Sign of the Times: State Provides $3.8 Million to Support Improved Regional Bus Stop Signs

By Aaron Fowler, AICP, Senior Transit Planner in ARC's Mobility Services Division

By Aaron Fowler, AICP, Senior Transit Planner in ARC’s Mobility Services Division

Bus stop signs throughout the Atlanta region are set for a major upgrade.

Currently, stops served by multiple transit providers have signs that feature a collection of agency logos, but little else to help riders navigate the system.

That will soon change. The Atlanta Regional Commission (ARC) will receive $3.8 million in state funds to enable regional transit providers to install improved bus stop signs throughout Clayton, Cobb, DeKalb and Fulton counties.

The new signs will display key information about all of the routes and transit agencies serving a given location, with a fresh, easy-to-read design. The signs will also include important phone numbers and website addresses.

bus signs2

Signage upgrades coming to regional transit stops

The funding is part of $75 million in bonds issued statewide as part of the State Road and Tollway Authority’s GO! Transit capital program. ARC’s Regional Transit Committee (RTC) applied for the funding on behalf of the region’s transit providers. The bonds were announced by Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal in June.

“This new signage is a great example of a successful regional partnership at work,” said Tim Lee, RTC Chairman and Chairman of the Cobb County Commission. “The project demonstrates how local jurisdictions can work together to make things better for residents and visitors.”

Federal funding is already in place to pay for the installation of new signage at stops in downtown and midtown Atlanta that serve MARTA, GRTA, CobbLinc (formerly Cobb Community Transit) and Gwinnett County Transit. The $3.8 million in state bonds will expand the installation to other parts of the City of Atlanta, as well as all stops in Clayton, Cobb, DeKalb and Fulton counties. Installation is expected to begin in 2018.

“This project will go a long way toward solving one of the biggest problems our transit riders face – a lack of clear signage. The new signs make it easy for riders to make sure they are in the right place to catch their ride,” said Kerry Armstrong, ARC Chair. “We’re working hard to improve the customer experience.”

One project already underway aims to create a unified bus stop numbering system that eliminates any duplication among the region’s transit providers. This will make it easier for riders to navigate the system and plan trips through atltransit.org, the region’s unified transit information website.

Other Atlanta Region Transit Projects to Receive Funds

MARTA and several counties in the Atlanta region also received GO! Transit funding for the following projects:

  • Cobb County: Bus Expansion – Route 10X
    Purchase 12 buses needed to operate a new CobbLinc Route 10X, which will provide express service from Town Center to the Midtown MARTA station, with limited stops at major locations such as Kennesaw State University. This route will improve transit options along the I-75 corridor by reducing transfers among existing routes and decreasing travel times.
  • Cobb County: Bus Expansion – Cumberland Circulator
    Purchase six buses to create two new circulator routes within the Cumberland Community Improvement District. The circulators will improve transit access to jobs and key community resources such as Sun Trust Park, Cumberland Mall and the Cobb Galleria.
  • Gwinnett County: New Buses
    Purchase 20 new buses for Gwinnett County Transit, which will enable the service to run more efficiently, improving reliability and cost-effectiveness.
  • Gwinnett County: Sugarloaf Mills Park & Ride Upgrade
    Redesign and upgrade the Sugarloaf Mills Park-and-Ride lot to improve bus access and passenger amenities. Customers will have additional shelters and the ability to purchase fares on-site. Buses will be able to take a more direct route to the I-85 Express Lanes, decreasing travel times and improving reliability.
  • Henry County: Jonesboro Road Park & Ride
    Construction of a new park-and-ride lot near the intersection of Jonesboro Road and I-75 in Henry County. The lot will provide access to the new I-75 South Metro Express Lane for vanpools and Xpress buses, improving connectivity and reliability.
  • MARTA: Audio Visual Information System
    Upgrade public address and electronic passenger information system at MARTA’s 38 rail stations with enhanced audio and video displays, expanding transit user access to communications and emergency information. Enhanced features include multi-lingual signage, automated messaging that more quickly provides communications to riders, and the display of bus schedule and arrival time information for connecting transit systems such as transfers from rail to bus or to other regional transit operators.
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New ARC tool shows air quality at the neighborhood level

This column recently ran in the Atlanta Regional news center. We are excited to share this column with the SaportaReport readers. Click here to read more news from ARC.

David D’Onofrio is a principal planner in ARC’s Transportation Access & Mobility Division

David D’Onofrio is a principal planner in ARC’s Transportation Access & Mobility Division

What is the air quality like in your neighborhood?

In the past, ARC was only able to discuss air quality in a regional context. But a sophisticated new tool developed by ARC and the Georgia Environmental Protection Division allows the agency to answer this question for the first time.

ARC has created an interactive map that depicts air quality throughout the 20-county Atlanta region, based on the concentration of fine particulate matter (PM2.5).

David D’Onofrio, a principal planner in ARC’s Transportation Access & Mobility Division, discusses this groundbreaking project, known as the Atlanta Roadside Emissions Exposure Study, or AREES, and what it means for the Atlanta region.

Q: What does this study show?

