By Dan Pool
It seems that quite a few people from all walks of life have had downtown and the whole of Jasper on their minds lately. Both at the paper and around town, I have heard a number of discussions on what’s wrong with Jasper.
Not that these opinions have been sharply negative, but the general consensus is that Jasper is lacking something. One person referred to it as a “vibe,” which Jasper just doesn’t have downtown compared to Blue Ridge or Ellijay or even Ball Ground.
It is hard to define what gives an area a positive vibe. If you ask people what they liked about other towns, they invariably start by describing the businesses there or an event they hold.
Rarely, did anyone cite any cityscape element. No one complimented any other city’s sidewalks or how they arranged their plants.
The infrastructure of Jasper is not lacking. The sidewalks are nice, wide, smooth; there are brick accents and plants and trees. There is new asphalt on Main. There is a monument on the north end of town and a green space on the south; a scenic “Old Jail” and an attempt at a fountain.
The city plans to add downtown bathrooms and the merchants are looking to add lights. As far as the public areas go, what more can we do? Literally. Readers ask yourself are there features you have seen elsewhere that might convey a better vibe in Jasper and are feasible to bring here? [e-mail at bottom to comment]
We can’t replicate the Spanish Steps of Rome on Depot Street but perhaps the city/merchants/Chamber could do more with signage or other affordable touches? Please offer suggestions. [e-mail at the bottom]
One missing element often identified in Jasper is the people, as in the public, the shoppers, window shoppers, diners and pedestrians.
On the weekends, Ellijay and Blue Ridge are packed – too crowded, while Jasper often has a near-deserted look. City council member Kirk Raffield told me how he was sprucing up the grounds at the Old Jail when some out-of-towners paid us a compliment of sorts -- they liked Jasper because the streets were so empty. It’s true. On a Sunday afternoon you may have Main Street to yourself.
One finer point to consider is that both Blue Ridge and Ellijay have large crowds of tourists holed up in mountain/river/lake cabins to draw from. People are visiting the areas north because of natural assets we simply don’t have in Pickens and there are not hundreds of rental cabins up in our hills.
Jasper could add more street signage, better planters and more attractive signage but without those big natural draws we aren’t going to see that heavy traffic stopping here.
Some may read this and come to the conclusion that we favor doing nothing. But that is not our position at all.
We believe there is always a place for improvement. Anything that makes Jasper better is a great service for all of us who live here – even if it doesn’t lure crowds. Significant improvement is still laudable, even if it doesn’t bring a tide-change in the vibrancy of our town overnight.