Decatur spends lots of money trying to improve its appeal to visitors.
Without proper maintenance — specifically litter and weed removal — the money is wasted.
The $1 million streetscape project downtown was a wise investment. It is transforming the downtown area, which a decade ago lacked only tumbleweeds to be a perfect movie set for a Wild West ghost town.
Already, though, the investment is deteriorating. Weeds threaten to win the showdown with carefully placed plants. Cigarette butts are everywhere. Trash that lands on property stays there for days or weeks.
The accumulation of trash and weeds in the downtown area is especially disturbing because the city has so recently invested in improving its appearance. The problem, though, is citywide.
Despite the efforts of an overworked and underfunded Parks and Recreation Department, the trash keeps piling up. During the spring and summer it disappears behind high weeds, only to resurface when the weeds recede.
Litter lines the major corridors that carry not just residents but prospective residents. It collects in parking lots and medians. It borders the Tennessee River, which should be picturesque. It soils our beautiful parks.
The problem is partly one of city prioritization. The city has figured out ways to handle the big-ticket items needed to improve Decatur but has skimped on the low-budget maintenance costs that follow. The result is expensive attractions that are unattractive. Parks that should be a symbol of city pride become a sign of neglect.
It’s a problem the City Council must tackle. Residents increasingly will resent capital projects if the city is unappealing. Even if done right, weed and litter removal would be a small percentage of the budget. A clean city is essential to civic pride. It pays for itself by complementing more expensive efforts to attract retail and industry.
Residents and business owners, of course, need to play a part. A little pride by downtown retailers would go a long way to alleviating the burden on city workers. A conscious effort at weed and litter removal by businesses — even if the property they are maintaining is owned by the city — would benefit the overall appearance of the downtown area while making the individual businesses more inviting to consumers. Trash and weed removal is a financial issue for the city. It is merely a matter of effort for small businesses and residents.
Underneath the growing layer of weeds and trash, we have a beautiful city. Residents, business owners and the City Council need to work together in making sure it is the beauty, not the trash, that visitors remember.
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