There is no undo button in the real world

Published 12:00 am Friday, March 6, 2009

In the computer universe, I am the mayor of a small city with 60,932 people.

My fingertips hold the power to make or break this tiny municipality I call Hillyerville.

With my meager city budget, I decide where industries will locate, where neighborhoods will be developed and how much money will be spent on police, fire and other necessary city services.

Email newsletter signup

If I provide the right balance of services, infrastructure and tax policies, Hillyerville thrives. If I fail to meet my responsibilities, the city slowly dies.

Since 1990, I have been a fan of the computer simulation game SimCity. When I was first introduced to the game in architecture school, I was hooked.

As a student, I was captivated by how well the program adhered to the same urban design principles I was learning. To this day, I am applying principles I gleaned from this little program.

Consider the dilemma posed by the shrinking population of Natchez.

In Natchez, as in SimCity, it is far easier to lead a growing city than a shrinking one.

In the program, you begin with small zones of commercial, industrial and residential properties. You build roads, water lines, power lines and any other things necessary to run a city.

As people and industries move into town, you begin to build more roads and provide more services, like fire protection and waste management.

As your town grows, residents demand schools, parks and recreation. A good mayor responds to these demands. Unfortunately, the city budget is limited so you cut services and consider the dreaded T-word.

Industries leave and people follow. Like Swiss cheese, pockets of rundown properties and vacant buildings pop up all over your once thriving city.

As the population shrinks, the miles of road to pave remains the same and the square miles of city to protect remain the same.

As the population shrinks, so does the tax base. Fewer dollars must stretch to provide the same city services.

Potholes form, water lines break. Sound familiar?

At the end of February, The Natchez Democrat published its annual Profile edition. It included the article “Going down? Population census trends in area show decline.”

The main graphic accompanying the article demonstrates the odds our communities face.

Since 1980, when the populations of Adams County and Concordia Parish reached their zenith, both areas have seen steady declines. According to the U.S. Census Bureau ,the area’s population has decreased by nearly 17 percent.

Fewer people are paying taxes to provide the same city services. The only answer may be to raise taxes or grow the tax base by creating an environment that attracts new industry and nurtures existing businesses.

We are dependent on all of our leaders to work together to plan and organize for the future now more than ever.

We cannot afford for our leaders’ divisions to keep us from growing and prospering.

State leaders politely say that our reputation of not cooperating and communicating has only hurt our ability to attract industry.

In the current crisis, city and county leaders cannot agree when to meet and discuss our local economic development authority.

If the current EDA is not working, then leaders need to come together and present an alternative solution.

Without one, our area will be left with only potholes and vacant buildings.

Unlike SimCity, there is no start over button.

Ben Hillyer is the Web editor of The Natchez Democrat. He can be reached at 601-445-3540.