By Alia Hoyt
Sometimes there’s no avoiding a change in the status quo, no matter how much we’d like to. Massive events like the Great Depression, 9/11 and most recently, the COVID-19 pandemic rocked the world and forced major, lasting changes to the way things are done.
With the COVID-19 vaccine now in early distribution, however, many city leaders across Georgia are cautiously optimistic that the worst will soon be behind us, and that things will get back to a relative normal as much as possible.
Wondering what the “new normal” is going to look like? You’re not alone.
“I think that’s a moving target. The new normal changes pretty frequently,” said Hogansville City Manager Jonathan Lynn.
Georgia’s Cities interviewed representatives from Lawrenceville, Gainesville and Hogansville, all of which have made plans for getting back on track in 2021 while keeping in mind lessons learned from the pandemic so far. To do that, creativity and flexibility are definitely the name of the game.
Gainesville: ‘hALL IN’ this together
From the beginning of the pandemic, Gainesville embraced the concept that community coordination is key to stopping COVID-19. In partnership with the Northeast Georgia Health System, Hall County and the other cities therein, Gainesville helped establish the “hALL IN” initiative to encourage the use of best health practices to curb the spread of the virus. In 2021, the city will continue this campaign as it eases back into a more normal calendar of public events.
“The rollout is going to be slow,” said Gainesville City Manager Bryan Lackey. “It’s not going to be cold turkey. Just because Jan. 1 hit doesn’t mean it’s all over.”
So, with one eye on the pandemic and the other on the future, the city has planned a full slate of events to get people back to a more community-driven lifestyle. This is perfectly timed, as 2021 is Gainesville’s 200th birthday. As COVID-19 numbers are still high, the celebration will start off largely virtual. January is focused on historical events, including the devastating tornado of 1936 and subsequent rebuild, rise of poultry industrialization and construction of the Lake Lanier Dam. February will continue the historic trend with highlights of the area’s many influential Black leaders in honor of Black History Month.
Then, pandemic willing, Gainesville’s beloved Chicken Festival should be back on for April.
“We are hopeful that people will be ready and able to get back to that,” Lackey said.
A series of other events, such as outdoor summer concerts and October’s Mule Camp Festival will lead up to the city’s birthday celebration the Saturday before Thanksgiving.
Hogansville: New Logo. New Trail. New Outlook
Hogansville used the downtime in 2020 to involve the community in a rebranding effort.
“We felt that people had been so disconnected since March that we wanted to give them as many opportunities to be involved as we possibly could,” City Manager Jonathan Lynn said.
They started by soliciting new designs for the city’s outdated logo. Everyone from local high school students to professional graphic designers submitted ideas. Nearly 100 variations were sent in, with a winner selected in November. The city will use the coming year to roll out the logo, which features a hummingbird.
“We are updating everything we can,” Lynn explained.
This modern logo is ushering Hogansville into 2021 with a fresh, positive attitude, something everyone can agree is a good idea following the challenges of 2020. No doubt it will be on display at the new Tower Trail expansion, a $340,000 improvement.
“This will literally connect downtown to the trail,” Lynn said. “It’s great because people need to get out and be active, not going stir crazy. The timing couldn’t have been any better!”
Lawrenceville: Upgrades All Around
No one can accuse the city of Lawrenceville of letting the pandemic take over. Indeed, it has taken every opportunity to examine what can be done better, and how.
“We have found the pandemic to be both catastrophic and unifying at the same time,” said Melissa Hardegree, Lawrenceville’s director of community relations. A couple of the most important changes focus squarely on helping citizens stay healthy and safe, while also keeping restaurants and businesses viable. Looking forward to 2021, the Lawrenceville Performing Arts Center construction plan has been edited to reflect post-pandemic needs.
“The city has made a significant investment in facility upgrades to improve air quality, offer hands-free devices, create a safe physical environment and provide appropriate sanitizing equipment for patrons, performers and staff,” Hardegree notes.
Lawrenceville has also established a contingency plan for upcoming events, allowing for conversion to virtual or other forms if it becomes necessary.
As the world struggles to come out of the pandemic, Lawrenceville is continuing efforts that helped local restaurants in 2020.
“Restaurants with outdoor dining fared better than others,” Hardegree said. “So, we’re trying to help our downtown restaurants acquire more outdoor space.”
Lawrenceville marketed information about al fresco dining options to the public in 2020 and will keep up that effort in the coming year.
The city also capped off 2020 with a reimagined version of the annual Merry Little Christmas event. With activities spread throughout downtown, this not only kept people socially distant, but entertained as well. This will continue in 2021, according to Hardegree.
“Normal for events is going to be spaced out, socially distant, encouraging masks and involving the businesses,” Hardegree explained. “It’s our task to figure out ways to plan things that allow people to be as open and out as they want to. We must be creative.”
“It’s important to find a way to make those things happen again so people can gather together and celebrate as a community, but safely,” Lackey said.
This story originally appeared in the January/February 2021 edition of Georgia’s Cities magazine.