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.

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.

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.

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.

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’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 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.

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.

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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Taking MARTA Further

By Nathan Soldat, ARC Millennial Advisory Action Team 2

Nathan Soldat, Community Engagement Advocate-Atlanta BeltLine, Inc.

This is the second 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 Nathan Soldat, Community Engagement Advocate-Atlanta BeltLine, Inc., who is representing ARC Millennial Advisory Panel Action Team #2, on the issue of “encouraging healthy transit habits.”

Every year, tens of thousands of runners from all over metro Atlanta hop on MARTA, head to Buckhead Station, get off and make their way to the start of the Peachtree Road Race. When the race and activities are complete, they head back to MARTA for a convenient ride home. What would it take to get tens of thousands of new MARTA riders to do this on a daily basis?

Most people think about public transit as a mode of transportation to get from one place to another, but it can be so much more. It can be interesting, inviting and it can serve as a ticket to experiencing Atlanta.

There is a growing buzz about MARTA these days. The system has new smart phone apps, station improvements, a balanced budget and a flurry of new real estate development around its stations. Clayton County recently joined MARTA, and there are ambitious plans for a larger system expansion.

When MARTA CEO Keith Parker arrived in late 2012, he successfully addressed issues big and small. But, there is more work to be done. Much of this work doesn’t require a lot of resources and all of it is scalable across the various transit operators in metro Atlanta. Most importantly, this work can help to build a sense of community ownership, while it creates great experiences for both residents and visitors.

So, how can we get more people on board with transit in Atlanta? We have a few ideas:

  • Events App – How cool would it be to open an app on your smart phone, pick a date and see a listing of city happenings that are accessible on MARTA? You could select an activity, load the directions, add it to your calendar and share it with your family and friends on social media. The app would connect people to events happening near MARTA stations and bus stops.
  • Adopt a Station/Stop – Community and neighborhood pride is strong in metro Atlanta, and MARTA stations are gateways to our communities. Let’s make these gateways inviting, refreshing and reflective of the communities they serve. We can do this with an “Adopt a Station” program.The Fresh MARTA Market at West End Station is highly successful because it connects food access to transportation. We need to encourage communities to get involved in shaping station activities so that they are responsive to local needs. Underutilized station parking lots could serve as venues for concerts or pop-up community gardens. Stations could install wayfinding signage to highlight local history and direct the public to neighborhood assets. Groups like the MARTA Army  already are working on some of these issues. If we connect the various community stakeholders to their transit stations and stops, we can have a greater impact on attracting new riders.

    Bus stops are just as integral to the MARTA system as train stations. Have you ever seen a bus stop that provides shelter, a place to sit and is in itself a work of art? Many other cities have stops likes this. Let’s borrow that concept and tailor it to our unique communities. We can do this all over the city.

  • Public Art Curator – The art ecosystem in the Atlanta region continues to thrive and, like MARTA, art is a driver of the regional economy. Artists are engaged, invested and care about the future of MARTA. Many art organizations would love to contribute to making MARTA more stimulating and visually appealing. MARTA has already begun to partner with organizations like Elevate, the Atlanta Jazz Fest, #weloveatl and Wonderoot, among others. MARTA has a long history of including public art in its stations. What seems to be missing is a clear point of contact and framework for the continued cultivation of public art.What if MARTA hired a full-time, public art curator to champion artists and channel the flow of artistic expression from neighborhood to neighborhood? Expanding art throughout the transit system, especially to underserved areas, would demonstrate that we believe in equity for our citizens. An art curator position, with a framework for partnerships with outside art organizations and a budget for existing and new art, would greatly improve the customer experience and foster pride in the system as a whole.

    There is no shortage of potential projects. Imagine “MARTA Music Mondays,”  where individual train stations showcase live DJs playing music through MARTA’s speakers. We should highlight the talented artists and musicians that live in our city. Different trains could have different styles of music and riders could track DJ locations though an app or schedule posted in stations.