A: Air quality in the Atlanta region as a whole has improved significantly in the past 15 years. But the way ARC looked at air quality in the past was always at a regional level. We wondered what was happening at the neighborhood level, so we built a tool that tells us about PM2.5 concentrations, down to a city block.

The results confirm what we suspected: air quality is generally worse in and around highly congested roads and freeways. Much of the particle pollution emitted by cars and trucks doesn’t travel far – perhaps just a few hundred feet.

This is a pioneering study. No other regional planning agency has developed this model. It’s already drawing interest from agencies around the country seeking to do their own studies.

The results confirm what we suspected: air quality is generally worse in and around highly congested roads and freeways. Click image to launch interactive map

The results confirm what we suspected: air quality is generally worse in and around highly congested roads and freeways. Click image to launch interactive map

Q: What’s PM2.5, and why is it potentially harmful?

A: PM2.5 is the scientific term for tiny bits of particles in the air, such as soot, dirt, dust and smoke. Manmade PM2.5 sources include car and truck exhaust and burning fuel at power plants or during industrial processes. These microscopic particles can lodge deep in the lungs, potentially causing health problems like asthma and cardiovascular conditions. Older adults and children are most at risk.

Q: How do you envision this study being used?

A: ARC used this model to develop our long-range plan, the Atlanta Region’s Plan, which was adopted in February. We were able to prioritize funding for transportation-related projects that will ease congestion in areas with poor air quality.

We also envision this tool helping local governments and school systems make decisions about where to locate sensitive facilities like playgrounds, trails, parks, and other places where the most vulnerable to air pollution spend more time outside.

Q: What’s being done to improve air quality in the region?

 

A: The good news is our air quality is improving. Since 2000, average annual PM2.5 concentrations have dropped nearly in half. We are meeting all federal air quality protection standards for fine particulate matter, even as the standards are toughened over time. We’ve also seen improvements in summertime ozone concentrations.

Air quality has improved in the last 15 years

Air quality has improved in the last 15 years

Factors that have helped clean our air include improved vehicle fuel economy, cleaner burning fuels, better pollution controls on power plants and increasing use of natural gas in power plants instead of coal.

And going forward, it’s important to get more people to walk, bike, carpool and take transit — steps that will reduce the number of tailpipes on our roadways.

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Find and Fix Household Water Leaks During Fix a Leak Week

By Danny Johnson, Metro Water District Manager

By Danny Johnson, Metro Water District Manager

You don’t have to be handy to find and fix water leaks in your own home. It can be as simple as check, twist and replace. And a little effort can yield big savings in both water and dollars.

From March 14-20, the Metropolitan North Georgia Water Planning District is participating in the EPA’s Fix a Leak Week to spread the word about the importance of water conservation in the Atlanta region. During the week, we will share water-saving tips that can help you find and fix leaks in your household plumbing fixtures and irrigation systems.

Household leaks, whether from a toilet or faucet, can quickly add up. The average household wastes 10,000 gallons of water each year due to leaks – that’s enough water for a family to do laundry for 10 months. Fixing those leaks can save up to 10 percent on your water bill.

For Fix a Leak Week, find and fix household water leaks. Save water and dollars! Click To Tweet

Since the adoption of the Metro Water District’s Water Supply and Water Conservation Management Plan in 2003, total water use in the district has dropped by more than 10 percent, even as our region’s population has increased by one million.

That’s a big accomplishment, but our work on water conservation is not complete. As the region grows, we must continually improve our efforts to conserve water and improve water infrastructure so that we can be good stewards of our water supply.

So, make some time this week to check your home for leaks and fix any problems that you find.

wdd-race-photo

Water Drop Dash 5K runners along the Chattahoochee River

Also, join us on Saturday, March 19, for the Water Drop Dash 5K along the Chattahoochee River in Roswell. The race is a fun, family-friendly way to promote the importance of protecting and conserving our region’s water supply.

Following the 5K race, there will be a Kid’s Fun Run (with mascots!) and a Water Festival that features games, face painting and giveaways, including high-efficiency shower heads and outdoor water conservation kits.

Join the fun at the Water Drop Dash 5K, and remember to check, twist and replace during Fix a Leak Week:

CHECK for leaks. Look for dripping faucets, showerheads, sprinklers and other fixtures. Check for toilets with silent leaks by putting a few drops of food coloring into the tank, waiting 10 minutes to see if color appears in the bowl before you flush. If you see color, you’ve got a leak. Don’t forget to check irrigation systems and spigots, too.

TWIST on a new aerator. To use less water without a noticeable difference in flow, install a WaterSense labeled aerator on your bathroom faucet. Also, make sure to tighten hose and pipe connections.

REPLACE the fixture if necessary. An old or worn–out rubber flapper is a common reason why toilets leak. Replacing one can be as quick and easy as bringing the old flapper to the home improvement store for comparison when purchasing a new one, and following an online tutorial or the directions of your local hardware store retailer. If you are replacing leaky faucets or showerheads, be sure to purchase WaterSense labeled models, which are independently certified to use 20 percent less water and perform as well as or better than standard models.

For more tips on how to conserve water, visit mydropcounts.org.

