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The Macon Newsroom

Macon Community News

The Macon Newsroom

Macon Community News

The Macon Newsroom

Locals weigh in on ‘What is blight?’

The House Next Door: Part 2
Beau Cabell/The Telegraph
Adam Ragusea conducts a meeting attended by a broad swath of Maconites at the Centenary United Methodist Church in historic Beall’s Hill where the discussion centered on blight and how to deal with it. File art from 2014.

For decades, politicians, lawyers, judges, property owners and business leaders have argued about the definition of the word “blight.”

But Cassandra Hall of east Macon has it boiled down to something pretty simple, though perhaps a bit broad.

“Blight … is something that is in place, that is out of place,” she said.

Hall points to examples in her own neighborhood.

“We’ve got too many residential properties that are being junked up with abandoned cars,” she said. “We’ve got entirely too many abandoned homes, and we’ve got entirely too many overgrown lots.”

What one considers blight can have significant legal ramifications. Governments can condemn blighted property or seize it though power of eminent domain if it’s deemed to be hurting the surrounding neighborhood. Tallies of blighted properties are used to apply for grants or special tax districts intended to improve the area.

It’s not surprising that an official definition of blight has proved elusive, and different definitions are used at the local, state and federal levels across the country. But many people in Macon have a common idea of what blight is.

“It means where the houses have been left vacated and deteriorating,” said Marian Battle. “Debris, trees falling in the houses, houses left burned (but) not destroyed.”

Hall and Battle are among those who attended a pair of town hall meetings on the subject of blight organized by The Telegraph, Georgia Public Broadcasting and Mercer University earlier this year.

One meeting was held in east Macon, the other in the College Hill Corridor. We asked dozens of attendees in separate interviews: What does blight mean to you?

Battle, who lives in the Bellevue neighborhood on Macon’s west side, broadens her definition to include litter.

“Where I live, a lot of streets lead into the community and trash is just thrown in,” she said. “When people are out riding around buying fast food, (they) eat it in the car. When they finish it, they dump it at the entrance to our neighborhood. So I figure all of that plays into blight for me.”

While litter was a common theme, most definitions of blight we heard focused on two types of property: houses and yards.

“Eyesores of houses and trashy yards” is how Bobbie Brown defined blight.

Brown, who lives on Cedar Street in south Macon, described the process of how her neighborhood gradually became, in her eyes, blighted.

“When I first moved over there, it was integrated and it was well-kept,” she said. But as years went by, people moved out, and the residents who replaced them did not keep up the houses as well.

“And then people moved out and left the houses empty, and then it just started going down,” Brown said. “And then people came in and started stealing anything of value that they could scrap and sell, and squatters come in and set the houses on fire. Then, you know, it just make the neighborhood look bad.”

John Ellis, who lives in the King Park Circle neighborhood on Macon’s east side, said “blight is a slum.”

“The way the neighborhood is going, all the old people are dying off, and the young people? They are just letting it go to pieces,” he said. “So that’s what I call blight.”

‘No longer their problem’

David Parish, who lives in the College Hill Corridor, said, “You lose traction in an area, and people don’t care about it. They’re happy to move out. It’s no longer their problem.”

James Thompson, a music education student at Mercer University, said “blight is a representation of downfall.”

“There was once a more prosperous time, and now the downfall can be seen greater than if the area was not prosperous at one time,” he said.

Almost everyone we interviewed defined blight as a house or some other property in a residential area that has fallen into disrepair. However, Thompson was among the few who defined it in the context of commercial development.

“Macon, when I was growing up, was still very prosperous,” he said. “The Macon Mall that was at Eisenhower was a central hub for business, and now that area is falling apart.”

A few people we interviewed acknowledged there might be multiple valid — yet conflicting — definitions of blight.

“Sometimes I think blight is in the eye of the beholder, depending on where you’ve lived and how you’ve lived,” said Steve Marlow, who lives in the St. Paul Apartments on Forsyth Street in the College Hill Corridor.

As an example, Marlow pointed to Pursley Street in the Pleasant Hill neighborhood.

“There’s a lot of older homes that were built before they put in a lot of insulation and a lot of weatherproofing and things like that, and people are willing to live in those places,” he said. “We would call that blight, but they would call that home.”

While there’s an obvious connection between blight and poverty, Susan Turner said people shouldn’t need much money to keep their homes from becoming blighted.

“I mean, you can have a small lot, a small cottage house, but the yard can be clean. It doesn’t have to have flowers, but keep the shrubs cut, you know, keep the trees trimmed,” she said.

A few people who turned up to the town hall meetings offered more abstract definitions of blight, some bordering on metaphysical.

“Blight essentially means a lack of pride in a community,” said Giles O’Neal, a former Macon City Council member who lives in the Vineville neighborhood.

“People who have pride and self-respect are not going to live in a blighted area if there’s any way they can possibly avoid it,” he said. “But we have not had that sense of pride in this community for the past 30 or 40 years.”

William Kilgore said blight is sometimes “a state of mind.”

“Because if you just, in your mind, just give up on a particular neighborhood or a particular thing, that’s a mindset at first,” he said. “And then it becomes a physical reality.”

While definitions of blight may differ, most people we spoke to say it is a major problem that goes far beyond neighborhood cosmetics. That includes Christopher Miles of east Macon.

“Blight also means that, eventually, there’s going to be a devastating effect if we don’t rectify the problem now,” he said.

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