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Guest column: Morningside Heights needs countys help to revitalize
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The recent decision by the Hall County commission to approve the first of a three-phase program to provide safe pedestrian sidewalks within the District Four Morningside Heights community is commendable.

The Morningside Heights community (formerly known as “the Southside”) can be roughly defined as a 9-square-mile area lying south of the Norfolk Southern tracks and east of U.S. 129. Athens Street bisects the community, while it, too, is intersected east and west along the way by both Ridge Road and Interstate 985.

The community is home to more than 3,000 people residing in either public housing or single-family homes. Within this limited area are two large industrial plants and a number of small industrial and commercial businesses. Here also is located the bulging Hall County Health Department and the now-closed Butler Gym.

There are no city or county schools, parks, recreational facilities or government departments located within the community. The nearest supermarket and drug store are a long way away; so is the nearest medical facility. This is a real problem for many people that rely on walking for much of their transportation needs.

The community has had a lengthy history of being neglected and often pushed aside for needed improvements by special political or business interests. It has also long been a haven for certain private industrial and commercial developments that would have a hard time being welcomed in other areas of the city or county.

Road access into the network of nice single-family homes for police and emergency vehicles has long been a major problem. The only two roads providing access into the large residential area are narrow and difficult to navigate. Once in, all the interior streets are dead-ended and poorly lit. Some locations have historically been a dumping ground for construction and other waste.

Beyond the need for new sidewalks, there are two major issues that greatly need to be addressed.

First: Because the community is made up of a patchwork of city- and county-governed districts, it is often confusing as to which government responds to a 911 emergency call, a fact has not been lost on drug dealers who have found it to their advantage. This situation needs to be addressed and solved.

Second: Because the community lacks any local outdoor recreation and meeting space, the only open space for events is in the streets. Sufficient land for a centrally located park for safer and easily supervised festivals, walking trails and community events needs to be acquired and developed. This will have the added benefit of bringing positive identity and a sense of pride to the community.

The Concerned Citizens of Gainesville/Hall County grass-roots organization, along with other area groups, have worked hard to develop a five-year plan addressing these and other issues critical to the successful revitalization of the Morningside Heights community.

For several years, Concerned Citizens has sponsored monthly awareness meetings to obtain feedback from residents and all who are interested in the community. It is hoped that this new Hall County program for sidewalks will, at last, lead this community of good people to being recognized as an equal partner for government services and improvements.It is also hoped that local industrial and commercial interests will join in this exciting planning effort.

Garland Reynolds is a Gainesville-based architect and a member of Concerned Citizens of Gainesville/Hall County Executive Board.