Master planning is a collaborative act. This is the story of Fairfield, Alabama, working together towards a brighter future.
Hi. I’m Karin. It’s my job to connect with you and your Fairfield neighbors to help you be a part of this process. As I do, I’ll be posting updates here so you’ll always know what I and the rest of the project consulting team are up to — what’s already happened and what’s next. I look forward to meeting and working with you.
Friday, October 8, 2021: Wrapping up a successful week
Fairfield can pat itself on the back.
During the week of October 4, 2021, citizens attended a four-day workshop to ask questions and voice their thoughts on Fairfield’s past, present and future. Held at the Fairfield Civic Center, residents faced periodic stormy weather with flash-flood conditions to attend the various meetings.
Thursday, October 7, 2021 was the culmination of the workshop. During a Public Review, I and the rest of the city-directed master planning team requested input from community members on what we got right and what we got wrong.
The Public Review was a hybrid event, with some people physically present and others participating via ZOOM. Sometimes the input was in the form of questions: What will make this master plan different from the 2011 Master Plan? How can we establish rental property management policies? Can we have a fine to force absentee owners to keep buildings up to code? Will infrastructure improvements be addressed? Can the Glen Oaks/Forest Hills neighborhoods, re-purpose underutilized land that was a school and swimming pool to perhaps teach agriculture and food production? Can Gary Avenue become a hub for commercial and entertainment businesses?
There was concern about neighborhood equity as well as explanations about such things as how the international property maintenance code affects broken down cars and trucks stored on residential lawns.
Marques King, an architect and developer with amazing success working in underserved urban communities, shared ideas on how Fairfield can take non-traditional approaches to restoring blighted neighborhoods.
The public input process is so vital, it will continue for several more weeks. Fairfield residents can share their ideas and issues by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. The online survey is another option. Anyone can volunteer to serve as a Captain and host small-group community conversations using resources and instructions provided by the planning team. And the suggestion box will remain at Fairfield City Hall until the cutoff date.
The public input phase will close on December 1, 2021.
The next phase involves writing the first draft of the Fairfield Master Plan, which could be presented to Fairfield city officials in January 2022.
Tuesday, October 5, 2021: Miles College students share priorities
Miles College was the setting for a pop-up spot on Tuesday, October 5, 2021 to find out what students want to see and have in Fairfield to consider making Fairfield their permanent home after graduation. Using five buckets, with each bucket representing a different factor of life, students chose their priorities from highest to lowest. The categories were housing, jobs, entertainment, safety and cool places to hang out.
Approximately 150 students stopped at the pop-up, which was set up at the entrance inside the Miles cafeteria. In our quick introductions, the students shared the names of their hometowns, which ranged from big cities like Los Angeles, Detroit, Atlanta and Birmingham to smaller markets such as Opelika and rural communities.
“Reaching out to the community to get ideas is definitely a step in the right direction.”
When the calculations were done, more students ranked safety as their top priority (75 points) followed by entertainment (55 points), housing (49 points), jobs (44 points) and cool hang-out places (32 points).
We thank the administrators at Miles for allowing the master planning team to come onto the campus and engage with the students.
Tuesday, October 5, 2021: Neighborhood voices
Neighborhood leaders had a lot to say about conditions in Fairfield that cause problems as well as opportunities that offer promise.
These bookend issues were addressed on Tuesday, October 5, 2021 at a meeting for Fairfield’s neighborhood advocates, held during the week-long public workshop.
Under the heading of problems, law enforcement was at the top the list, specifically the arrangement that has Jefferson County sheriffs providing policing services in Fairfield. Participants said the sheriff’s department is “reactionary’’ rather than “proactive” and they said they would prefer for their city to have a fully functional police department. On the flipside, this group talked about how cash-strapped Fairfield is and why the city cannot afford a quality law enforcement operation of its own. It was a bit of a conundrum to them that the city is in financial distress yet pays the county for police services. Since Fairfield is already within Jefferson County’s jurisdiction, the question was asked about why Fairfield is not inherently eligible for county services at no cost.
They mentioned other problems, including traffic on 59th street that serves as the gateway to Miles College and the number of bingo halls in Fairfield, which in their opinions breed crime and hurt progress.
Though they were candid in their assessments of challenges, they also shared ideas they felt could improve Fairfield. Neighborhood watch programs, building a stronger sense of community, more citizen collaboration, government officials building trust through transparency and funding for cleaner, safer neighborhoods were thoughts that the neighborhood association leaders shared during the meeting.
One of the participants attends Urban Hope Community Church and wanted to share the gospel about current and future church projects. Urban Hope has purchased two buildings in downtown Fairfield. The property at 4908 Gary Avenue houses the sanctuary, fellowship hall, administrative offices, classrooms, and a nursery. There is also a built-out space for a coffee shop. The church will lease that business to an entrepreneur who aligns with the church’s mission and values. Down the street also on Gary Avenue in the former Ann’s Furniture Store, the church is considering apartments on the second floor and perhaps a retail business on the bottom level. Urban Hope Community Church held its first worship service on Sunday, October 3 and will present a community grand opening on October 16.