Recently, we had the honor and privilege of speaking with MARTA CEO Keith Parker to learn more about what MARTA has been up to and where the organization is headed in the future. Mr. Parker understands that transit is more than just a form of transportation. If communities join with MARTA to implement ideas like these, we can truly take MARTA further. We would like to see MARTA and all of the region’s transit operators continually reimagine their role in connecting our region. They do more than just move us from one place to another. And, if they dream BIG and create unique experiences for metro Atlantans, the community will respond and dream big with them.

Learn more about Action Team #2 and watch them pitch their idea for taking MARTA further to regional leaders.

Nathan Soldat, along with Tyler Baker, Blake Bredbenner, Kailor Gordy and Christopher Silveira, represent ARC Millennial Advisory Panel Action Team #2. 

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To Connect the Region, Let’s Advance Atlanta

ARC Millennial Advisory Panel Action Team #1

ARC Millennial Advisory Panel Action Team #1

This is the first 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 ARC Millennial Advisory Panel Team 1, on the issue of “championing a unified regional transit system.”

In 1837, when the stake was driven in the Georgia ground to mark the founding of “Terminus,” the city that would become Atlanta began its life as a transportation hub. Today, the home of the world’s busiest airport still thrives as a center for transportation, but its local and regional roads are known more for traffic congestion and conduits for sprawl.

This reality impedes the ability of metro Atlanta to retain residents and companies, as well as attract new residents and businesses to our region.  It makes us less productive workers, less healthy people and less happy residents.

According to the latest Metro Atlanta Speaks survey from the Atlanta Regional Commission (ARC), transportation challenges are a top concern for metro Atlanta residents, but the region also benefits from several positive ingredients: strong workforce density; a multi-centered, cultural renaissance and our transforming – but still skeletal – MARTA transit system.

We need to build on our strengths. Citizens around the region are ready to embrace smart solutions to better connect our lives and ease our stifling congestion. Currently, the areas of the region experiencing the greatest economic growth and rise in property values are prospering due to their proximity to transit. The developments around the Sandy Springs and Dunwoody MARTA stations, including the recently announced Mercedes-Benz and State Farm headquarters, are a prime example of this trend.

Across the country, both Millennials and Baby Boomers are voicing their desire for access to transit and walkable communities, and companies are seeking to recruit and retain top-tier talent by locating their offices in the kind of walkable communities that attract young workers.

We believe that if metro Atlanta is to remain competitive into the future, we will need to provide residents with a comprehensive transit system capable of moving people efficiently through the five core counties of Fulton, DeKalb, Cobb, Gwinnett and Clayton.

That’s why we have founded the Coalition to Advance Atlanta, a grassroots movement of advocates for a comprehensive regional transit system, capable of serving residents of the five core counties.  This coalition is informed by an understanding that legislators don’t make decisions in a vacuum.  The purpose of the Coalition to Advance Atlanta is to demonstrate to our legislators through organizing, grassroots advocacy, media activities and citizen-lobbying that metro Atlantans are ready for comprehensive and connected regional transit.

We can already see the region’s attitude toward transit shifting. In 2014, nearly 75 percent of the Clayton County electorate approved a referendum to expand MARTA into their community.  In Gwinnett County, a Gwinnett Chamber of Commerce poll revealed 63 percent of potential voters supported the expansion of MARTA into their community and 50 percent of those polled said a one-percent county sales tax should fund the expansion.  This emerging popular support needs to be managed and effectively communicated to decision-makers.

The Advance Atlanta coalition will be composed of all segments of the Atlanta region’s population. The coalition will work to harness the many, diverse voices of metro Atlantans, who want to live in a region that will not be undermined by congestion and inadequate infrastructure.

For too long, the debate surrounding comprehensive transit progress has been framed in a manner that pits us against each other.  Whether young vs. old, conservative vs. liberal or urban vs. suburban, these classifications are harmful and these debates fail to illuminate the universal benefits of transit.  The truth is we can no longer view ourselves as independent counties and cities when it comes to transportation and economic development. We will succeed or fail as a metro region.

