By David Pendered
The Atlanta Regional Commission is embarking on its first reorganization in a generation, in order to meet the demands of the post-recession paradigm that’s emerging from the public and private sectors.
Silos of expertise are to be replaced by collaborative teams. An example of the new approach would be for ARC planners to examine mobility rather than transportation – a shift that frames the issue in a fashion that begs for broader solutions.
“Because we are changing in so many ways as a region, ARC realizes we have to be more adaptable to help local governments solve more problems,” said Doug Hooker, ARC’s executive director.
On paper, the reorg chart shows four ARC departments being collapsed into three centers. The document doesn’t quite capture the breadth of change that comes out when Hooker describes it. For example:
“It’s not just land use planners or public administrators who are involved with community development,” Hooker said. “Community development involves issues around mobility, aging, arts and culture, natural resources. By calling it ‘community development’ and looking at how we help communities from that perspective, we will begin to bring in different types of expertise to help communities.
“It could be staff people with expertise,” Hooker continued. “But it could also be with alliances. Because it’s not just about creating a land use plan for the region. We’re also thinking about how we can help local governments with community development within the parameters of their operation.”
A tangible example of this approach is ARC’s role in forming the Airport Area Task Force. Late last summer, ARC convened what it described as, “local governments, chambers of commerce, businesses, and other interested parties” – such as Georgia Power.
The task force has conducted several meetings and participants expect to produce a vision statement this spring. The goal is to develop the region around Hartsfield Jackson Atlanta International Airport, which is the world’s busiest passenger airport.
These changes in outlook and organization are significant because ARC has a defined set of duties and responsibilities under state and federal law.
The Georgia governor has designated ARC as the metropolitan planning organization for the Atlanta area. This designation gives ARC clear responsibilities, especially pertaining to the Federal Highway Act and Federal Transit Act, both of which provide funding to promote mobility in the region.
As the federal government is shifting a growing proportion of the costs of some public affairs to state, counties and cities, ARC and its counterparts across the country are having to find ways to help stretch local resources to meet their community’s needs and demands.
Urban scholar Bruce Katz, with Brookings Institute, described this emerging paradigm in October, when he spoke at ARC’s State of the Region meeting:
- “The bottom line … is the U.S. federal government is going to scale back in major ways. This metropolis, with its sisters … needs to understand this is coming and needs to adjust.”
Hooker said ARC’s board has been contemplating its reorganization since 2011, when the board adopted a strategic plan.
The reorganization had been put on hold until late 2012 because so many ARC leaders and key employees were involved in preparing for the July 2012 transportation sales tax referendum. ARC fulfilled its state-mandated role of providing planning and other support to the elected officials who crafted the project list and explained it to constituents.
ARC’s board approved the current reorganization in December, and Hooker took it public for the first time Jan. 9 at the board meeting of GRTA, Georgia Regional Transportation Authority.
GRTA board Chairman Walter “Sonny” Deriso, Jr. and a few other board members raised concerns about how ARC will interact with its partners in light of its redefinition of itself. One such area of concern involves the region’s Transportation Improvement Program, or TIP. GRTA acts on behalf of the governor in approving and amending the TIP, as it did in December.
“We applaud your efforts and thank you for your innovative approach,” Deriso said to Hooker after Hooker had presented his report to GRTA’s board.
“It would be helpful, as an example, as you perceive how you’ll interact with your various partners, that you try to plan out with TIP approvals how this approach will change the way that we go about doing things as we interact,” Deriso said. “Whereas we have viewed you as a planner who has certain things to do, because that is how you’ve seen yourself, but now you’re viewing it differently.”
Hooker immediately responded: “You’re quite right.” Hooker went on to say ARC staffers will take all the time needed in 2013 to work with partner agencies to implement the changes smoothly.
Gwinnett commission Chairman Charlotte Nash, who serves on the boards of GRTA and ARC, said she and fellow ARC board members are excited about the result of ARC’s reorganization.
Deriso concluded the interchange by observing on the nature of change in organizations, and supporting it. Deriso chairs the board of Atlantic Capitol Bank, a commercial bank that’s not taking new investors, and whose client sheet includes emerging companies and real estate developers.
“You may, in fact, create some change in the rest of us,” Deriso said to Hooker. “Change is opportunity and change is great. We applaud what you’re doing.”