Small-Town Appeal with a Big Community Feel
Business View Magazine interviews representatives of Douglasville, Georgia for our focus on Growth and Economic Development in U.S. Towns & Cities
Nestled just 20 miles west of Atlanta, Douglasville, Georgia is the home of close to 40,000 welcoming residents. At 22.6 sq. miles, this small, urban community boasts clean streets, plenty of extracurricular activities, excellent academic programs, low crime and tax rates, and an impressive amount of cultural diversity. Douglasville takes pride in its above-average schools and safe, family-friendly environment. The primary economic drivers are the school system and sanitary services, with a majority of workers commuting to the area. As of 2021, remote work is also on the rise, as in many cities across the U.S.
For Chan Weeks, Executive Director of Keep Douglasville Beautiful, what makes the city special from her perspective is its residents and the partnerships that exist with local businesses. She shares, “We have an outstanding group of people that live here and really try to make a difference in the community by doing what they can to give back or get involved, whether it be recycling at home or serving and volunteering in one of our local organizations.”
In the historic heart of downtown Douglasville, visitors find themselves immersed in the prime example of a turn-of-the-century southern railroad town. The bulk of the structures found here are one- and two-story brick buildings dating back to the mid-19th century. With architecture styles spanning from Romanesque to Italianate and Queen Anne, it is easy to see why Douglasville is a favorite backdrop for large productions like Netflix’s Stranger Things and the Hunger Games Mocking Jay Pt. 1.
According to Douglasville City Manager, Marcia Hampton, “The community functions in some respects as more of a small-knit community despite technically being a metro-area city. Any individual looking for a small-town feel, we have a very familiar type of environment where your neighbors know who you are and you all work together for the common good of the community. That to me is what’s important about Douglasville.”
For residents of Douglasville, much of the community support comes from local businesses. Weeks says they understand their business relies on the people of Douglasville, promoting their desire to improve the city and put their best foot forward to provide things that will bring the area up a notch. She notes, “We’ve been fortunate to have some really good partners with Keep Douglasville Beautiful and the community we’ve worked with.”
Within the past few years, Douglasville has seen a population increase of 12.78%, reaching its all-time highest population as of 2021. While this is great for the economy, Douglasville is currently facing challenges with housing stock and inventory, much like the rest of the nation. Hampton says, “Individuals who are looking for homes are either having to wait or potentially being outbid. We are trying to meet that demand through a different type of housing stock, whether that be through multifamily or single family.” With more and more people looking to take up residence in the metro Atlanta area, new techniques are being employed to keep up with the demand for affordable housing.
As an aesthetic town with an impressive amount of history, residents and city employees alike work together to retain the classic beauty of Douglasville. A proud affiliate of the Keep America Beautiful initiative, Keep Douglasville Beautiful works to achieve the needs and desires of its community, striving to beautify, clean up and prevent litter, and increase recycling. “We have several programs,” Weeks explains. “One of the larger ones is our community garden. This is something that our residents have asked for and that would provide some fresh produce during the pandemic. It was helpful because they could just walk down the street and pick something off the vine versus having to go into the grocery store, mask-up, and worry about COVID.”
From May through September, Keep Douglasville Beautiful also works with the University of Georgia, Cobb and Douglas Public Health, and Douglas County Parks and Recreation to run a farmers’ market. As the lead, Keep Douglasville Beautiful is looking to get stronger in those efforts. In addition to the larger initiatives, KDB runs many smaller programs with a focus on combatting litter and increasing recycling.
A major player in the Douglasville community, Douglasville Parks and Recreation has two major parks, one of which was recently renovated, with upcoming renovations scheduled for others. Hampton says, “We are slated to do a major renovation to our other park, on the northside of our community, which will include additional facilities such as a senior facility, a renovated gym facility, as well as an enhancement to the pool area there, and the addition of a splash pad. There are other passive parks we are working on as well. We just did a neighborhood park near where our Keep Beautiful program has done some work. And we’re working on a trail program as well.” Following a parks master plan, Douglasville Parks and Rec is working hard to grant the requests of its residents, providing fun and affordable access to family activities around the city.
Chan takes a moment to reflect on the community’s butterfly gardens and trails, noting, “The city has three locations on the trail, three butterfly parks. We have one specific butterfly garden and two other locations – one in our largest park, Hunter Park, that is surrounding our Veterans memorial that Keep Douglasville Beautiful built several years back. And then another memorial area for September 11th, and that also has been planted with plants for butterflies.”
In a time when vehicles and smartphones intensify human disconnection, being able to walk or bike conveniently through your town is essential for being connected to the community itself. When it comes to walkability or even the ability to bike around Douglasville, Hampton recognizes there are challenges in certain areas. She admits, “We are trying to work to improve that. We do have a bicycle and pedestrian advisory committee and a bike and pedestrian plan.” While it will take time and capital to get there, Hampton believes Douglasville will get to a point where it is indeed walkable.
Douglasville is a Main Street City – proud to promote small businesses, entrepreneurship, and startups, with everyone benefiting thanks to their existing partnerships in the community. As a member of the Main Street initiative for 20 years, Douglasville is always following the guidance set forth by the program. Today, many older buildings downtown are being bought to do a town green project, in addition to partnering with Mill Creek Development to create multifamily housing and commercial development.
Hampton says, “We have a lot going on downtown as far as revitalization and we do have a historic preservation commission and a historic district. We operate very traditionally from that standpoint and are invested in those programs.” Weeks adds, “We are planning an outdoor amphitheater on that location as well. And the city had removed an old jail that was in the downtown area there. So, we have removed what most felt was a pretty big eyesore. And we are turning that into something that’s going to be pretty outstanding.”
In the way of new development, many major companies are headed to the Douglasville region – ranging from Bang Energy to Microsoft. A talented workforce is no problem given that Mercy University and Georgia Highland have satellite locations in the area, while the University of West Georgia holds several classes in Douglas County. These are primarily two-year colleges, with a few 4-year options. Skills training and development programs are additionally in place thanks to the help of the Chamber of Commerce.
Looking four to five years down the road, Hampton says, “An overarching goal for the community is to provide sustainable growth but at the same time help the elected officials maintain that small-town community feel they desire.” From a government perspective, she hopes to maintain the balance between providing for the needs of current residents while attracting new commercial development in a small-town atmosphere.
In closing thoughts, Weeks states, “My goals are a little bit smaller in comparison to what Marcia has to go with, obviously. But from the perspective of Keep Douglasville Beautiful, our aims are to encourage more waste reduction and the use of recycling and reducing the carbon footprint. All those issues dealing specifically with the residents to not only provide a cleaner but more beautiful neighborhood and community for them to live in”.