Huntington adds the future to points of pride
The Herald-Dispatch, April 21, 2017
Huntington has always had great pride in its past - and for good reason.
As the railroads met the Ohio River in the late 1800s, the city and the region began to boom with new people and new industry. Dramatic growth continued through the first half of the 20th Century, as the Jewel City saw its population grow from about 12,000 in 1900 to more than 86,000 in 1950.
Many of our residents remember the bustling factories and busy downtowns of the Tri-State in the 1950s with great affection. But in the following decades, things began to slide. Manufacturing icons began to close their doors, and young people began to move away.
As the new century dawned, Huntington's population dropped below 50,000, and the city faced some of its toughest times. Crumbling infrastructure, empty storefronts, city financial woes and rising crime rates became overwhelming problems. Over the next decade, the city also became a poster child for rising obesity rates and the tragedies of the opioid epidemic.
Looking forward to a new future was no easy task. That is what makes Huntington's victory in the America's Best Communities competition this week so significant.
City leaders and community volunteers made their case on a plan that is all about looking forward and creating a brighter future. The $3 million cash award will be a great help in kick-starting some of those ideas, but pulling together and developing a more comprehensive road map for redevelopment in many parts of town is the biggest prize of all.
For that leadership, Mayor Steve Williams deserves a great deal of credit. He changed the community conversation from an endless analysis of what had gone wrong and who was to blame to a new discussion of where can we go and how can we get there.
Without question, the city still faces many of the same challenges - from pension plan problems and layoffs to housing decay and drug abuse. But the strategies to retool old industrial properties, revitalize troubled neighborhoods and critical corridors and promote cutting-edge broadband technologies can and will help reshape Huntington's future.
"For too many years, there have been people who have come to our community to tell us about the problems in our area," Williams said in accepting the award Wednesday. "I am proud to be able to say ... this is worst to first."
This week, Huntington can add its aspirations and hopes for the future to its many points of pride.