Mayor Steve Benjamin delivered his annual State of the City Address to an enthusiastic crowd of citizens, public officials, and city employees, Wednesday, January 31, 2017. Attendees gathered in an auditorium classroom at the Darla Moore School, in which few open seats remained. The state-of-the-art facility added a futuristic ambiance to the event, held annually for the purpose of highlighting the gains made during the past year.
Benjamin kept the air light with witty humor, and instead of subjecting attendees to “death-by-PowerPoint,” or monotone script-reading from a podium, he engaged the audience with his presentation by separating himself from the preverbal soapbox. While taking centerstage, Benjamin enlisted help from “Vicki,” a cleverly simulated Artificial-Intelligence being, akin to “Hal” from 2001: A Space Odyssey. He paced and paused on the stage while “Vicki” spouted off answers to his questions, each answer containing information about the city.
Here were some of the highlights from the speech:
- Columbia received $13 million dollars in grant money during 2016.
- 626 new trees of 30 different species were planted.
- Out of roughly 206 world nationalities, 200 of them are represented in Columbia, in addition to 90 different dialects being spoken.
- The city’s current unemployment rate is at 3.8%, well below the national average, most jobs in the city being created by small businesses.
- With roughly 12,000 jobs available, if those positions were filled, the city’s unemployment rate would fall to less than 1%.
- The city is seeking to establish a mentor program, in addition to revitalizing the youth commission.
- Columbia hopes to host the “World’s Longest Dinner Table,” at which citizens from different neighborhoods and backgrounds gather for a meal.
- In addressing hunger and food-desert problems, leadership is looking at establishing a food policy council to develop co-op grocery stores and more urban farming.
- Future housing is expected to be private-sector funded, with more mixed-use and mixed-housing developments.
- City leadership is seeking to increase gains made with environmental quality and sustainability.
- 2017 will see repair solutions for the 2015 flooding with an anticipated $20 million grant from the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).
City leaders will soon be releasing a detailed 20 year vision for Columbia, which will detail future plans for development, commerce, and sustainability. Benjamin used the theme of one body made of many parts to describe Columbia, a biblical reference from St. Paul’s letter to the Corinthians. At the end of his presentation, he asked “Vicki” about the state of the city, in which she responded, “healthy.”
Columbia’s poet laureate, Ed Madden, authored and delivered an extraordinary piece of verse titled, “Body Politic,” and in the final lines of his prose he said, “Our city wipes its brow, gets to work.” And so we shall.
Watch the complete State of the City address here: