About 12 years ago I returned to Pine Bluff, my hometown, after spending nearly 40 years living elsewhere. One of my favorite preoccupations from the start has been the writing of letters and guest columns to The Commercial.

About 12 years ago I returned to Pine Bluff, my hometown, after spending nearly 40 years living elsewhere. One of my favorite preoccupations from the start has been the writing of letters and guest columns to The Commercial.


As I now contemplate moving away to spend the next phase of my retirement in another state, I would like to share some parting thoughts about what I think is needed to make Pine Bluff a better and improved city.


Too often, as I have written in the past, we residents talk as if our city is uniquely disadvantaged as compared to others. It is not.


Yet, at times I too have fallen victim to the "everybody except us" view of the progress we have made toward making our city a better place to live. I admit that my impatience with the actual pace of our progress, as opposed to the possibility of progress, is one of the reasons for my planned move away. Of course, my age also has a lot to do with my growing impatience.


Yet, I also truly believe that Pine Bluff can become the kind of city we all want. It is with that goal in mind that I write to offer some concrete suggestions for achieving that long-term goal. Below are numbered items describing those recommendations, some of which are at odds with the seeming public policy consensus driving actions now being taken in our town.


FIRST: Crime is not the major problem hindering the city’s drive for economic development, job growth and improved quality of life in the city. It is clear that crime matters. Cities seeking greater economic prosperity often find themselves in a vicious cycle-related conundrum. They need jobs and development to reduce crime; but the very fact that they have high crime rates discourages businesses from investing in the city.


That said, one of the most robust cycles of urban economic revitalization the nation has ever witnessed — gentrification of our inner cities — began to really take off in the early to middle 1980s. This was a time of sharp rises in rates of violence and other crime in most American cities, large and small. But, in almost every revitalized city, opportunities for businesses of all sizes to profit from moves into formerly blighted areas trumped concerns and fears related to crime.


The urge to develop, invest and make money overrode fears of crime. For Pine Bluff, my suggestion means that city officials and residents should tone down the rhetoric which leads to an overemphasis on our crime rates, even while doing all that we can to lower them.


SECOND: Exercise caution in the move toward demolishing residences and business structures in the city. Caution should be exercised not just because Pine Bluff has a treasure trove of historic structures — both homes and commercial buildings. That reason alone is a cause for pause. But, caution should also be exercised because given sufficient access to capital, many of the now condemned structures all over the city can be saved and can serve as homes and businesses for an economically revived city.


THIRD: Do more to attract the under-40-year-old age crowd to our town and encourage their participation in government and decision-making. People in this age range have often ignited or started growth in most revitalized cities; or they have been the catalysts that have sustained and expanded such revitalization once started.


The diverse job markets developed in cities across the country suggest that it is not just high-tech enterprises that will attract younger city residents. Some cities have developed public relations campaigns designed to attract younger residents. We should do so as well.


To attract and retain younger residents also means that we must not, in response to fears of crime or a false sense of morality protection, limit the kinds of entertainment venues favored by the young. Instead we should seek to build them and do more to assure their safety and integrity.


FOURTH: Our local banks and other lending institutions must "put their money where their mouths are" in terms of helping to revitalize our city. Simmons and Relyance have their own roots dug deeply in the city and have profited from its citizenry. As they grow and expand, they must remember the debt owed to the city that made them. Bank of America and Bank of Star City should take heed as well.


FIFTH: A new Pine Bluff awaits. If we build it, they will come here to live, work and play.


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Darnell F. Hawkins received a doctorate in sociology from the University of Michigan and a law degree from the University of North Carolina. He currently lives in Pine Bluff after retiring from the University of Illinois at Chicago where he specialized in criminal justice.