Athens has a nationally-renowned local food and beverage scene, a thriving arts and entertainment scene, a wonderful film and video festival, a beautiful natural setting perfect for outdoor recreation, the 21-mile Hockhocking Adena Bikeway passing through our city along the Hocking River, Strouds Run State Park just outside city limits, close proximity to The Baileys mountain biking trail system and everything the Hocking Hills has to offer, a relatively new city pool, a sizeable and well equipped community recreation center, ample free educational and cultural programming through Ohio University — and more! Plus, every year our city is “put on the map” for thousands of new OU students and their families.
I believe we can better utilize these assets to increase local prosperity, reduce economic inequality, eliminate local poverty, and strengthen our local culture.
Independent local businesses and tourism both can be part of the solution — but only if we consciously work to prevent new wealth from ending up in the same few pockets, only if we consciously work to prevent gentrification that pushes more low and moderate income residents out of city limits, and only if we use the promotion of businesses and tourism to leverage more socially and environmentally responsible business practices.
The city can do much more to promote independent local businesses and other local attractions as magnets for tourism — but also make that promotion contingent on businesses adopting more socially and environmentally responsible practices, and further incentivizing adoption of such practices by providing more promotion to the most responsible businesses.
Rural Action’s Zero Waste Initiative, ACEnet’s 30 Mile Meal program, and Athens City Council’s 2008 Responsible Contractor Bidding Criteria resolution all are good local examples of how the city and nonprofit community organizations can successfully encourage businesses to adopt more responsible practices. But I believe we can substantially expand on those positive examples to further incentivize many more businesses to more substantially reduce waste, lower carbon emissions, improve employee compensation and working conditions, provide more space for local visual and performing arts, and be more supportive of local nonprofit organizations and social causes.
Imagine the city partnering with Ohio University to provide all prospective and new students and their families with additional reasons to attend school here and a host of reasons to make Athens a premiere regional weekend vacation destination. Imagine this happening in the form of a local business and tourism guide supplied to all prospective and new students and their families at every campus tour, orientation event, and student involvement fair. Imagine that guide not only including ads from local businesses but also an independent city auditing of local businesses’ social and environmental practices. Imagine each local business graded according to their practices and receiving more promotion the better their grade. Imagine a local currency gift card scheme that included all local businesses passing a certain responsibility threshold. Imagine instead of businesses paying for ads in a brochure, they would instead supply new students and their parents with starter gift cards as a supplement to the tourism guide. Gift cards that could be redeemed at participating businesses. Gift cards that would familiarized students and parents with local businesses, counter the ubiquitous advertising of familiar corporate chains from students hometowns, and turn students and their parents into repeat customers of more responsible local businesses.
With our city’s massive annual influx of new students and their families… with our close proximity to the already thriving tourism economy of the Hocking Hills… and with all the wonderful tourism attractions our city has to offer, I believe we can be drawing many more tourism dollars and seeing that they are more equitable distributed among city (and county) residents. I believe we can be helping OU increase its enrollment and creating a more egalitarian community with a stronger local culture all at the same time.
And in addition to using tourism promotion to leverage such community improvements, I believe the city also can do a much better job of strengthening local culture by making it easier for all residents to learn about everything our city has to offer. A great way to do this would be to install an community events calendar / informational kiosk just outside the Athens County Courthouse on the corner of Court and Washington streets, while also encouraging OU to install a similar kiosk near Baker Center and possibly elsewhere around campus. This also would ensure that the kind of tourism promotion I described above was not something that only occurred a few times per year with the influx of students, but that it was ongoing and directed at all residents and visitors, not only students.
And finally, it we’re serious about increasing tourism, we need to be equally serious about offsetting the increased carbon emissions that traveling tourists create. Thus the additional city tax revenue generated by increased tourism should be invested in improving pedestrian transportation options, expanding public transit, and increasing our use of renewable energy.
In case anybody is wondering, I’m still a socialist. I long for a world where everyone is their own boss within democratically self-managed workplaces, and where production and consumption are rationally and democratically managed to ensure environmental sustainability and social equity. So I don’t think small businesses, conscientious consumerism or tourism will solve the world’s problems. But I do believe we still can make use of them to achieve significant improvements within our current system. I believe progressive policy and government intervention can steer private enterprise in a better direction, slow the pace of market-driven capitalist ecocide and inequality, and significantly improve social wellbeing all at the same time.
Athens City Council can’t carry out a socialist revolution, but it can implement social democratic policies to create a better community right now. Is that enough? No. Is it still worth doing? Yes.
Click here to get a yard sign or donate!
Paid for by The Committee to Elect Damon Krane