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Stuck in the Middle: The Disappearing Middle-Wage Job

By Mike Carnathan, Manager of ARC Research & Analytics Division

By Mike Carnathan, Manager of ARC Research & Analytics Division

If you “google” the term middle-class, you will get a slew of results decrying the erosion of America’s middle-class, along with an equally dizzying number of explanations for why this is happening. After all, this is a worrisome trend that is contributing to greater income inequality and an unbalanced economy that isn’t working for everyone equally.

Middle-wage jobs simply aren’t growing as fast as higher- or lower-wage jobs. Click To Tweet

We wanted to localize the story and see what the trends were in metro Atlanta by exploring the plight of middle-wage jobs since the end of the Great Recession. What we find jibes with the headlines we’ve seen nationally over the past few years – middle-wage jobs simply aren’t growing as fast as higher- or lower-wage jobs.

Median Annual Wages/Job Change

Median Annual Wages/Job Change (click to enlarge)

We examined occupation data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and stratified them, somewhat arbitrarily, into either high-, medium- or low-wage occupations. We found that while high-wage jobs experienced some growth between 2010 and 2014 and low-wage jobs experienced a lot of growth, middle-wage jobs didn’t budge.

Next we looked at how wages have changed in each of these occupational groupings. We find that while wages have declined across most occupations, the decline is most pronounced in middle-wage occupations.

Stuck_chart 2

Median Annual Wages/Wage Change (click to enlarge)

As these charts show, growth in jobs and wages in middle-wage occupations has been either sluggish or, in many cases, non-existent in metro Atlanta since 2010. Which begs the question: Is this a metro Atlanta thing? Or is this part of a broader national trend?

Atlanta and Chicago are the only metros to have essentially no growth in middle-wage occupations since 2010. Click To Tweet

The answer is “Yes” to both. When compared to a selected group of peer metros, we find that all metros have experienced pretty strong growth in both high- and low-wage occupations. Metro Atlanta has slightly stronger growth in low-wage occupations and slighter weaker growth in high-wage occupations but, overall, is still in line with the selected metros. Where metro Atlanta diverges is growth in middle-wage occupations. While sluggish in all metros and nationally, Atlanta and Chicago are the only ones to have experienced essentially no growth in middle-wage occupations since 2010.

chart 3

Employment Change by Wage Levels (click to enlarge)

Why is this happening? Well, that’s the hard part. No one has pin-pointed a single cause why middle-wage jobs are stuck in neutral and why the middle-class is shrinking. Some research points to the gap between productivity and wage growth, the decline of collective bargaining and an overall low minimum wage as primary culprits. (See examples of these arguments here). Others blame the sluggish wage growth on the U.S.’s weak labor market, which has too many part-time workers who would rather work full-time. Whatever the reasons for this middle-class malaise, crafting an economy that works for everyone is increasingly top-of-mind for national and regional leaders.

See more data from ARC’s Research and Analytic’s Division at 33°n.

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Time for Metro Atlanta to “Pledge” Regional Cooperation

Joel Mendelson

And Joel Mendelson

Mike-Davis-Headshot-200

By Mike Davis

This is the eighth and final op-ed in our series of op-eds by members of the Atlanta Regional Commission’s Millennial Advisory Panel. This panel of 135 young leaders was selected from 400 applicants and worked for the past six months to generate solutions to some of the Atlanta region’s thorniest issues. This editorial is by Joel Mendelson, Mike Davis, Michael Leithead, and Anita Foster, who are representing ARC Millennial Advisory Panel Action Team #8, on the issue of  “encouraging leaders throughout the Atlanta region to coalesce around a plan for the future of the region.”

Our local sports teams have a unique ability to unite us as a region and rally us under one banner: Atlanta. Click To Tweet

It was impossible to miss. People from across metro Atlanta waved towels, wore “A-Town Stay Down” foam fingers and donned shirts that read “True to Atlanta.”  As the Atlanta Hawks made their way through the 2015 season and deep into the NBA playoffs, their success united Atlantans throughout the region. Whether you were from Clayton County, Henry County, Lithonia, Suwanee, Marietta or downtown Atlanta, a common desire was shared—we all wanted our home team to win.

Our local sports teams have a unique ability to unite us as a region and rally us under one banner: Atlanta.

The sense of home-town pride we feel while cheering on our Hawks is fleeting, however. When the buzzer sounds, we all remove our foam fingers and towels and retreat to our own communities.

Just as we come together with a common goal during a Hawks game, the time has come for communities across metro Atlanta to take the longer view and coalesce around a plan for the future of our diverse, complex region.

That is why, as the Atlanta Regional Commission’s Millennial Action Team #8, we are calling on metro Atlanta’s local governments and ARC’s many government and non-profit partners to sign our Pledge to Win the Future, an agreement that encourages us all to collaborate for a better region.

The Pledge to Win the Future was crafted to unite our region’s leadership around three core drivers that will dictate the trajectory of our region. The Atlanta Region’s Plan, to be considered for adoption by the ARC board later this month, was drafted with robust public input. The plan identifies these drivers as: world-class infrastructure, healthy livable communities and a competitive economy. Achieving the plan’s goals in each of these areas will require regional leaders to work together for the well-being of the entire region.