Our belief is this: comprehensive transit infrastructure will solidify metro Atlanta’s status as an economic powerhouse in the 21st Century and contribute to an enhanced quality of life for all citizens. 

To build that infrastructure, we need to develop a vision that can be translated to policy, increased funding and ultimately, timely construction. The Coalition to Advance Atlanta seeks to unite citizens’ voices in a shared vision to do just that.  As 2015 comes to a close, and 2016 offers the potential of a ballot initiative for additional MARTA funding in Fulton and DeKalb counties, we will be working hard to unite supporters of regional transit and to provide a platform for those who wish to join the conversation.

Advance Atlanta Website

Advance Atlanta Website

The Coalition to Advance Atlanta is just getting started. We invite all metro Atlantans to join us at  advanceatlanta.com.




Learn more about Action Team #3 and watch them pitch their idea for Advance Atlanta to regional leaders.

ARC’s Millennial Advisory Panel Action Team #1 members are: Alyssa Sinclair Davis, Danielle Elkins, Evie Hightower, Cory Jackson, Karl Jennings, Nicholas Juliano, Patrick Klibanoff, Joey Kline, Andrew Laarhoven, Megan Sikes, Andrew Tate, James Touchton, Joel Wascher.

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Metro Atlanta Winning with Water Conservation

By Kerry Armstrong, Chairman of the Atlanta Regional Commission Board

By Kerry Armstrong, Chairman of the Atlanta Regional Commission Board

By Kerry Armstrong, Chairman of the Atlanta Regional Commission Board

In the 1990s, metro Atlanta’s post-Olympics development boom was threatened by a lack of wastewater treatment capacity.  Less than a decade later, a severe drought brought the region’s main water source, Lake Lanier, to historically low levels.

Things have changed, dramatically. Metro Atlanta has become a leader in water resources planning and water conservation.

Consider these numbers:

  • Since 2000, total water withdrawals in the Metropolitan North Georgia Water Planning District have decreased by 10 percent, even as the 15-county region’s population increased by one million.
  • Per capita water use in the district has decreased by more than 20 percent since 2000.
  • Efficient low-flow toilets are saving 2.4 million gallons of water per day in the District, enough to fill 22 million bathtubs.

These are significant achievements that directly affect the region’s ability to grow and maintain its quality of life and economic vitality into the future.

How did we get here so quickly?

It took vision, bold decisions, and close collaboration by government officials, civic and business leaders and residents across metro Atlanta.

In 2001, the Georgia General Assembly created the Metropolitan North Georgia Water Planning District (Metro Water District) to establish policy, create plans and promote intergovernmental coordination of all water issues in the District. The newly created Metro Water District engaged in a comprehensive two-year planning process for storm water, wastewater and water supply and water conservation.

Today the District brings together 15 counties, 92 cities and more than 60 water utilities to implement an array of strategies designed to protect water quality and ensure we use the region’s water more efficiently.

The Metro Water District’s conservation efforts show that regional collaboration can yield significant results.

What have they achieved?

  • Ten years ago, conservation pricing (the more you use, the more you pay) was a rarity in metro Atlanta. Today, water utilities serving more than 99 percent of the region’s population have implemented tiered rate structures that encourage customers to conserve.
  • Utilities have also stepped up their efforts to find and fix system leaks. Over the last three years, more than 23,000 water system leaks have been repaired.
  • Residents of the region have reduced water usage in their homes and landscapes and replaced outdated appliances with efficient water-saving appliances.
  • Since 2008, more than 100,000 old, inefficient toilets in the region have been replaced through toilet rebate programs offered by local governments or through the Metro Water District, resulting in estimated savings of more than 2.4 million gallons of water per day, enough to fill 22 million bathtubs.

This is good news for metro Atlanta.  But as long as the region continues to prosper and grow, we will need to find new and more efficient ways to conserve our water supply.