Another neighborhood association leader had firsthand involvement with a master planning activity at the grass roots level. She served as a discussion Captain and engaged people she knows using the resources provided to her to gather information through informal conversations. Others who attended the workshop took the Captain’s instructions with them to also host their networks in conversations about the Fairfield Master Plan
Though everyone agreed that Fairfield could benefit from a new master plan, they also referenced prior projects with a similar goal and emphasized that they are hoping for a different outcome this time.
Tuesday, October 5, 2021: City leaders receive community comment
The Fairfield City Council took a bold step to ensure that residents would be engaged in the master planning process. Instead of meeting at Fairfield City Hall for the City Council meeting on October 4, 2021, Council conducted the city’s business at the Fairfield Civic Center and asked citizens to participate in a Public Vision Workshop.
Over the last 6 weeks, public input on the Master Plan process has been received using various tools including an online survey, mapping exercise, ZOOM meetings, social media platforms, community conversations, and a suggestion box placed at Fairfield City Hall. Those comments, ideas, and concerns captured the first wave of public responses.
At the Public Vision Workshop, citizens commented on whether the information gathered thus far reflected their own issues concerning Fairfield, as well as their hopes for the city’s future.
Monday, October 4, 2021: Business leaders speak
Who came to the master planning meeting set up for Fairfield businesses to speak their minds?
Dr. Allen Kessler, a dentist with strong feelings about people positioning themselves to ask for money at Fairfield’s interstate ramps; Ken Dent, a graphic designer concerned about the city’s street signs and overall public signage, and Jeffery Scott, a businessman who has his eyes on Fairfield’s potholes and is also taking notes on suspicious activity at a gas station in Fairfield.
They were among the people who showed up for the workshop on Monday, October 4, 2021 to share their perceptions of Fairfield with the planning team working on the Fairfield Master Plan. Also, Jacinta Sole, a representative with the Fairfield Area Chamber of Commerce attended the meeting.
Though participants discussed problems, they also shared ideas and suggestions.
Dr. Kessler said he and his staff have very few lunch options and he would like Fairfield to have more food trucks. He wonders if the city’s business license fees may be a disincentive to these businesses. Ken Dent wants the city to invest in new street signs and gateway visuals. It was great to see an avenue open for him to potentially grow his business when Jeffery Scott offered to open doors that will get Ken to the right people.
Jeffery’s business is thriving with more than 125 customers using his asphalt services. And he is pleased with the real estate deal that landed him a building with 5,000 sf of space that serves as headquarters for USA Asphalt Maintenance. He is not at all pleased with the recent theft of a $90,000 bobcat that was stolen off his lot. Fortunately, it was recovered a few hours later. His requests to Fairfield city officials involve better lighting throughout the city and upgraded technology in the form of high speed Internet that won’t break his budget. He says the local cable company quoted him a price of $40,000. He also wants the city to do a better job of disseminating good news when positive things happen in Fairfield.
Jacinta Sole, outreach assistant at the Fairfield Area Chamber of Commerce has high hopes for the Master Plan, saying that it sets the stage for a comeback in Fairfield that would energize the local community and also perhaps inspire other cities to follow suit.
Friday, September 17, 2021: A week of conversation
With back-to-back ZOOM meetings, the week of September 13th was highly productive. Anyone who had a question about the Fairfield Master Plan was welcome to attend virtual meetings coordinated by community stakeholders with the support of Fairfield Mayor Eddie Penny.
Fairfield City Schools Superintendent Dr. Regina Thompson reached out to parents, teachers and residents to invite them to a ZOOM call held on Tuesday, September 14. Approximately 50 individuals attended the one-hour session. On Thursday, September 16, Jeremy Duckworth, Executive Director of the Fairfield Business Alliance, hosted a ZOOM meeting for Fairfield business leaders, attended by approximately 30 people.
At each meeting, the master plan was explained with emphasis on the first phase, which is about listening to Fairfield residents to hear their hopes, dreams and concerns. The strategies used to receive community input were detailed, including the dedicated website, www.fairfieldmasterplan.com, which features an embedded survey and a mapping exercise. These tools were customized to give Fairfield residents user-friendly ways to share their thoughts about their community.
Also, in both virtual meetings, ZOOM participants were encouraged to volunteer to serve as “Captains” to help with information-gathering. A “Captain” is someone who agrees to talk with people they know, in a small group setting, to discuss the Fairfield Master Plan. Each captain is provided with materials and instructions on how to conduct the conversation with his or her group.