We want to transform the region into a world-class metro that excels in the 21st century and into the future. Click To Tweet

Millennials want metro Atlanta to continue to grow, remain vibrant and attract the best and brightest from our region and beyond. Previous articles from Millennial Advisory Panel Action Teams in this space have demonstrated that we are committed to taking the steps that are needed to move forward in unison. We are also committed to supporting the leaders of our region who support the principles detailed in our pledge.

It will not come easy, nor will we always agree. But this pledge, and the collaboration it requires, can be our bridge to the future. Our hope is that our Pledge to Win the Future will equip our Millennial partners and regional-minded leaders with the support and resources necessary to continue developing creative solutions for our region’s biggest issues. By signing the pledge, our growing, diverse region can embark on a shared pathway toward cooperation, collaboration and success.

The Pledge to Win The Future is the first step toward the realization of this generational opportunity. Click To Tweet

Right now, the city is buzzing and the region is on the upswing, but victory is far from assured.  If we cannot work together, the consequences will be serious.  We don’t want to fall behind our competitors – cities and regions throughout the United States and abroad that Millennials now flock to and call home. We must continue to grow as one of those regions.

We want to transform the region into a world-class metro that excels in the 21st century and into the future. We have the tools we need, but now it is time for us to lay the groundwork necessary to make it happen.

We can still be passionate about our homes and communities in Cherokee, Clayton, Cobb, DeKalb, Douglas, Fayette, Fulton, Gwinnett, Henry and Rockdale counties. What we cannot do is miss this opportunity to link our passions with one another and build something greater.

Signing the Pledge to Win The Future is the first step toward the realization of this generational opportunity.

Together is the only way that we can Win the Future!

Pledge to Win the Future!

Pledge to Win the Future!

Watch Action Team 8 make their pitch for a Pledge to Win the Future.

Learn more about ARC’s Millennial Advisory Panel at: newvoices.atlantaregional.com.

Michael Leithead, Saba Long and Anita Foster contributed to this op-ed.

Mike Davis, Anita Foster, Abby Hall, KC Honeyman, Austin Lee, Arthur Michael Leithead, Saba Long, Joel Mendelson, Drew Stevens, Ansley Tuten and Matthew Weiss represent Millennial Action Team #8.

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Together We Can Build One Region, One Atlanta

Millennial voices

Jarrett Bell, Natalie Jones, Jennie Lynn Rudder

This is the seventh in a series of op-eds by members of the Atlanta Regional Commission’s Millennial Advisory Panel. This panel of 135 young leaders was selected from 400 applicants and worked for the past six months to generate solutions to some of the Atlanta region’s thorniest issues. This editorial is by Natalie Jones, Jennie Lynn Rudder and Jarrett Bell, who are representing ARC Millennial Advisory Panel Action Team #7, on the issue of “uniting the region with a shared vision and story.”

Metro Atlanta, globally connected and growing, is a place of opportunity where great things can happen. Click To Tweet

The Atlanta region has a new gravitational pull that is attracting innovation, investment and world-class events. The region is also attracting new residents with new voices and ideas. Today, there is a palpable sense that metro Atlanta, globally connected and growing, is a place of opportunity where great things can happen.

As a group of Millennial leaders partnering with the Atlanta Regional Commission, ARC’s Millennial Action Team 7 set out to understand the ways in which the Atlanta region is thriving and to uncover the weaknesses that could compromise the region’s future.

Our region’s strengths can be found in its natural beauty, mild climate, good schools, economic opportunities, cultural offerings and its people. New residents tend to come to the Atlanta region for school or jobs. They choose to stay here for a wider variety of reasons: trees, trails, art, music, the rich tapestry of diverse neighborhoods and an economic atmosphere that fosters start-up launches as enthusiastically as it welcomes corporate relocations.

These strengths have led to a rapidly growing population. According to population forecasts from the Atlanta Regional Commission, the metro region is expected to add 2.5 million people during the next 25 years, reaching a population of 8 million people by the year 2040. With this increasing growth comes greater diversity and an influx of new perspectives on our regional narrative—the lens through which we view the past and future of the Atlanta region. As the narratives that define our region multiply through new voices, we need to find ways to ensure that no voices are excluded from our story. Our diversity is key to our competitive edge.

The weakness we must acknowledge is that in many ways we still divide ourselves in the region by where we live and socialize and how we commute to work. We construct exclusive narratives that lead to increasingly balkanized cities, counties and cultural groups. This regional infighting is counterproductive and threatens the region’s ability to build and maintain a world-class infrastructure network, an outstanding school system and a thriving economy for our future.

For metro Atlanta to maintain its position as the economic, social and cultural engine of the Southeast and a world-class metropolitan region, we must build on our strengths and celebrate the unique qualities of our many different communities.  We must learn to embrace the successes of neighboring cities and counties across the region with the understanding that when one city, town or county does well, the entire region benefits.

ARC Millennial Action Team 7 proposes that 2016 be Atlanta’s Year of Dialogue. Click To Tweet

The Atlanta region is known by many names today: Silicon Valley of the South, Hollywood of the South, New York of the South, among others. We inherited these names because we worked deliberately to compete with other cities and regions on their terms. But now it is time for us to create an identity on our own terms.