Summer is a time when water use increases as we fill swimming pools and water lawns. As we relax in the warm weather, let’s think about how we can reduce our water use even further so that we can all count on a sustainable future for the metro Atlanta region.

Take the Pledge to save water.

Take the Pledge to save water!

Want to reduce your water usage? Visit MyDropCounts.org and find:

  • Tips for using water wisely
  • Water Use Calculator to find out how much water you really use
  • Links to Toilet Rebate Programs
  • Pledge to reduce your water usage
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Walk Friendly + Bike Friendly Community Forum Seeks Your Input

Byron Rushing

By Byron Rushing, ARC Bicycle and Pedestrian Planner

In 1973, the metro Atlanta region, like the rest of the country, was experiencing a bicycle “boom” brought on by skyrocketing gas prices and increasing environmental awareness. In response, the Atlanta Regional Commission (ARC) became one of the first metropolitan planning organizations in the nation to develop a comprehensive bicycle plan, titled The Bicycle. In the 42 years since that plan, the region has experienced tremendous growth, and the bicycle plan has evolved from a bicycle plan into a bicycle and pedestrian plan. The challenges we face around highway congestion, rising gas prices, increasing obesity and lack of economic opportunity, however, are not that different than the challenges we faced in 1973.

ARC is currently developing a new vision for walking and bicycling in the region that will be captured in the Regional Walking + Bicycling Transportation Plan. Walking and biking are inexpensive, healthy and fun transportation options, and we hope to ensure through the plan that trips throughout the region will be safe, comfortable and convenient. Each walking and bicycling trip may not seem that significant, but cumulatively these trips add up to big benefits for our communities throughout the region.

We need your input to develop the vision for this plan, so on May 29, ARC is holding a Walk Friendly + Bike Friendly Community Forum to gather input and discuss opportunities and needs related to walking and biking. At the forum, you will hear from national walking and biking expert Mia Birk and learn how investing in walking and biking can make your community healthier and more economically competitive.

The first goal for the plan is to gather research and input that will give us a better understanding of how walking and bicycling can help the metro Atlanta region improve in the following areas:

Traffic Safety – While traffic fatalities have decreased over the past decade, pedestrian fatalities have increased in both real numbers and as a percentage of all deaths. Pedestrian and bicycle fatalities occur most often on high-speed, multi-lane roads that lack sidewalks, crosswalks or protected bike lanes. We will work to understand the locations and causes of fatalities and link them to proven engineering countermeasures.

Mobility (the ability to travel) – Our highways are well-known for congestion and our transit system — local buses, express buses and rail — is vital but often inconvenient in too many areas. We will explore how increasing connectivity and improving the comfort and convenience of active transportation can increase transportation options, improve access to jobs and services and increase transportation reliability.

Economic competitiveness –  A growing body of data demonstrates that walkable urban places are becoming the new blueprint for community success. Metro Atlanta’s WalkUP Report, conducted in 2013 by Chris Leinberger, estimated that walkable urban places, such as Buckhead, Decatur and Perimeter Center, are increasingly desirable and command 112% higher rents than driving-focused suburbs. Premium bicycle corridors also attract visitors, investors and spending. Cobb County’s Silver Comet Trail attracts $50 million annually, and the Atlanta BeltLine has generated over $1 billion in private investment. These are enormous returns on relatively modest public investments. We will highlight where the region can replicate many of these successes.

Social Equity – The Atlanta region has the third lowest rate in the country for upward economic mobility, a fact that is exasperated by a lack of transportation options in the region. When car ownership is required to access jobs and basic services, it places a costly burden on low-income households. We will study how investments in walking, bicycling and transit can provide options and make transportation less expensive and more reliable for all households.

Once we have completed the research for the plan, our second task will be to use the research outcomes to develop a regional vision for improving walking and cycling within our metro communities and increasing connections across the region. This is a huge task for a large and diverse region. Our recommendations will likely include different things for different areas – dense networks in urban centers, scenic trails in suburban and rural areas and routine connections to regional transit – but the overall goal is to improve transportation throughout the region.