At the ZOOM meeting for business leaders, participants were asked to display a poster in their businesses with the goal of sparking questions from employees and customers. When inquiring minds want to know, the best response is to refer the person to the Fairfield Master Plan website.
Some attendees were concerned about the reliance on digital media for information concerning the master plan. The planning team shared non-technological ways they are seeking input, such as the previously mentioned, informal “Captain” discussions, engaging students during lunch hour at the high school, a comment card box at City Hall, and setting up a listening station on the Miles College campus to hear from college students.
All residents can further share their thoughts October 4–7, 2021 when a Master Plan Workshop will be held at the Fairfield Civic Center, located at 6509 EJ Oliver Boulevard. COVID safety protocols will be in effect, including face masks and social distancing.
Thursday, September 9, 2021: Getting educated
During my recent in-depth interview with Fairfield City Schools Superintendent, Dr. Regina Thompson, she enthusiastically talked about innovative programs in the school district.
That interview was followed by a tour of the district to see school-related innovations and resources with our own eyes. Fairfield Schools head baseball coach, Jimecio Archie, graciously guided us around these various destinations.
We saw a baseball field that is undergoing a facelift, partially to complement a walking trail the City of Fairfield is planning to install nearby. Coach Archie is confident the work will be completed by the upcoming baseball season in 2022. We also saw the fully renovated football stadium, which has been enhanced from the bleachers to the playing field.
We visited medical facilities and met healthcare professionals who work in the school system, including Emily Herring who as the mental health coordinator, has her hands full dealing with COVID related stress and hardships students are experiencing.
Dr. Thompson believes the schools can and should be a resource for the community. That’s why the clinic at Forest Hills Community Center serves students and Fairfield residents. She is also a supporter of the Fairfield Master Plan and has facilitated a joint ZOOM meeting involving Fairfield City Schools and the City of Fairfield to discuss the master plan with parents and the community at-large.
Catch up on the day with this video:
Thursday, September 2, 2021: Reaching higher
We asked ministers in Fairfield to raise their voices in collective prayer on the third Sunday of this month, September 19th, on behalf of the Fairfield Master Plan.
We envision pastors delivering sermons derived from biblical verses—such as Proverbs 29:18: “Where there is no vision, the people perish”—though we of course respect each pastor’s decision concerning their scriptural preference.
In the event that a full sermon that day is not possible, perhaps a moment of prayer for the Fairfield Master Plan might be possible with pastors asking their congregations to join in a petition for divine favor over the master planning process.
Pastor David Craig, President of the Fairfield Ministers Alliance, graciously received our request. He also volunteered to incorporate prayer for this project on a consistent basis during a 6:00am prayer call that happens on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.
Wednesday, September 1, 2021: Drop by and share
In speaking with Fairfield City Council President Herman Carnes we received an additional idea for collecting resident input: a suggestion box at Fairfield City Hall. We responded with signage and other materials for citizens to easily share their hopes, dreams, concerns and issues involving Fairfield.
There are two sets of comment cards; one for residents and another for businesses. We encourage everyone who is interested in Fairfield ‘s future to go to city hall, fill out a comment card and drop it in the suggestion box.
Fairfield City Hall is located at 4701 Gary Avenue, Fairfield AL 35064. The building is open from 8:00am until 4:00pm, Monday through Friday.
“However you’re interested in sharing, we’re listening.
Wednesday, August 25, 2021: And we’re off!
Work on the Fairfield Master Plan process got officially underway on Tuesday, August 24, 2021 with a meeting convened by Fairfield Mayor Eddie Penny. About twenty individuals attended the meeting, representing a broad cross-section of the Fairfield community. Functioning similar to a brainstorming session, the participants freely shared their perspectives on Fairfield—perspectives we’ve captured in a series of videos entitled “Fairfield Voices.”
The same day we met at Fairfield City Hall to hear from various Fairfield leaders and citizens, we also met with Dr. Arthur J. Brigati, Senior V.P. for Institutional Advancement at Miles College, along with his colleague, Dr. Kathy Edwards, a professor in the Miles College School of Business. They discussed plans on the horizon at Miles College that will benefit the student population and, with it, the Fairfield community at-large.
“This is our community. We need to take an active part in what happens.”
Dr. Arthur J. Brigati shared information about a multi-purpose center that will be built on the Miles College campus and also said after extensive renovations, Williams Hall will house a Center for Economic and Social Justice as well as a museum that will accommodate the Benny Andrews collection.
As this process continues, we’ll continue to operate in the spirit of transparency and inclusivity, informing the public of details concerning ZOOM sessions, in-person meetings, and other activities related to the Fairfield Master Plan. Updates will be posted here as warranted.
Our goal is to engage a large portion of the Fairfield community prior to our public workshop, October 4-7, allowing us to further refine your ideas and suggestions during that time.