The JFP Urban Development Manifesto


Publisher Todd Stauffer

It's been heck of a spring in Jackson, what with the things we've expected--parades, festivals, contests, sunshine--and things we haven't, such as the passing of Hal White, the murder of Det. Eric Smith and the bombings in Boston.

Both the day-to-day occurrences and the dramatic events not only shape our individual lives, but remind us that we're all together in the tempest that is our all-too-brief time here on the planet.

It's also what we call "silly season" around the JFP offices--city elections. It's during city elections that we feel our ears burning with the stories of what "the JFP is up to" more than at any other time--who we are backing; who we are slighting; whose pocket we're supposedly in.

Meanwhile, what we're actually trying to do is get the word out and help folks make smart decisions for themselves. Our reporters and editors are doing the most thorough job of talking to candidates and collecting information of any local news outlet--a trial-by-fire for news reporter Tyler Cleveland, whom we welcome this spring. Also, kudos for their coverage to News and Opinion Editor Ronni Mott, reporter R.L. Nave, photographer Trip Burns and Editor-in-Chief Donna Ladd.

And while we're slowly learning this spring who we're not going to endorse for office--based, mostly, on whether they seem to be able to effectively run a campaign, much less a city--interviews are ongoing with mayoral and council candidates we're considering. Which means we don't yet know who we'll endorse.

Or, for that matter, what. Another aspect of silly season is the assumption that the JFP is "working against" any particular entity or person in the city or that we're "on the other side" of initiatives, developments and improvements.

Unless it's just flat-out dumb, then we're not against your idea. We're just in the business of questioning these ideas to make sure the best ones happen.

We didn't think it was smart to collect the land across from the convention center for TCI; we're not convinced that the best move for downtown Jackson is a too-small arena--or a too-big stadium. We weren't sure it made sense for a civil-rights museum to be at Tougaloo College. I'm not convinced that Jackson shouldn't have gone for the local-option sales tax even if it came with a stupid state commission. (There's disagreement in the office on that one.) And so on.

Our goal is to have open minds--and guiding principles. On road trips recently (they give us time to think!) Donna Ladd and I have developed some thoughts that we've put to paper that encapsulate some lessons learned in our decade of publishing in Jackson--and some specific thoughts that crystallized over the past few months since we got a fantastic opportunity to visit Detroit back in February.

I'll call this the JFP Urban Development Manifesto, designed as a living document--call it a "beta"--to help answer the question of which program, exactly, the JFP can "get with" and why we might ask the questions we do. We'll revise and extend and welcome intelligent feedback.

The JFP Urban Development Manifesto

  1. Never focus on a large project when a small project will do. That doesn't mean we shouldn't do big things--it means we can't put all our eggs in one basket. It's the small things that add up to great city. Ask Austin.
  2. Build for your citizens, and the tourists will come. I'm not against the convention center or (within reason) the convention center hotel--but I've got to say that the Art Garden at the Mississippi Museum of Art has had considerably more impact on the quality of my life than has the JCC in a shorter period of time.
  3. Incubate art. I love the idea of an Art Institute in downtown Jackson. But right now what we could use are inexpensive artists' lofts and studios--at the same time that office occupancy has dropped fairly dramatically downtown. Let's make that happen.
  4. Every human deserves dignity, and a city should be designed to treat them as such. Building good bike paths makes it easier for drivers to respect cyclists. Sidewalks promote walking and offer dignity to folks who are hoofing it. Good public transportation helps people get to the better jobs. Homeless services mean less panhandling. We can all help.
  5. Crime is a symptom. Crime happens when people lose hope. We need jobs in Jackson; but even more so, we need wealth in areas outside of northeast Jackson and the suburbs. Programs that promote clean streets, clean up empty lots, develop character in young people, build skills for job seekers--they all also help sustain neighborhoods and property values, which is how the majority of Americans build wealth. Neighborhoods and cities need to work together to build and maintain wealth, which equals opportunity.
  6. Even people without checkbooks have good ideas. For too long, Jackson has had the mentality that it's the guy with the checkbook who can fix things. While checks are nice, the era of solutions from the smoke-filled room has thankfully passed. We need to work together, brainstorm together and all get involved. Shutting down because you're being disagreed with isn't the answer.
  7. Urban tax revenues are about density. Beware the suburban solution brought into town. It costs too much to build and can't compete--we need urban densities, smart design and human-centric codes for new development. A little smaller, denser and human-sized is what makes sense.
  8. Make "everyday" better. Farmer's markets, small festivals, outdoor music, art shows, inexpensive venues, public spaces, walkable neighborhoods--it's the everyday stuff that makes life better. Sure, a downtown lake might be nice ... but it's only a small part of any solution. The real solution is all about people--seeing them laughing, sharing and solving problems together.

As a final example to strive for, let's remember the place that Hal (and Mal) built--I'd trade every state and municipal building downtown for one local institution like Hal and Mal's. (Except, of course, that would mean there wouldn't be enough folks to keep lunch busy!)

Most important? Let's keep the discussion going--let us know what our manifesto is missing and how we can all work together to improve, promote and create.


jassen 10 years, 1 month ago

A cogent and timely manifesto for Jackson. While I would not quibble with any of the eight points, I would suggest that a common misreading of statements like "never focus on a large project when a small project will do" might make the inclusion of a ninth point necessary. First the misreading. Large scale and long term planning does not correlate with the scale of individual projects; and yet many people, especially citizens of mid-size cities and towns with limited budgets, conflate the two scales. As a result, those who do not understand the importance of planning and analysis tend to translate meaningful, never-do-a-large-project-when-a-small-one-will-do-type statements as, simultaneously, permission to be short-sighted and an excuse to reject ambitious goals as utopian dreams. Jackson, in my view, should aspire to greatness; and that requires big thinking and lots of planning. So, I would humbly suggest a ninth point: Dream. Plan. Analyze. Re-plan. Re-analyze. Imagine a sustainable Jackson of the future; then do the difficult work of plotting out the incremental steps that lie between that vision and the city as it exists today.


donnaladd 10 years, 1 month ago

We couldn't agree more with your ninth point, jassen. We're all about dreaming and planning (or we wouldn't be doing with we do). But the "analyze" and "re-plan" steps are so vital. I believe Jackson is starting to grow up a bit on this front. A big idea is just not enough, and if it can't stand up to tough questions, or the people behind it, it won't work. And it's a waste of time, resources and energy.


Sign in to comment