The Bicycle

The Bicycle, 1973, first bicycle plan for Atlanta region

We hope you will contribute to the vision and join us on May 29 for the Bike Friendly + Walk Friendly Community Forum.

For more information, visit the ARC website or contact Byron Rushing, ARC Bicycle & Pedestrian Planner, at 404-463-3345.

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The Power of Public Art


By Greg Burbidge, ARC Senior Program Specialist, Arts and Culture

Public art can surely enhance the aesthetics of a city, but it can also change lives — according to Jane Golden, executive director of the Philadelphia Mural Arts Program.

The Arthur Blank Foundation recently brought the dynamic Jane Golden to Atlanta through its Speaker Series to share her story about “The Power of Public Murals: It Ain’t About the Paint.” Ms. Golden talked about the power of public art in relation to community engagement and community development.  She deftly illustrated how the mural arts program in Philadelphia has produced real change in disadvantaged communities.

“This was not art that was parachuted down from the sky or imposed on people. This is what is called today “co-creation, co-collaboration.” It was working together. And, it was really valuing the opinion of the people who were there.” – Jane Golden

At the event, the Atlanta Regional Commission (ARC) announced the launch of the Atlanta Regional Public Art Program. Inspired by the Philadelphia model, our regional public arts program is intended to commission and install public art of all kinds throughout the metro Atlanta region. This is an exciting moment for ARC and our region, as it marks the culmination of a year-long effort that began last year through our LINK trip to Philadelphia. It further solidifies ARC’s ongoing commitment to the arts.

ARC’s involvement in the arts began in May of 2012, when our Board voted to incorporate arts and culture into the agency’s planning efforts for the 10-county Atlanta region. In doing that, we acknowledged the importance of a thriving arts community to the culture, quality of life and economy of the region, and we made a commitment to grow the region’s reputation as a flourishing center for the arts.

Then, on the LINK visit to Philadelphia last year, we met Jane Golden and the seeds of ARC’s public art program were planted. LINK is a cross-sector, cross-county leadership exchange, organized by ARC, to expose regional leaders to other metro areas and how address similar challenges and opportunities. In Philadelphia, we explored community redevelopment, innovation and technology, transportation and economic development.  But, one speaker in particular excited, provoked and inspired the LINK trip participants. That speaker was Jane Golden.

And, after hearing her inspirational talk, many participants on the LINK trip were moved, on the spot, to make two very specific commitments.  The first commitment was to pledge their own funds to launch a regional public arts initiative in metro Atlanta. The second commitment was made by the Blank Foundation to bring Jane Golden to Atlanta so the LINK participants could share the same excitement they experienced.

What inspired LINK participants to pledge funds after hearing Jane Golden was the way her program in Philadelphia used public art, not just to beautify communities, but to encourage community engagement and act as a tool for community development. Those are the goals we hope to achieve in the Atlanta region.

“Sometimes they were about people’s stories or their histories, their struggles, their aspirations, their triumphs, their history. Their history on large walls. Mirrors that you hold up to people and you say, ‘Your life counts’.” – Jane Golden

The Atlanta Regional Public Art Program is a competitive grant program that will use the funds pledged by LINK participants and others, to provide matching grants to local governments, community improvement districts, neighborhood associations and nonprofits.

Interested organizations may apply to receive up to $15,000 in matching funds for the creation and installation of public art in their communities. Once an organization is selected, they will choose an artist to work with their community to develop a public art installation that responds to a regional theme. We have chosen a theme that allows each community to celebrate their individuality within the region. The theme is: “Atlantans share the belief that there is ample opportunity to participate in making history in our region.”

Each community that receives funds will interpret this theme in their own unique way and will work to develop their response through a variety of community engagement tools. We understand that collaborative public art will be new to many communities in metro Atlanta, so ARC plans to offer workshops to provide training and technical assistance for both artists and project sponsors. These workshops will guide participants throughout this process. We can’t wait to see the art they create and the impact it may have!

