Atlanta has embarked on $5 billion worth of projects, such as the BeltLine and the new Atlanta Falcons stadium. City and Regional Planning Professor of Practice Michael Dobbins says now is the time for city leaders to tackle the poverty plaguing many of its residents. He is the former Commissioner of Planning and Community Development for the City of Atlanta.
Recent national studies have reminded us of Atlanta’s most pervasive, persistent, and shameful problem: poverty.
Some 180,000 citizens, mostly African-Americans, live in the swath of deprivation that extends from Bankhead in the northwest to South Town Park in the southeast. The city’s poverty rate has persisted in the 20 to 25 percent range for decades with little notice and little effort among the business and civic leaders to improve the situation. At the root of these citizens’ deprivation is joblessness.
Atlanta prides itself as a “can-do” city. What if it steps up to take on social and economic inequity as its foremost mission? What if it acknowledges that the plight of its low wealth citizens is increasingly not a sustainable condition?
The opportunity is here, with $5 billion worth of projects in the works: the BeltLine, Fort McPherson, the Multimodal Passenger Terminal (MMPT), and the Atlanta Falcons stadium.
Master’s students in a Georgia Tech planning studio, focusing on the stadium and the MMPT, have put together provisions that should be considered. They propose a purposeful and binding compact for hiring residents from the Vine City, English Avenue, Castleberry Hill, and Atlanta University Center neighborhoods, as well as from the low wealth areas beyond.
The students’ effort began with and continues to listen to community needs and priorities. It includes many other provisions that should be in place and that could mark Atlanta leadership’s willingness to turn the corner to doing something about our biggest problem.
Atlanta could build a model that over time could mark it as a city that listens, that cares, that’s willing to commit, and that realizes the potential in the thousands of people whose lives are otherwise wasted under the status quo.
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