The story of Voice of Calvary's Neighborhood Stabilization Program (see page 11) is inspiring on many levels.
VOC has teamed up with local lenders to make major headway toward solving several of Jackson's issues—blight and the need for decent, low-income housing—at the same time. Through its programs, the organization has put more than 250 vacant, deteriorating and foreclosed properties into the hands of people who might never have the opportunity to own a home otherwise.
This is an example of community empowerment at its best. The city gets property back on the tax roles. Low-income people have an opportunity to own homes and accumulate real wealth. Neighborhoods become safe for families again when people who care occupy once-abandoned homes.
It's difficult to see how anyone loses.
When it comes to development in Jackson, it's easy to get caught up in multi-million dollar plans—for big hotels, stadiums and waterfront developments—to the exclusion of everything else. Of course, everyone wants the big money those kinds of projects could bring to Jackson, but big money and big development can't push aside the very people living in the city right now.
Revitalizing an urban area without over-gentrification requires a delicate balance and a dedicated sensibility. Jackson is more than any one neighborhood, and any economic-development plan for the city that concentrates too heavily on one end of the spectrum is likely to fail. Too much high-end development without a thought for low-income people, or vice-versa, will never be effective. We need both kinds of development and everything in between to make all of Jackson the vibrant, dynamic city we all know it can be.
As the city's new mayor, Chokwe Lumumba—like Harvey Johnson Jr. before him—has taken on the big job to make the balance right.
Lumumba comes from a grassroots sensibility, but he's been sitting on the city council long enough to see some of the dynamics he will have to deal with in the coming years. We hope he will learn fast how to be effective with people and institutions that he has stood against in the past.
Lumumba should also take on the challenge of calming down some divisive attitudes on the city council—folks who should know better than to vote against every project that doesn't directly benefit his or her constituents right now. Jackson will thrive when everyone works toward the betterment of the whole. And that means big money projects as well as grassroots neighborhood efforts.
Jackson needs it all.