To view the program details, sign up for updates and download the application for the program, please visit our website, publicart.atlantaregional.com.

Common Threads by Meg Saligman

Common Threads by Meg Saligman

And, to experience the enthusiasm and excitement of Jane Golden and see what she has accomplished with the Philadelphia Mural Arts Program, watch a webcast of her talk in Atlanta at the Arthur Blank Foundation: The Power of Public Murals: It Ain’t About the Paint.


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2015 Legislative Session Positive for Metros and State

Scott Haggard, ARC Government Affairs Manager

By Scott Haggard, ARC Government Affairs Manager

Considering the important issues at stake during the 2015 Georgia General Assembly, the session ended fairly quietly at midnight, Thursday, April 2, but the its impact on Georgia’s future will be big. And, for the metro Atlanta region, the session stands as a qualified success.

On many of the major issues important to the region — transportation, water and aging services —  legislators made advances that will pay dividends for years to come. More importantly for the Atlanta region, dialogue about how to move forward on the issue of adequately funding public transit, a topic that has vexed lawmakers for years, was begun in a serious way and holds great promise for the future.

Legislation to address the chronic underfunding of transportation infrastructure in Georgia was one of the most highly anticipated bills taken up by the General Assembly this year. The Transportation Funding Act of 2015 passed and will substantially increase our state’s investment in critical transportation infrastructure, a top priority for the region and for the state’s leadership.

The effect of the bill will be to add nearly $1 billion annually to state transportation infrastructure funds. This is a critical investment to the state’s future and demonstrates a commitment from state leaders to address challenges that might negatively impact economic prosperity in the future.

This legislation shifts taxation away from a complex formula of excise and sales taxes on motor fuel to a direct 26-cents per gallon excise tax. This shift ensures that these monies will be spent on transportation uses and not diverted to the state’s general fund. In addition to the excise tax, a new fee on hotel rooms per night, expected to raise about $200 million annually, will not be constitutionally restricted to roads and bridges, and therefore will be eligible for purposes such as transit.

There were other encouraging signs for transit in the 2015 legislative session. For the first time ever, the state budget contained a line item in the amount of $75 million for transit needs, statewide. These funds are expected to be administered as a competitive grant program, through which transit agencies can address urgent needs.

In addition, legislation was passed that will allow individual counties in the Atlanta region to put before their voters a funding opportunity for transportation and transit projects and services. This “county T-SPLOST” option, available as early as 2016, is a variation of the larger regional T-SPLOST that failed at the ballot box in 2012, and allows for a vote on a fractional sales tax in .05-cent increments, up to a full penny, to fund a specific list of transportation or transit projects over a five-year period.

These advances suggest that the state may have reached an important tipping point on transit. Public comments made on multiple occasions from top state leaders such as Governor Nathan Deal, Lt. Governor Casey Cagle and Speaker David Ralston stressed that transit can no longer be an afterthought in our transportation future.

In addition to the positive movement on infrastructure funding and transit, the Atlanta region will benefit from bills passed that will provide much needed relief for Georgia’s aging population. Added funding in the state budget will help to remove 1,000 persons from the waiting list for home and community-based aging services. This $1.7 million line item will benefit many families whose loved ones are better able to be cared for in their own homes, rather than in an institution. The state budget also contained funding for eight new GBI agents specifically for investigating cases of abuse against elderly persons, and legislation was passed strengthening the penalties for such offenses. Finally, the new Georgia Adult and Aging Services Agency will bring much needed attention to the many issues specific to the rapidly growing share of the population of older adults in the state.

The Atlanta region also has good news in the area of water resources. A specific $500,000 line item in the state budget will allow the Metro North Georgia Water Planning District to have adequate resources to begin its required Water Plan Update for the Atlanta region. This will be a critical update, in light of ongoing litigation in the federal courts between Georgia, Alabama and Florida.

Looking back over the 2015 General Assembly session, residents of the metro Atlanta region can be thankful for the work of the General Assembly toward generating outcomes that can lead us toward a more prosperous and livable future.

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