Here’s to 2010 — And to Hope for a new regional “Odyssey”

The sci-fi masterpiece “2001: A Space Odyssey” was released way back in 1968, a year when it seemed as if the whole world was coming undone.

I was an 8-year-old science nerd at the time, and my big sister Gail took me to watch director Stanley Kubrick’s G-rated head-trip at the Rialto Theater on Flatbush Avenue in Brooklyn.

I didn’t understand most of the movie but couldn’t wait for the day when I could travel across galaxies talking to computers and scooting between the stars with my very own jet pack.

Better still; the movie imagined a distant future that was an escapist balm to the brutal realities of the times.

“Let the Awe and Mystery of a Journey Unlike Any Other Begin” was that movie’s wordy but inspiring tagline. Cool.

In 1984, the movie’s sequel “2010” was released with even trippier special effects, more ambitious interplanetary excursions and an army of chatty computers.

But the Utopian ambitions of the original had been downsized a bit: an alien intelligence convinced the Americans and the Russians that nuking each other into oblivion would be a bad thing. That’s nice, but I was expecting more than just a futuristic version of 80′s-style detente.

Well, the future is here. Unfortunately, although the technology on movie screens and in our lives is advancing apace, we’re not exactly keeping up.

Today, any 8-year-old auteur with an app-loaded i-Phone can crank out video clips with flashy special effects and blast them around the world to millions of viewers on a free, video-sharing site without any help from Hollywood.

But most of the tribal enmities and intractable social issues that afflicted and separated our communities when both those movies debuted are stubbornly extant. Some of the wars that were being fought in 1968 are still being waged – here and abroad – with new ones flaring all the time.

That might explain why my hopes for the real-life 2010 that has just dawned are also more modest and down-to-earth.

As it turns out, the voice on my new GPS is creepier (and less polite) than the HAL 9000 computer from the movies.

And I’ve since given up my dream of owning a jet pack. As a resident of metro Atlanta I’d settle for a well-funded, seamless, and reliable transportation network that would ease the commute from my home in South DeKalb to my job in South Buckhead (more on that later).

While we’re at it, can we also figure out how to educate and train Georgia’s children for careers of the future (maybe for “green collar” jobs or as personal jet pack repair-persons) so we don’t have to lock as many of them up?

And since we’ve now learned that housing and land development booms can suddenly go bust (leaving us all poorer) can the region, state and city of Atlanta work cooperatively to ensure that land use practices are coordinated in ways that serve the public good instead of just private interests?

That’s not asking too much and 2010 seems as good a time as any for all of us to finally move on. You know, like into the future.

Bold approaches are best, but progress is more often measured in inches, or fractions thereof.

There’s no shame in taking baby steps forward if the only other options are staying stuck or sliding backward. We’ve been doing both.

I’m no pessimist, mind you. The hopes I harbor for the city, region and state that have become my adopted hometown forbid me from surrendering to cynicism. The bright and brilliant souls with whom I’ve been associated since re-locating here 20 years ago are ready, willing and able to move mountains and shift-paradigms like it’s nobody’s business. Believe that.

That’s why I’m a fierce pragmatist. I know full well that hope alone isn’t sufficient.

It will also take brains and grit and, perhaps most of all, visionary leadership to get us unstuck and moving in the right direction. Like many other Atlantans, I’m impatiently watchful about where that leadership will come from.

After surviving a pointlessly racially-tinged mayoral campaign and runoff, Kasim Reed was sworn in as the next mayor of Atlanta at a time when the crisis of our nation’s urban centers are belatedly getting the attention they deserve in Washington.

Although I don’t know Mayor Reed well, he’s a fellow alumnus of Howard University. From one “Big, Blue Bison” to another, I wish him the best in handling the city’s ongoing budget challenges, reducing street crime, addressing chronic homelessness and restoring Atlanta’s reputation as a city that’s “not too busy to love” to borrow his phrase.

To that I say, “Gitterdun.”

At the statehouse in Atlanta, the annual legislative pageant is about to begin with new crop of Republican lawmakers at the helm.

While there are far more Bulldogs than Bisons in theLegislature. I’m also rooting for them to abandon the petty, personal politics of the past — as they’ve pledged to do — and start afresh to reposition Georgia as a forward-looking state sobered by the sins of our past.

Come November, Georgia will be picking its next chief executive. I don’t care one whit if our new governor is a Republican or Democrat or, for that matter, a visitor from outer space who just wants us all to get along and finally get moving.

On a professional level, that’s what I’m trying to do. Although I’ll never completely give up my God-given birthright to write earnest (if tortured prose) as a journalist, about five months ago I took a job as the Chief Spokesman for MARTA, the region’s mass transit agency.

In my new role, I hope to continue telling stories about transportation, housing and the environment; these are the common threads that I believe can eventually help knit this region into a functional patchwork of communities that are models of civic progress.

However, my MARTA responsibilities mean I must forgo the singular privilege I’ve enjoyed of writing columns for the SaportaReport – at least for now.

Of course, I’ll always be a loyal fan and friend of its founder and her fearless work. We cannot flourish as a community without thoughtful, independent media voices like this one – and others that I’m hopefully confident will follow its lead.

Maria urged me to refer to my decision to decamp to the PR ranks as a “hiatus.” Fair enough. But I prefer to think it as an opportunity for me to continue playing an albeit small part in the unfolding odyssey of grand possibilities and hard-earned choices for metro Atlanta.

Sure, it’s going to be a bumpy ride. But at least we’ll have a chance to transform our present and maybe brighten our future.

Jet packs are optional.

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2 comments
Michael Walls
Michael Walls

Many of us think trading your jet pack for a Marta bus was a good thing but your "earnest [never] tortured prose" in the Saporta Report will be missed.

Julie@ARC
Julie@ARC

Lyle, no matter what the venue, your skills at distilling and communicating our region's challenges and opportunities are a major contribution to us all. We're glad to have you working on transit and maybe even jet packs! YOu are right about the "bright and brilliant souls" who care about moving the Atlanta region forward. We need to focus our energies on a small set of goals, hack away at them and then move to the next set of goals. It's been proven -- there's nothing we can't achieve if we set our minds, hearts and concerted energy towards it. We need focus, focus, focus!

I would ask readers -- what are your top items for a focused, action agenda for 2010 and the new decade?