Our challenge is to find a way to honor the Atlanta region’s unique and compelling history, while we deliver a vision of a 21st Century metropolis that the people of metro Atlanta can embrace.

To help create this narrative for our region, ARC Millennial Action Team 7 proposes that 2016 be Atlanta’s Year of Dialogue.

Imagine civic conversations about our collective goals taking place throughout the Atlanta region, online and in-person, over the course of the year. The ideas that emerge will be collected and presented to decision makers in the region. Together we can build a cohesive story that unites the region in a common vision that will help us build a better, more sustainable and more livable region – a region where all residents have the tools they need to thrive.

The regional narrative that we adopt must celebrate our diversity as well as our collective strength. Click To Tweet

To get the conversation started, we would like to invite you to host or attend a Civic Dinner Party so that your voice and the voices of your neighbors, coworkers and friends can be woven into the region’s story.

The regional narrative that we adopt must celebrate our diversity as well as our collective strength. Together, we can help shape the Atlanta region into the place we want it to be and create the narrative that we want to share with the world: One Region, One Atlanta.

ARC Millennial Action Team #7 makes a pitch for uniting the region with a shared vision and story.

ARC Millennial Action Team #7 makes a pitch for uniting the region with a shared vision and story.

Watch Action Team 7 make their pitch for Atlanta’s Year of Dialogue.

Learn more about ARC’s Millennial Advisory Panel.

Jarrett Bell, Nicole Wright Carter, Nicole L. Hendrickson, Nicole Hilton, Jared Holley, Dominique Holloman, Marcie Howington, Jenny Jang, Natalie L Jones, Sarah LaDart, Virginia Lynn Rudder, Jason Szczech and Jessica Toal represent ARC Millennial Action Team #7.

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Let’s Talk about Race and Inequality in Metro Atlanta

Bee Nguyen

By Bee Nguyen, founder of Athena’s Warehouse

This is the sixth in a series of op-eds by members of the Atlanta Regional Commission’s Millennial Advisory Panel. This panel of 135 young leaders was selected from 400 applicants and worked for the past six months to generate solutions to some of the Atlanta region’s thorniest issues. This editorial is by Bee Nguyen, founder of Athena’s Warehouse, who is representing ARC Millennial Advisory Panel Action Team #6, on the issue of “a competitive and sustainable regional economy.”

Earlier this month, Atlanta celebrated HUD’s 50th anniversary by championing the city’s successful initiative to demolish its troubled public housing projects and replace them with mixed-income developments. The last public housing residents in the city moved out of the projects in 2009; they received vouchers that they could use to apply for housing in the new developments or elsewhere.

The decision to break up the city’s concentrated areas of poverty was intended to help improve the economic opportunities available to former public housing residents, chiefly by providing access to quality education. In the Atlanta region, housing policy and education policy are closely intertwined.

The economic opportunities for Atlanta’s poor families haven’t materialized. Despite successes in new mixed-income communities like DeKalb County’s East Lake Meadows, a former public housing project that at one time was referred to as “Little Vietnam,” metro Atlanta still ranks as the worst in the nation in terms of economic mobility. This means it is especially difficult for a low-income child to navigate through schools and jobs to become a middle-class or wealthier adult. This lack of opportunity is reflected in the region’s highly segregated public education system, where underperforming schools are isolated in neighborhoods plagued by chronic poverty.

The children trapped in failing schools in low-income neighborhoods are in crisis. In metro Atlanta, race is a factor when it comes to quality education, healthy food and reliable transportation. Affordable housing, patterns of white flight, zoning, housing policies and redistricting have restricted the ability poor black families to live in neighborhoods with high-quality schools, leaving them entangled in a vicious cycle of poverty.

The Annie E. Casey Foundation’s 2015 report, Changing the Odds:The Race for Results in Atlanta, included maps that exposed the ugly reality that where we live matters when it comes to quality public education in metro Atlanta. The economic segregation in metro Atlanta is easy to see in these maps, with a clear demarcation between wealthy white neighborhoods and poor black neighborhoods. Black high school graduation rates are nearly 27 percent lower than white high school graduations rates within the Atlanta Public School System.

Let's begin a conversation about race, inequality, segregation and success in metro Atlanta. Click To Tweet

Studies show that education is key to the upward mobility of children. In metro Atlanta, a child raised in poverty has only a four percent chance of making it to the top of the income ladder. What can we do to change the story for poor children in metro Atlanta?

ARC’s Millennial Action Team #6 believes that we must:

  • Begin a conversation about race, inequality, segregation and success in metro Atlanta.
  • Explore creative ways to reintegrate our neighborhoods and schools and create an education system that reflects the diversity of the region’s broader community.
  • Bring opportunity to high-poverty neighborhoods and schools and create policies that promote economic mobility for everyone.

Our obligation to educate the children of this region should not stop at the border of our school zone, school district or any other political boundary. But the reality today is that our region’s successful public schools are more congruous with private clubs than with engines of social and economic mobility. The price of entry is attached to where students live.

