Pondering our quality of life

Published 3:56 pm Friday, September 25, 2009

Arriving here nearly 20 years ago, the often heard catch-phrase was “quality of life.” It was a great slice of “small-town America” right here in Southwest Georgia where quality of life reigned supreme.

As we consider how Bainbridge will appear 20 years from now in 2030, and tackle the mandated State Comprehensive Plan regarding our corner of the state, “quality of life” has to be uppermost in deliberations.

Population in Bainbridge is projected to increase about 4,000 people in the next 20 years, topping out at about 16,000. So how do we physically plan for the addition of 4,000 new residents, most of whom may be retirees. And if we are going to attract retirees, we must have a safe community.

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For that small amount of population spread out during the next 20 years, we may not need huge investments in capital projects such as roads, schools, shopping centers and other major infrastructure additions and improvements.

Let’s think about quality of life and how it will affect us in 2030.

The statistics gained from the census reports over the last 30 years can give us some hints as to the trends in the next 20 years.

For example, the distance between whites and minority populations has been heading for the “even” mark. In 1990, the percentages were whites 52.4 percent; minorities, 47 percent. In 2000, whites 47.5 percent; minorities 50.3 percent. Current school population figures follow closely the same percentages.

One might guess, and it might be assumed by the year 2030, the minority population figures could be near 60 percent or higher.

So how should we think about quality of life?

As suggested, it may not be as much as building new roads, schools, shopping areas, but those things we need to improve ourselves as a people and our community as a positive place to live. Think about why so many of our kids are dropping out of school before graduating from high school.

Those figures have been improving along with those enrolling in GED programs. According to the census figures, the trend has been positive during the past 20 years. Those attaining a high school diploma and GED diploma in 1990 went from 1,700 to 2,012 in the year 2000. Ninth- through 12-grade dropouts went from 1,473 to 1,199, another positive trend.

Quality of life means being able to live in a quality house or apartment too. Census tells us that there are many single family housing units without kitchens or bathrooms or both. Planning should consider substandard housing as unacceptable, and programs to modify these structures and upgrade substandard neighborhoods for inclusion of habitable modern housing.

It is recommended that we avoid concentrations of low-income housing units, rather spreading them out geographically.

Quality of life also means being able to earn a good wage.

In 2000, 56 percent of our population earned less than $30,000, and 20 percent of the population earned less than $10,000. A significant portion of the population remains below the poverty level.

On the positive side, our per capita income increased from $5,722 in 1980 to $15,589 in 2000. Yet for quality of life, we have to consider those numbers below the poverty level in the year 2000: in Decatur County, 6,240 (23 percent of the population), and in Bainbridge, 3,013 (26 percent of the population). Let’s hope the 2010 Census will show some improvements in those figures.

So what do we have to seriously consider as we put together this 2030 state-mandated comprehensive plan—About a fourth or more of our population is living below the poverty level, a significant amount of people have failed to receive a high school education, and another considerable amount of our people are living in substandard housing in concentrated neighborhoods. And all of this contributes to our higher-than-average crime rate for a city our size.

Quality of life issues must be seriously addressed.