By: Alex Trachtenberg, Project Manager, Southface
Policymakers, community advocates and private enterprise are poised to act at a critical juncture in Atlanta’s history. In the next few months, the city will make decisions that will dictate investment in projects that will change the face of the region for years to come. The opportunity to invest in expansion of MARTA; the momentum of the BeltLine project and urban revitalization efforts; increased activity and movement into the City’s dense core; projected population growth in both the city and regional population; and many other factors provide tremendous opportunity and tremendous challenge for the region. We face a choice to deepen divides between neighborhoods and people with further disinvestment in some communities or find a way to connect economic development strategies with all our community assets to enable Atlanta to become a truly world class region and city.
With the stakes high, community leaders around the region are making statements about their priorities in an effort to shape regional development. Recent news has broken that Ryan Gravel, architect of the BeltLine, and Nathaniel Smith, Chief Equity Officer at Partnership for Southern Equity, have chosen to step down from the board of the Atlanta BeltLine Partnership Initiative in response to current policies and practices, specifically surrounding affordable housing and equitable development strategies. The TransFormation Alliance (TFA) advocates for equitable transit-oriented development across the region, and understands the connection between the region’s history and our current state as well as the importance and uniqueness of the opportunity we have before us.
Atlanta’s history has been a “tale of two cities”, with investment and growth favoring communities to the North of Interstate 20 while poverty and disinvestment concentrated south of Interstate 20. Atlanta’s communities bear the result of historical racism that affected policies, plans and public investments. Recognizing this context, the TFA, a core group of 17 diverse partners, came together to amplify the impact of our existing resources. The TFA has a shared vision of creating thriving mixed-income communities anchored by transit and culture and linked to all the opportunities and amenities that make Atlanta great.
Atlanta is one of 10 regions invited to apply to a competitive national grant program, the Strong Prosperous And Resilient Communities Challenge (SPARCC), a program that could integrate the TFA’s work with racial equity to include pragmatic solutions to climate and health issues.
SPARCC is a three-year, $90 million initiative created to capture the opportunity of new investments in transit, infrastructure, climate resilience, and health so that people of all races and incomes benefit. Through locally driven approaches, SPARCC is challenging cities and regions across the country to create more just economic, health, and environmental outcomes. We envision our work and strategies through three lens – racial equity, health and climate. Compatible with the values of SPARCC, this framework will allow us to advocate for equitable development and systems change benefiting our low income and distressed communities throughout the region, but especially on the South side. The alignment that TFA feels with SPARCC drove us to pursue the opportunity, and we hope that SPARCC will select the Atlanta region to catalyze and amplify the work TFA has started here.
Regardless of support from SPARCC, TFA will work to implement meaningful community engagement and creative placemaking strategies to build regional equity, climate resilience and health. By targeting resources and initiatives in areas historically disinvested by the region, the TFA is engaging strategies to improve quality of life, add community amenities and bring increased economic activity and opportunity to these neighborhoods without displacing residents. This work is predicated on a deep and meaningful attention to the voices of those communities living in places where disinvestment and underinvestment are the norm. Their voices and the TFA acting as a mouthpiece whenever necessary can shape a more equitable, resilient and healthy future for the region.
The TFA will continue to work toward a vision of an Atlanta that is inclusive, healthy and climate ready.