Our obligation to educate the children of this region should not stop at the border of our school zone. Click To Tweet

Studies have shown that when low-performing students attend the same schools as their affluent peers, they gain access to better qualified teachers, richer resources and more personal support. We all know that access to quality public education should not be determined by a child’s neighborhood, race or income. It’s time to change this reality and provide opportunities for all children in metro Atlanta to succeed.

ARC Millennial Action Team #6

ARC Millennial Action Team #6 makes a pitch for quality education for all students.

Watch Action Team 6 make their pitch for quality public schools for all students in the Atlanta region.

Learn more about ARC’s Millennial Advisory Panel at: newvoices.atlantaregional.com.

Bee Nguyen, Ernest Brown, Greg Clay, Ogechi Oparah  and Lindsay Anderson Soares represent Millennial Action Team #6.

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Encourage Mentorships at Every Stage of Life

Ana Maria Martinez

Ana Maria Martinez, Attorney

This is the fifth in a series of op-eds by members of the Atlanta Regional Commission’s Millennial Advisory Panel. This panel of 135 young leaders was selected from 400 applicants and worked for the past six months to generate solutions to some of the Atlanta region’s thorniest issues. This editorial is by Ana Maria Martinez, who is representing ARC Millennial Advisory Panel Action Team #5, on the issue of “a competitive, regional economy.”

Metro Atlanta needs to develop an intentional and purposeful policy on mentoring. To achieve positive, sustained growth, a community must collectively elevate the quality of life of its residents and engage those in a position to effect change. For this reason, mentorship — encouraged and supported in an intentional and systematic way — is imperative to Atlanta’s success.

Effective mentoring has proven to have a profound impact on individuals in every aspect of their lives, regardless of socioeconomic status, ability or level of education. Mentoring is a smart investment for a region to make because it does not require a large financial commitment, yet it benefits all parties involved.

Too many neighborhoods in metro Atlanta have dismal high school graduation rates. Sadly, according to national surveys, more than one in three young people – an estimated 16 million – have never had an adult mentor. This includes an estimated nine million at-risk youth, who are less likely to graduate high school and go on to college and achieve social and economic mobility. A regional mentorship initiative can help improve this dire statistic.

To be sure, corporations and civic organizations have had some success in developing structured mentoring programs, and mentoring does happen organically between friends and colleagues. But to be truly effective, a more purposeful approach is needed.

Metro Atlanta needs to develop an intentional and purposeful policy on mentoring. Click To Tweet

In the Atlanta region, government and business leaders can work to implement policies that encourage participation in mentoring programs by reducing systemic barriers and by educating residents on the most effective ways to benefit from mentoring relationships. We believe that three concrete steps can be implemented with relative ease to encourage mentoring in our region.

  • We must eliminate the barriers of money. Many mentoring programs do not have the resources to cover the cost associated with obtaining background checks for potential mentors. By having local governments provide background checks free of charge, mentoring programs will be better situated to reach out to their communities and attract mentors of every socio-economic background.
  • We must eliminate the barriers of time. Being part of a meaningful mentoring relationship requires an investment of time by mentors and mentees. Encouraging corporations and governments to provide their employees the requisite time to spend building mentoring relationships will improve participation and engagement.
  • We must eliminate the barriers of knowledge. People generally recognize the value of a mentoring relationship but often do not know how they can get involved. A regional database of existing mentoring programs could be established so that metro Atlanta residents can easily find mentoring opportunities.

These three simple steps do not require spending significant resources and will yield immediate results.

Over the long term, many other policies could be implemented. For example, public schools could offer life skill programs that empower young people with the tools necessary to be engaged mentees. Grants could be made available to community-based nonprofits committed to supporting school-based mentoring for at-risk students.

Moreover, economic incentives could be established for businesses that create cross-generational communities, such as those with housing designed to be shared by seniors and college students. Incentives could also encourage local governments to be age inclusive in their comprehensive plans, thus strengthening the intergenerational networks that bring together younger and older residents in meaningful mentoring relationships.

Finally, tax breaks or other incentives could be made available to businesses that partner with schools and work collaboratively with public and private stakeholders to implement and deliver mentoring programs.

A strategic investment in mentoring will allow us to leverage our collective strengths. Click To Tweet

By participating in mentoring relationships, mentees broaden their perspective of what is possible, and mentors gain a new perspective that expands their understanding of community issues, inspires them to be engaged and leaves them feeling like their influence is making a profound impact.

Research shows that young people who participate in mentoring relationships experience a number of positive benefits, including better attendance and attitude toward school, improved social attitudes and relationships, more trusting relationships, better communication with parents and an increased chance of pursuing higher education. Moreover, a study by Big Brothers and Big Sisters of America finds that boys and girls who have participated in their mentoring programs are 47 percent less likely to begin using illegal drugs.

In business, mentoring can help identify and address issues within an organization and build employee goodwill and trust. Likewise, through reverse mentoring, senior executives can have the opportunity to view their companies and industries from the perspectives of younger professionals.

The Atlanta region has an opportunity to become a national leader by engaging residents in effective mentoring relationships. A strategic investment in mentoring will allow us to leverage our collective strengths, develop new leaders and build a legacy for generations to come.

