Montgomery Business Journal

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Bringing Up the ‘Beloved Community’

November/December 2015
By David Zaslawsky  
Photography by Robert Fouts

When Montgomery Mayor Todd Strange said that the city is on the verge of greatness, although he just as quickly acknowledges that he is unsure how to define it, he does have a good idea of what it looks like.It resembles his Vaughn Meadows neighborhood, where the mayor sees black children in their front yards; white children in their front yards; and Asian children in their front yards.

“That’s where I want us to really be,” Strange said. “We’ve got a city that is not divided, but we can do more uniting with our citizens. When we can be as proud of what’s on the west side and the north side as we are with the east side then I believe we will have approached (greatness). Whether we ever get there or not I do not know. I don’t know if you get there in four years, but what you can get to are safe neighborhoods; people black and white, Asian all playing together; working together; socializing together. When that happens, then we will have made giant strides.”

He quoted Martin Luther King Jr. about the “beloved community.” For Strange, the beloved community “is when we all – all of us – care about our kids; want the best for our kids; and work together to achieve that particular goal. And that we do have good-paying jobs for black; for white; and for Asian; and whomever else that wants to come here and not just be in a certain sector of town and say, ‘That’s the rich side of town vs. some other side of town.’

“You are always going to have different parts of our community that are going to have more success and easier success than others. I want to develop retail. I want to develop housing and good neighborhoods and good parks all over the city.”

This is the mayor’s third and final term after winning re-election in August. He hopes that in four years, Dexter Avenue “will be a model for what downtown redevelopment can achieve when you put private and public sectors together and get creative and think outside the box. And go find individuals that can, in fact, be part of the development and not just let those individuals come to you. Be proactive and go find them, which we’ve done.”

He thinks that the east corridor will resemble “another Prattville” with 25,000 new households. “We won’t get there in the next four years, but we’ll be well on our way with big subdivision tracts.” He said there are already signs of that with churches, apartments and houses.Four years from now, the mayor thinks there will be continued growth in the downtown residential sector. “I think you will see West Montgomery moving in a direction that we all can be proud of whether it be from the retail standpoint; a residential standpoint; commercial standpoint,” he said. “We will not get there, but we will be moving in a direction that we’ve not moved in 30 years in West Montgomery.”

There will be timely infrastructure investments instead of having to “wait three, four or five years past the useful life of a road,” Strange said.

Remember his Vaughn Meadows neighborhood. “I would hope that we see what we talked about in the beginning – all of us coming together and I hate to use the word One Montgomery, but we would be a Montgomery that really is colorblind.”

The final-term agenda and goals are, as you’d expect, ambitious and wide ranging – everything from street paving to education. The street paving as well as other infrastructure investments are what Strange calls the “blocking and tackling so that we can in fact have the opportunities for these families to make a better living.”

Street paving is a big deal. The city has paved about 130 miles of roads and has another 170 miles to go, including such key connector roads as Fairview, Carter Hill, Narrow Lane and Wares Ferry. New paving helps spur other development, Strange said.

He talked about infrastructure investment in West Montgomery – sidewalks, repaving and relocating utilities to “prime the pump” for private developers to investment their money.

He did say that the West Fairview Avenue streetscape will be completed during his final term in office.

The mayor was adamant about the city holding the Montgomery County Board of Education accountable. In a word, “proactive.” He said that he was told there was $350,000 available for pre-K programs but that no one applied for the money. “If they (school district officials) need help writing grants we’re going to help them write the grants or we’re going to ask them, why did we leave $350,000 on the table because we didn’t ask for something?”

The city was also proactive with hiring longtime educator Camille Finley on a contract basis to develop ideas to improve education. That is the genesis for the community school concept and the city helped acquire $500,000 in funding from the state Legislature for the pilot program.

“We are going to say, ‘Why aren’t we getting it done? What do we have to do next? What’s your next move?’ ”

Strange was quick to say that the city is “not trying to take over the schools. If everybody agrees and we’ve got the game plan and we’ve got the money, why aren’t we getting (it done)?”

The city has always been an advocate for education, but heard that “it was your job; not your responsibility and you have no authority,” Strange said. “We may not have any authority, but the citizens hold us responsible. They also hold the school board responsible, but at the end of the day they know that elected officials are responsible for anything that happens in that governmental area.”

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