For the fourth straight year, we look over paublished lists of the best places to live in America to see how Pickens County stacks up. For three years running, we have consulted the lists of best towns put forward by Money and Outside magazines. This year Outside has yet to do a list, so we worked from Parenting magazine’s list instead.
Money, in their yearly best places issue, introduced the towns/cities by saying they have “qualities American families care about.”
According to the magazine, those qualities are “great job opportunities, top-notch schools, safe streets, economic strength, nice weather, plenty to do.”
Number one on their list is Louisville, a town of 18,000 in Colorado. Obviously all the Rocky Mountain towns are blessed with plenty to do––skiing, hunting, fishing or just enjoying the wild open spaces.
Along with the opportunities for fun, this town’s proximity to Denver leads to solid job opportunities in a variety of sustainable fields such as aerospace, technology and health care.
Second on Money’s list is Milton, Massachusetts, described as a deep suburb of Boston with a country town feel. Money noted the area’s stable real estate/home prices
Parenting featured larger cities with Washington, D.C. being their first choice. The editors at Parenting gave the nod to Washington for its “plentitude of museums.”
Second on their list was Austin, Texas with its sunny weather. (Do they know how hot that sunny weather gets in August?) Parenting leaned heavily toward places with cultural attractions and cited the lively farmers’ markets in Austin, plus special events featuring live music and the famous South by Southwest Film Festival.
All of the places making either list had some variation of good jobs supporting great parks/cultural activities in a safe and attractive area with a small town feel. So how does Pickens stack up?
We own one key element from the bag: public safety. Money wrote that all small towns they listed had safe streets. Pickens can rightfully boast a crime rate to be envied by any community.
We’d also give our schools pretty high marks. They are safe and generally out-perform similar systems academically. Nothing fancy, but certainly solid assets to the community.
Maybe a surprise to some, we’ll give ourselves a “fair” on cultural activities. We lack a single big name attraction but do boast a steady stream of smaller events year-round. The Marble Festival, Heritage Days in Talking Rock, and Tate Days provide nice weekend events. The Tater Patch Players’ new theater, monthly Main Street Manias in Jasper, the first annual ArtFest and regular shows at the Sharptop Arts Center, the Casual Concert Series and new venues like Van Gogh’s Hideaway put us above average compared to other small towns.
Unfortunately, in the two areas where we score low, we pitifully lack some key elements.
Recreation Opportunities. We lack any substantial natural or wilderness area, and our parks and recreation facilities are sub-standard compared to neighboring North Georgia counties. We have argued in this space a number of times that Pickens County can’t create a massive mountain range, sea coast or wilderness area, but we can develop decent recreation facilities. The new gym at Roper Park is a step in the right direction, but one step alone isn’t going to overcome decades of neglect.
Job Growth, Economic Base. Here again, we lack this and badly. Pickens was a company town for too long, and that company was real estate, and that has collapsed. We had no fallback plan. And as far as we can tell, there is no Plan B in the works to create jobs here.
With the economy as stagnant as the Jasper duck pond, it’s doubtful much can be done to shore up our weak areas any time soon. While decent parks could help attract potential homebuyers and businesses, without a stable tax base, it’s hard to justify spending on sports facilities, and we recognize this.
When and if our economy gives the county a little spending cushion, we urge a move to address our lack of recreation venues, in the hope that move could help remedy the economic shortfall here.
To make us a truly great place, one category, parks, is within our control on future SPLOST spending. That other, jobs creation, is the challenge that may plague us for the foreseeable future.