Ultimately, a successful mentoring policy would help increase social mobility, attract investment in human and economic capital and demonstrate to a talented workforce that Atlanta is a region worth investing in.

Action Team 5 makes a pitch for lifelong mentoring

Action Team 5 makes a pitch for lifelong mentoring

Watch Action Team 5 make their pitch for mentoring through every stage of life.

Learn more about ARC’s Millennial Advisory Panel at: newvoices.atlantaregional.com.

Sarah Carnes, Carla Hyman and Taylor Spicer contributed to this article.

Sarah Carnes, Kyle Hood, Carla HymanMaia Kuhnen, Ana Maria Martinez, Ashley Nealy and Taylor Spicer represent Millennial Action Team #5.

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Affordable Housing Key to a Successful Atlanta Region

Jason Dozier

Jason Dozier, Manager, Plans and Operations at Hire Heroes USA

This is the fourth in a series of op-eds by members of the Atlanta Regional Commission’s Millennial Advisory Panel. This panel of 135 young leaders was selected from 400 applicants and worked for the past six months to generate solutions to some of the Atlanta region’s thorniest issues. This editorial is by Jason Dozier, Manager, Plans and Operations at Hire Heroes USA, who is representing ARC Millennial Advisory Panel Action Team #4, on the issue of “healthy livable communities.”

The Atlanta region is globally renowned for many things, though perhaps none more than the region’s rapid transformation from a quiet railroad terminus into a modern, international metropolis.

Civic zeal helped usher in an era of investment in public transportation infrastructure, publicly funded, state-of-the-art sports arenas, miles of highway construction and the world’s busiest passenger airport. This can-do attitude helped metro Atlanta land the 1996 Olympic Games and positioned the city for a place in the pantheon of world-class cities.

But there’s now a new civic challenge facing the region. Metro Atlanta’s job market is finally booming after years of economic stagnation in the wake of the Great Recession.

In Dunwoody, State Farm is building an office complex that will accommodate up to 10,000 workers. In Sandy Springs, the North American headquarters for Mercedes-Benz promises to employ many hundreds of workers. And, in Midtown, NCR’s in-town relocation will add 3,600 jobs to one of the City of Atlanta’s major economic centers.

These developments did not happen in a vacuum. Transit accessibility played an important role in compelling these companies to relocate. Affordable housing should be part of that equation as well.

Metro Atlanta is the nation's 6th most expensive metro when housing and transportation costs are considered. Click To Tweet

Metro Atlanta’s success is largely the result of a mutually beneficial relationship between private employers and the region’s diverse and educated population. The Atlanta region is able to attract companies due to its strong talent pool and the low cost of doing business here. Workers enjoy living here because of the region’s high quality of life and low cost of living. But many companies find that once the housing costs are evaluated, many of their employees cannot afford to live near available transit options.

While it’s true that Atlanta has one of the most affordable housing markets in the country, it’s actually the sixth most expensive metropolitan area to live when housing costs are coupled with transportation costs. Unfortunately, much of the area’s affordable housing stock tends to be located in suburban communities with few transportation choices, cultural amenities or employment centers.

Metro Atlantans spend more than 130 hours each year commuting to work alone, and our economic competitiveness ultimately suffers because of it. Concentrating affordable housing far from jobs affects worker productivity and raises the cost of living.

We all stand to benefit by mandating smart, equitable development. Click To Tweet

We can alter this reality. We need to focus our energy on creating more affordable housing choices in urban and suburban neighborhoods while building a more equitable region. We cannot sustain our current development patterns when metro Atlanta is projected to have three million additional residents by 2040. We all stand to benefit by mandating smart, equitable development.

What can we do to increase affordable housing options throughout the Atlanta region? Here are some suggestions:

  • Financing and building affordable housing options in conjunction with transit-oriented development. We can decrease transportation costs for lower and middle-income households by locating mixed-income housing, daily services, schools and jobs near existing transit. This would enable residents to save money, improve their economic opportunities and ultimately improve the regional economy.
  • Promoting mixed-income housing, new amenities and job training in low-income neighborhoods can spur economic development in historically disinvested communities. We should seek new local sources of funding to finance these initiatives.
  • Employing market-driven solutions, such as the removal of traditional zoning requirements that include parking mandates. This would enable developers to build additional units of housing in land-constrained communities.
  • Adopting inclusionary zoning policies. Mandatory inclusionary zoning would ensure that developers allocate a portion of new construction to residents with low or moderate incomes. Various complimentary incentives to this policy, such as low income tax credits, density bonuses and tax abatements would allow developers to recapture a portion of construction costs.

Voters, the officials they elect and the companies that hire them must work together to set the conditions for a more equitable and economically sustainable region. If we are going to continue attracting the workers companies want to hire, we must have affordable, livable housing near urban and suburban work centers with access to transit.

If we act now, we can ensure that the entire region will be livable and economically competitive in the years and decades to come.

Action Team 4 makes their pitch.

Action Team 4 makes their pitch.

Watch Action Team #4 make their pitch for affordable housing options in metro Atlanta.

Learn more about ARC’s Millennial Advisory Panel at: newvoices.atlantaregional.com.

Coner Sen also contributed to this article.

