2023 GMA Visionary Cities Awards Announced for 9 Georgia Cities

Staff Report

Tuesday, January 24th, 2023

On Jan. 22, during the Georgia Municipal Association’s (GMA) Cities United Summit, nine cities from across the Peach State were recognized with the Visionary City Award.

These awards were presented by GMA CEO and Executive Director Larry Hanson and Georgia Trend Co-Publisher and Editor-in-Chief Ben Young. The awards are given through a partnership between GMA and Georgia Trend.

Three cities each earned the award in three categories: Small (population under 4,999), medium (5,000 to 24,999) and large (25,000 and over). Each city was recognized for actions and initiatives taken that increased civic engagement, created community partnerships and made people proud to call their city home.

“The Visionary City Awards are an important annual acknowledgement of the innovative and inspiring work done by cities that helps lead our state forward,” Hanson said.

The 2023 Visionary Cities:

Small City Category
Sparks: Recognized for creating Mobile Library Events, which have improved local literacy rates, promoted local business and increased community engagement. The events began at Sparks City Hall with books available for all ages, reading levels and interests. In addition to reading materials, the Mobile Library provides free printing, faxing and WiFi to many of Sparks’ lower-income residents. Local essential workers like police and fire personnel have been able to introduce themselves to residents through these events, which have become so popular that local businesses have begun to offer food and other goods when the Mobile Library stops by. The program operates at no additional cost to the city because it utilizes preexisting resources.

Tybee Island: Recognized for the “Keep Tybee Tidy” campaign, uniting residents to protect the city’s critical ecosystems and clean up litter from high volumes of tourists. Tybee Island welcomes more than 6.5 million tourists each year, while less than 3,000 people call the island home year-round. As a barrier island, Tybee is home to sensitive wildlife populations including endangered sea turtles and nesting shorebirds whose habitats are threatened by climate change and pollution. “Keep Tybee Tidy” was borne out of a collaboration between the city and Tybee Clean Beach Volunteers, a local non-profit organization. This partnership has resulted in more than 400 clean-up events with 12,000 volunteers, including many members of local government.

Watkinsville: Recognized for its work with Extra Special People, Inc., in creating the Miracle League Ball Field and ADA-accessible Playground of Possibilities. These two facilities were designed specifically for children and adults with disabilities who previously had to be bused to other cities in order to use accessible outdoor recreation facilities. The playground and ball field were designed to remove the barriers that have kept disabled residents from active participation in similar facilities, while also allowing children of all abilities to play together in a safe, inclusive and accessible space.

Medium City Category
Toccoa: Recognized for the development of Lake Toccoa Recreational Park. The bones for the idea of what would eventually become Lake Toccoa Recreational Park were formed with the establishment of the Community Facilities and Comprehensive Plans in the late 1960s. But development stalled for 50 years, with substantial work not beginning until 2018. Today, the park includes an ADA-accessible walking trail, a boathouse with paddle boats, two pavilions, fishing landings, a restaurant and more.

Camilla: Recognized for the Camilla Youth Initiative, which provides internships to local students, operates the Camilla Youth Council and provides jobs through the Camilla Youth Employment Program. Youth Council members are local high school students who operate their own city council, address real issues facing Camilla and provide feedback and recommendations to Camilla City Council. The Youth Employment Program connects people aged 14-19 with local non-profits for jobs which teach them skills they can use in future careers.

Norcross: Recognized for accomplishing the distinction of “Bee City USA.” Norcross established a committee in order to achieve “Bee City USA” status. That committee created pollinator-friendly demonstration sites, park landscapes, school gardens and other places that promote the health of local honey bee populations. The committee provides education materials in multiple languages to reach Norcross’s diverse communities and create an inclusive volunteer environment. This effort not only contributes to the health of Norcross’ natural spaces but the health and vibrancy of its community.

Large City Category
Valdosta: Recognized for its creation of Unity Park, a new space for residents to gather and hold local celebrations. The park features an amphitheater that includes a large, covered stage, event lighting and backstage areas; an extensive greenspace for seating; a large splash pad; family-friendly restrooms; a water station and enough space to comfortably host Valdosta’s renowned festivities.

LaGrange: Recognized for the Thread, a pet-friendly, multi-purpose, multi-use trail system, where people can walk, bike or jog. The Thread connects many of LaGrange’s parks, each of which offers something different, like tricycle tracks, amphitheaters and other attractions. LaGrange is still expanding its park system and the Thread; currently, Ridley Lake Park is under development and will connect to the Thread. This park will include a lake where people can fish and kayak, and a playground designed for special needs children.

Douglasville: Recognized for their video series “Douglasville Jr.!” The series, which is six episodes long, aims to teach children about local government and features a diverse group of students from local schools. “Douglasville Jr.!” follows a puppet who learns how local government works and things that happen behind the scenes of which average residents may not be aware. The series has been incorporated into the curricula of local second grade parents and has been a hit with children and parents. The city is currently planning a second season of “Douglasville Jr.!” and plans to expand its reach to middle and high school band programs, which will develop original music for the series.

About the Georgia Municipal Association: Based in Atlanta, GMA is a voluntary, non-profit organization that provides legislative advocacy, educational, employee benefit and consulting services to all of Georgia’s 537 cities. GMA anticipates and influences the forces shaping Georgia’s cities and to provide leadership, tools and services that assist municipal governments in becoming more innovative, effective and responsive. Created in 1933, the Georgia Municipal Association (GMA) is the only state organization that represents municipal governments in Georgia. For more information, visit www.gacities.com.