From my volunteer work with Realize Bradenton and from attending numerous seminars and planning sessions, I now know some of the components that help to make a downtown vibrant and attractive to residents and visitors. So, when I visit a new city, I enjoy going to their downtown and comparing it to the check list I carry in my head. For example, on a recent trip to Ocean Springs, Mississippi, I walked down Washington Avenue, the main thoroughfare of historic downtown, and ran through my list. Ocean Springs, a small Gulf Coast town in Jackson County, Mississippi, fared well in the comparison. Street light banners for communication and visual emphasis? Check. Pretty, well maintained landscaping? Check. Clear signage and maps for visitors? Check. A good mix of bars, restaurants, retail and offices? Check. Pedestrian Friendly sidewalks? Check. Convenient parking? Check. Public spaces for impromptu and planned gatherings? Check. Plenty of shade? Check. Public Art to be visually appealing? Check. Restored historic buildings adaptively reused and contributing to the unique character of downtown? Check. Cultural institutions to enhance quality of life for residents and contribute to the economy through tourism? Check. Check. Check. Though the downtown was quiet on an early Monday morning on a very hot, sultry July day, we enjoyed our visit to the Walter Anderson Museum of Art which celebrated Walter Anderson, a multi talented local artist with a worldwide reputation in ceramics, paintings and sculpture. We ducked into several shops to escape the heat buying books and pralines, a candy made from pecans and sugar. Lots of sugar. I was impressed with the historic touches of the town that have been preserved, a Coca Cola mural, neon store signs and clocks, as well as benches and trash cans embossed with the name of Ocean Springs in metal. As a glass artist, I was attracted to public art made from cast glass that reflected the light at all times of the day. All of the amenities were in place to make Ocean Springs a nice place to visit and to live. But, what impressed me most about Ocean Springs was its people. Everyone we met was friendly, courteous and eager to help. They took an interest in us beyond what we might spend and made us feel very welcome. It made me think that beyond the physical improvements a town provides to attract visitors to their downtown, that people are just as important, maybe the most important, component of a marketing strategy. Bradenton is known as “The Friendly City.” While Ocean Springs, Mississippi might give us a run for the money in that category, I predict that it will be Bradenton’s people that will be the biggest draw to downtown Bradenton. But, also it’s most unpredictable. As Bradenton residents, we need to remember that our attitudes are as vital to downtown development as Splash Parks and Amphitheaters. I enjoyed my visit to Ocean Springs, Mississippi, but, the city’s residents are what I will remember the most.
You didn’t think, did you, that just by pointing your finger at others you would distract God from seeing all your misdoings and from coming down on you hard? Or did you think that because he’s such a nice God, he’d let you off the hook? Better think this one through from the beginning. God is kind, but he’s not soft. In kindness he takes us firmly by the hand and leads us into a radical life-change. Romans 2:3-4 (The Message)
I wrote the post below to be posted on the blog of our local downtown development agency to be a part of their effort to get people to volunteer for the new “Downtown Ambassador” program , but it got me to thinking about churches which like downtowns often think in terms of facilities and programs when it comes to attracting people. But, Christ calls us not to build buildings, but build relationships. Like a downtown, the greatest amenities will be wasted unless we are welcoming, kind and inclusive. I am angered by the way some “Christians” chose to exercise their freedom of speech these days and am embarrassed to say I serve the God who they claim calls them to hate and spew venom in the name of Christ. On behalf of true believers around the world, I can only apologize and promise that someday, they will be accountable for their misdeeds. In the meantime, let us love and be ambassadors for Christ whom we are called to emulate.