Jason Dozier and Coner Sen, along with Jibran Shermohammed, Reid Stewart, Lindsey Wiles, Joe Baumann, Kara Keene Cooper. Erica Garfinkel and Laura Moody represent ARC Millennial Advisory Pane Action Team #4.

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An Atlanta Regional Mobile Grocery Could Deliver Health and Wellness

Joey Shea, Coordinator, Development and Communications, Southface

Joey Shea, Coordinator, Development and Communications, Southface

This is the third in a series of op-eds by members of the Atlanta Regional Commission’s Millennial Advisory Panel. This panel of 135 young leaders was selected from 400 applicants, and worked for the last six months to generate solutions to some of the Atlanta region’s thorniest issues. This editorial is by Joey Shea, Coordinator, Development and Communications, Southface, who is representing ARC Millennial Advisory Panel Action Team #3, on the issue of “healthy livable communities.”

The metro Atlanta region faces a massive challenge to food access. Many families in the region are unsure if they will have any food on the table, let alone healthy options that meet nutritional guidelines.

Though families all over the region struggle with food security, certain neighborhoods and populations are hit the hardest. Many of these are the same neighborhoods where residents suffer in the face of violence, addiction and poverty. The USDA defines areas of high poverty with high levels of food insecurity as food deserts.

Ironically, while many Atlanta neighborhoods suffer from a high level of food insecurity, the metro Atlanta region is becoming well-known for its growing and thriving food scene. The region is home to many food cultures, food enthusiasts and food movements that form a vibrant “foodscape.”

Food shapes our regional identity, adds value to our economy and elevates our quality of life. But the region’s “foodie” culture is out of reach for the many lower income and disadvantaged residents who live in the region’s food deserts.

The Regional Mobile Grocery is an idea that can change the landscape of food access in the Atlanta region. Click To Tweet

Food access is a fundamental right, and no one should be denied access. There should be a way to share the region’s rich food culture with residents, young and old, of all incomes in neighborhoods across the region.

The Atlanta Regional Commission’s Millennial Advisory Panel Team #3 proposes a Regional Mobile Grocery (the Grocery) that will connect all residents of the Metro Atlanta Region to the joy of eating high quality, healthy food. We intend for this initiative to also foster a cohesive regional identity around a diverse, but accessible food culture. At its core, the Grocery will address food insecurity and serve as a community asset for people of all income levels.

We know that social stigma and negativity can be barriers to participation in food programs. Labeling a program “low income” can unintentionally marginalize the populations that need its services the most. We also know from experience that communities may reject or ignore farmer’s markets, new groceries or community gardens when residents are left out of the planning processes for these ventures. Such initiatives are community placed, rather than community based. With this in mind, we understand that a mobile solution to food insecurity must respond to community needs and interests.

The Grocery will address food insecurity and serve as a community asset for people of all incomes. Click To Tweet

At the heart of food insecurity are two distinct challenges that the Grocery will address: education and physical access to food.

The Grocery will focus its educational efforts on two programs:

  • Brief cooking demonstrations that teach people how to prepare fresh, healthy and tasty meals that save time and money.
  • Culinary training programs that help citizens gain tangible skill sets. The mobile grocery will provide recipe cards and offer cooking classes as a programmatic intervention for food access.

The educational aspect of the Grocery will be vital to the long-term success of the program and will add the most value for citizens. The programs will help families develop a variety of skills for preparing food, as well as strategies for budgeting, nutrition, food safety and sanitation.

To address the issue of physical access to food, the Grocery will work with communities to design a process that fits the specific needs and interests of local residents. A mobile grocery delivery program is an ideal solution for food deserts because it allows for delivery of affordable, healthy food directly to neighborhoods and ensures that food options are culturally relevant.

The Grocery will offer two types of delivery options:

  • An online, pre-ordering program will help the Grocery select foods to deliver to the neighborhood in a given week or month, allowing residents to control the ingredients they receive, giving them a sense of agency and targeting the Grocery’s delivery to what will be used and valued by the community.
  • In areas where online access may be a challenge, the Grocery will work with community members and other program providers to plan inventory for the coming weeks. Though resident engagement and input into the Grocery’s stock will be vital to a sense of community ownership of the program, the Grocery will also provide staple food items at every delivery, encouraging the use of whole ingredients for healthier meals.

The Regional Mobile Grocery is an idea that can change the landscape of food access in the Metro Atlanta region. Food is a powerful social connector, and the Grocery can serve as a hub for communal interaction and neighborhood engagement.

The importance of food as a vehicle for increasing social capital and community cohesion cannot be overstated. The Grocery will enable communities that previously have been cut out of the vibrant food culture of metro Atlanta to share in that regional identity.

Atlanta Regional Mobile Grocery

Action Team #3 pitches the Regional Mobile Grocery to community leaders.

Watch Action Team #3 pitch their idea for a regional mobile grocery to regional leaders.

Learn more about ARC’s Millennial Advisory Panel at: newvoices.atlantaregional.com.

Joey Shea, along with Christina Cummings, Josh Gately, Allison Bustin, Erin Hendrix, Hannah Janet Pak and Bebe Rogers represent ARC Millennial Advisory Panel Action Team #3.

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