Opinion: A sense of place

The first Sunday Funday of the month was held last weekend on University Drive (Photo by Ryan Phillips, SDN)

Summer is pretty much here and Starkville has already had several big events to get folks outside.

The Cotton District Arts Festival, the King Cotton Crawfish Boil and other outdoor attractions have helped ring in the sunshine and now that school is out, the pace of the town is changing for summer.

The efforts of folks like the Greater Good Collective and the Camp family turned a piece of Starkville - across from a cemetery, mind you - into a vibrant family-friendly miniature arts festival, alive with music and people spending money.

The year’s first Sunday Funday on University Drive next to City Bagel seemed to be a resounding success this past weekend. The city has been accommodating with the event’s growth and as the organizers get their feet under them, they will only get bigger and better at what they do.

These kinds of events raise the quality of life for people of all ages and income levels. Sunday Funday was free, wholesome and in a safe area. There weren’t drunk college kids puking into trash cans and the music was at a reasonable volume, so townies of all beliefs should be able to get behind that, right?

While I’m not a city planner, I think the opportunities for Starkville are many - it’s just a matter of following through and being innovative.

As a disclaimer, I do not have an answer to any of these questions, but I know we have a community full of bright folks capable of realizing the city’s potential.

For instance, the former site of the Starkville Community Market on the corner of Lampkin and Jackson in downtown seems perfect for something other than a vacant lot.

The wide green space makes the corner more attractive than it would otherwise be and the possibilities really seem endless. At the office, we often joke about what we would do if we owned the lot, and I think the right idea could drastically improve the look and feel of that corner, especially with the former Boardtown Trading Post building sitting empty and the green grass on the corner surrounded by an iron fence. If there is an area in our downtown that needs addressing, it’s that corner.

While I don’t own the property and have zero say other than the words in this column, I think we need to make the most of every sliver of green space we have in the city.

Fire Station Park is a fantastic example of what is possible just in downtown. It’s not Central Park, but organizations like the GSDP do a lot with a little by hosting award-winning events and rolling out a new outdoor concert series.

Which brings me to my next hope: tactical urbanism.

Many issues divide the Starkville Board of Aldermen, but not this one. Last November, aldermen unanimously approved the plans for a prototype tactical urbanism project on University Drive in front of the Starkville-Oktibbeha County Public Library.

No lasting changes have come to the lane in front of the library, but just based on my amateur eye test, if you took up all the monkey grass and mulch between the building and the sidewalk wrapping around the building (leaving the trees for shade of course), you free up at least 10 feet of space going from the front of the building and around the corner. You could lay sod and host wider outdoor library events that could attract new faces to the library. This is a novice observation, and one I’m sure landscapers and architects would be quick to point out faults in, but my point is that we have space that we could be using in different ways to improve the look and feel of our city.

My hope, though, is that the city will continue to build upon the concept of turning under-utilized city space into something that can be enjoyed in more ways than just something nice to look at.

Ward 4 Alderman Jason Walker said in November that "Any time that you can reclaim some of that space that is not being used to its best and fullest potential is an opportunity to look at."

So I say, let’s do it. The spring rains that put many local construction projects behind schedule are pretty much gone so we don’t have any excuse if this is something the city is truly committed to now. There is also an obligation on the part of citizens to be vocal about what they want to see happen. There’s a public comment section during all meetings for that reason, so it’s important that the freedom is exercised.

I think downtown Starkville has so much potential to unlock and if we as a community can follow through on the visions we lay out, then we can make downtown exactly what we want it to be, just like the Greater Good Collective, the GSDP and Starkville Area Arts Council have done with their events. It takes a village, though - not just its leaders.

Into the heat of summer, you will be sure to run into pop-up art shops around the city. Sunday Funday will bring folks out on otherwise slow weekends, so why not find a creative way to further marry the arts community and tactical urbanization projects?

What do we have to lose? I thought cost-efficiency was the whole reason to do projects like this, so I really don’t think money will be an issue, either. If you help people develop a sense of place through these projects, it will pay dividends.

And if we can improve the quality of life through more green space and provide things to bring the community to those spaces, then the social fabric of this city will just become that much stronger.

Ryan Phillips is the executive editor of the Starkville Daily News. The views expressed in this column are his and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of the newspaper or its staff.