A Healthy Atlanta is a Competitive Atlanta
By Kathryn Lawler, Executive Director, Atlanta Regional Collaborative for Health Improvement
The “New-Old South.” That is how Atlanta was categorized in a recent analysis of major metropolitan trends. Similar to how Southerners can insult with charm when a sentence begins with “bless her heart,” the “New-Old South” is a critique within a compliment.
“New” reflects an increase in jobs, new development, employers, infrastructure and housing. But “old” refers to the unprecedented rise in economic, health and racial disparities. In the New-Old South some succeed, while others lag behind. Some advance their education, skills and income, while others struggle.
Breaking the statistics down by zip code, these differences are real in Atlanta. Individuals living in Atlanta’s 30314 zip code (Vine City) have an average life expectancy of 71 years, whereas individuals living in 30305 (Buckhead) have an average life expectancy of 84 years.
Seven miles can lower your life expectancy by 13 years. Only 2 percent of residents in 30327 (North Atlanta) do not have high school diplomas while near Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, in the 30354 zip code, 27 percent of residents did not graduate from high school.
For Atlanta’s economy to remain vibrant, all the region’s residents must reach their potential. But the New-Old South is holding Atlanta back. Disparities at this magnitude, still occurring along racial lines, limit our competitiveness. There are other major metro areas in the country that also have great weather and a relatively low cost of living, but they are not constrained by the “old” in the same way.
Concerned about these significant differences in health outcomes, life expectancy, economic opportunities and educational attainment in a region with tremendous resources, a group of leaders formed ARCHI, the Atlanta Regional Collaborative for Health Improvement.
They recognize that health and well-being are baseline conditions, essential to the success of investments in education, workforce development and infrastructure. Health is central to whether a child can show up to and perform in school. Health is critical to worker productivity. Health is essential before an individual can fully participate in civic activities and the arts. Healthy people are the only real way to slow the rising health care costs affecting companies and governments alike.
A partnership of more than 80 organizations, ARCHI adopted a 28-year strategy that focuses on coordinating the existing system of care, encouraging healthy lifestyles, ensuring individuals and families have economic opportunities, supporting innovation, and ensuring the flow of health care dollars is not just used to treat illness, but to promote wellness.
Members of ARCHI come together under a collective impact framework to align their individual organizations’ work in support of these priorities. ARCHI is the fuel behind these emerging partnerships, enabling organizations to come together, implement new ideas and measure success. It is committed to seeing the work through, even when actions today will not produce results for a generation.
The New-Old South doesn’t have to be a critique inside a compliment. It is instead recognition of the great work underway and a challenge to address what’s holding Atlanta back.
Kathryn Lawler is executive director of the Atlanta Regional Collaborative for Health Improvement (ARCHI), supported by the Andrew Young School Policy Studies’ Georgia Health Policy Center at Georgia State University.