned out to help shape the future of the city at a town hall style meeting Monday evening in the courthouse.
The gathering was to get input from the public as part of an intense three-day community development exercise called a charrette.
Randy Wilson, architect for Mississippi Main Street, hosted the hour-long session during which members of the community expressed their ideas about what they would like to see in the city’s future. Mayor Bill Norris, who had been interviewed by the team earlier in the day, was present. None of the city’s aldermen attended.
The eight-member charrette team will put together their plan based on the suggestions they received Monday night and present their ideas Wednesday night beginning at 6 in the courthouse.
The team won’t just be sitting around brainstorming during their time here. The team members will be all over town “taking photographs, measuring your streets, talking to people,” Wilson said. “Over the next few days we will be wrestling with lots and lots of information.”
Wilson emphasized that plan would be asset based. “What that simply means is that we want to use the things that are quintessentially and authentically Water Valley and build a plan around those special places, buildings, people and events.”
To kick off the brainstorming session, Wilson asked the group what is good, distinctive, unique or special about Water Valley. Among the answers he received were the railroad, the warm and friendly people, gorgeous architecture, numerous parks, the schools, events, the faith-based community, our strong sense of history, and even town creek.
One of Wilson’s questions which drew a lot of response was when he asked, “What would you like to do or get in Water Valley that you can’t currently?” The answers included a bike trail, movie theater, skate park, children’s clothing store, book store/coffee shop, bakery, wireless café, public swimming pool, public transportation, and a new jail. The wish for a new jail drew laughter from some and nods of agreement from others.
When someone mentioned affordable housing, Wilson took a moment to praise the city’s housing authority’s apartments as some of the “most clean, attractive I have even seen.”
The teenagers in attendance were asked if they could make one change in Water Valley, what would it be? On their wish list were a movie theater, more fast food, a bowling alley, and a mini-mall.
When the answers slowed, Wilson asked the teens what they would like to do. They began to respond again asking for a bike trail, and basketball and tennis courts.
Wilson turned back to the adults and asked what they believed would be the single change they would make to make the biggest difference in Water Valley. Among the answers were better zoning, more nutritional food options, sidewalks, enhancements to the water and sewer systems, more business and employment opportunities, buried utilities, a water feature, public restrooms, a cultural center, and signage.
When the subject of a town website was brought up, Wilson said that we have to face the reality that the first interaction most people have with your community is on the web.
When an audience member suggested that the town should make better use of our natural assets, Wilson praised the topography of the town. “The views that you get on some of these bluffs and in the valleys is remarkable.”
The discussion then turned to what would it take to get people to return to Water Valley who have moved away. More and better jobs was at the top of the list followed by improvements in the school system.
Wilson said one thing he could guarantee is that Water Valley is going to change. “The key is how do we manage that change so that we honor the best of our past and our heritage and our history and yet provide opportunities that make it a compelling place for us and future generations.”
The meeting ended with Wilson giving a description of what the team would present on Wednesday night. “We’re going to have all manner of drawings, diagrams, sketches, renderings and marketing materials to try to show you a future of Water Valley through our eyes. It won’t be final. It will only be a vision or a guide.”
“What we hope to do Wednesday is inspire you with your potential,” Wilson concluded.