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Planning work an important step

The meeting's focus was on area transportation. The conversations were lively, exploratory, and visionary. A series of similar, previous discussions had centered on education, economic development, housing and community facilities.

You should be pleased.

Business and community leaders, public and elected officials and civic-minded opinion makers, meeting regularly at the Greenville Chamber of Commerce office in Depot Square, are seeking to provide direction to Greenville's future, working to plot a course that improves the area's quality of life, that establishes the framework for controlled growth and provides the avenue for increased wealth generation.

It is a healthy exercise, one that will likely pay significant dividends.

With the help of Tracy Delaney, a certified planner with the South Central Alabama Development Association out of Montgomery, the steering committee for the Greenville Comprehensive Plan project is meticulously and laboriously attacking key segments of community life in detail. Members are brainstorming, swapping ideas, sharing dreams, borrowing from the success stories of others and, in essence, trying to look clearly into a crystal ball that retains an uncertain haze.

The process is simple. A mission statement is developed to encompass the spirit of each category. It is then dissected into issues and opportunities, lists of needs, goals, and targets. Those subdivisions will make up the comprehensive document that will serve as the umbrella of developments and enhancements.

Last week's meeting, as an example, targeted transportation, long a key to any community's future plans. Though the final draft of that discussion is still being written, issues included items like the daily vocational commuting patterns to and from Montgomery (Did you know 923 Butler County commuters drive to Montgomery County every day?), the potential of a park-and-ride program, the congestion of intersections in the Interstate 65, Fort Dale Road and Greenville bypass areas, the need for sidewalks in the fast food-commercial corridor on Fort Dale Road, the thought of a service road west of I-65, the reduction of truck traffic, the potential for public transportation and ground or air taxi service and the need for a second, attractive gateway to the city.

Those issues also translate into opportunities, in this case ease of travel and improvement of infrastructure, intangibles that merit review. So the discussion also recognized immediate and long-term possibilities with considerable attention focused on Greenville's location as a hub for business people, for golf enthusiasts, for vacationers, making certain, too, benefits for permanent residents remain at the core of all deliberations.

When discussion of all areas is complete, the expansive body of work will be far reaching, opening avenues for genuine discussion and input from citizens throughout the area.

The process will likely take weeks before a shape develops.

Then, the hard work begins.

If all goes well, a consensus will be reached. It won't please everyone, but it will represent a legitimate plan, one that provides direction and purpose, but one that can also be amended should the need arise or particular conditions change.

A priority system will be put into place, a multi-year time line will be created and some form of detailed accountability will track specific progress in specific areas. And because of that, Greenville will move forward in a unified, organized and controlled manner that makes an already good community even better.

While many would argue quicker planning progress would be achieved by allowing only professionals to plot a course, there is value to the more tedious community process that ensures participation and widens discussion.

A key word is patience, both in creating the plan and in making it happen.

There are no magic wands when it comes to community development. A decisive action team must be empowered to make the important, urgent decisions when necessary, but having a single-minded community direction will produce handsomely for the long term.

Ed Darling is President and Publisher of Greenville Newspapers, LLC.

He has been in the newspaper business since age 12. He can be reached by phone at 383-3111, or by email at: ed.darling@greenville.advocate.com.