Vote For Downtown

Part of being an artist is being a good citizen. Our country and local communities
allow for a free exchange of ideas and public venues where our art can be
viewed and our voices heard.

Communities like ours here in Granite City benefit from artists because they see
beauty where little exists and, as good citizens, they will put into action their
vision for thoughtful living. The creative class, usually educated or civically involved,
will reinvigorate an area, ripening it for economic development.

You can see these changes evident in many cities across the country. In fact,
we can easily look across the river to St. Louis for the evidence. The University City
Loop, Maplewood and Washington Avenue are all success stories whose narrative
follows a boom, decay, artists move in, businesses, tax money, residences and
community follow.

Granite City has taken a series of important steps down this path by creating its Arts
and Entertainment district and changing the face of a blighted and ignored
commercial district and its connecting neighborhood of Lincoln Place. The
goals of the current administration, the Downtown Rejuvenation Committee and the
Historical Architecture Review Committee are clear, and the evidence of their
effectiveness is all around. The downtown is emerging as a safer and
more interesting place to visit.

Admittedly the improvements are just beginning, but the new theater,
two art galleries, flower shops, a bookstore, oven-baked pizza place,
a summertime open market and several public sculptures demonstrate that the
proverbial snowball is rolling. It is important at this moment to take inventory of all
these fantastic changes and commit to nurture this creative momentum
and community spirit.

In the coming weeks, we will be electing those who will further define and drive our
downtown commitments. I cannot think of anyone more focused and knowledgeable
about our efforts than Brenda Whitaker. Her tireless efforts and constant attention
have managed to turn our devastated historic downtown into a unique and thriving
area once again. She understands the value of a collective effort in promoting
change and how to utilize the organizational structure of City Hall to make things
happen.

For example, Brenda has assisted in securing lasting relationships with local
community groups, unions and universities focused on the arts. Granite City, not just
the downtown or Lincoln Place, will now benefit from these connections by drawing
events and special projects into our city for years to come. I can honestly say that
during my five years volunteering with the city on this revitalization effort, next to
nothing would have been accomplished without the drive and vision of
Brenda Whitaker.

Beyond the apparent changes to the street lights, planters and a new movie theater,
Brenda's involvement has involved the downtown and City Hall as a place to hold
events like at-risk student art exhibits, outdoor painting events, anti-gang graffiti
initiatives, two iron pours which attracted over 20 different universities and 100
sculptors and artists. These events, which drive economic development, have proven
that by working together, these community groups are important partners in
improving and defining our neighborhoods.

There are many people involved with the successful turnaround of the downtown.
The Hagnauer administration has shown clear leadership, economic developer John
Ferry has worked endlessly with artists and business owners, Dan McDowell and
Jack Jenkins have also been instrumental in creating an environment welcoming to
artists and businesses to the downtown.

What the rest of us have to do is our civic duty. We should all vote to continue these
dynamic and wonderful changes and support those, who like us, love our city
and see it as a unique and deserving community.

Ron Laboray, Lecturer

Sam Fox School of Design and Visual Art
Washington University St. Louis
Chair, Historical Architecture Review Committee Granite City