An Atlanta Regional Mobile Grocery Could Deliver Health and Wellness

Joey Shea, Coordinator, Development and Communications, Southface

Joey Shea, Coordinator, Development and Communications, Southface

This is the third in a series of op-eds by members of the Atlanta Regional Commission’s Millennial Advisory Panel. This panel of 135 young leaders was selected from 400 applicants, and worked for the last six months to generate solutions to some of the Atlanta region’s thorniest issues. This editorial is by Joey Shea, Coordinator, Development and Communications, Southface, who is representing ARC Millennial Advisory Panel Action Team #3, on the issue of “healthy livable communities.”

The metro Atlanta region faces a massive challenge to food access. Many families in the region are unsure if they will have any food on the table, let alone healthy options that meet nutritional guidelines.

Though families all over the region struggle with food security, certain neighborhoods and populations are hit the hardest. Many of these are the same neighborhoods where residents suffer in the face of violence, addiction and poverty. The USDA defines areas of high poverty with high levels of food insecurity as food deserts.

Ironically, while many Atlanta neighborhoods suffer from a high level of food insecurity, the metro Atlanta region is becoming well-known for its growing and thriving food scene. The region is home to many food cultures, food enthusiasts and food movements that form a vibrant “foodscape.”

Food shapes our regional identity, adds value to our economy and elevates our quality of life. But the region’s “foodie” culture is out of reach for the many lower income and disadvantaged residents who live in the region’s food deserts.

Food access is a fundamental right, and no one should be denied access. There should be a way to share the region’s rich food culture with residents, young and old, of all incomes in neighborhoods across the region.

The Atlanta Regional Commission’s Millennial Advisory Panel Team #3 proposes a Regional Mobile Grocery (the Grocery) that will connect all residents of the Metro Atlanta Region to the joy of eating high quality, healthy food. We intend for this initiative to also foster a cohesive regional identity around a diverse, but accessible food culture. At its core, the Grocery will address food insecurity and serve as a community asset for people of all income levels.

We know that social stigma and negativity can be barriers to participation in food programs. Labeling a program “low income” can unintentionally marginalize the populations that need its services the most. We also know from experience that communities may reject or ignore farmer’s markets, new groceries or community gardens when residents are left out of the planning processes for these ventures. Such initiatives are community placed, rather than community based. With this in mind, we understand that a mobile solution to food insecurity must respond to community needs and interests.

At the heart of food insecurity are two distinct challenges that the Grocery will address: education and physical access to food.

The Grocery will focus its educational efforts on two programs:

  • Brief cooking demonstrations that teach people how to prepare fresh, healthy and tasty meals that save time and money.
  • Culinary training programs that help citizens gain tangible skill sets. The mobile grocery will provide recipe cards and offer cooking classes as a programmatic intervention for food access.

The educational aspect of the Grocery will be vital to the long-term success of the program and will add the most value for citizens. The programs will help families develop a variety of skills for preparing food, as well as strategies for budgeting, nutrition, food safety and sanitation.

To address the issue of physical access to food, the Grocery will work with communities to design a process that fits the specific needs and interests of local residents. A mobile grocery delivery program is an ideal solution for food deserts because it allows for delivery of affordable, healthy food directly to neighborhoods and ensures that food options are culturally relevant.

The Grocery will offer two types of delivery options:

  • An online, pre-ordering program will help the Grocery select foods to deliver to the neighborhood in a given week or month, allowing residents to control the ingredients they receive, giving them a sense of agency and targeting the Grocery’s delivery to what will be used and valued by the community.
  • In areas where online access may be a challenge, the Grocery will work with community members and other program providers to plan inventory for the coming weeks. Though resident engagement and input into the Grocery’s stock will be vital to a sense of community ownership of the program, the Grocery will also provide staple food items at every delivery, encouraging the use of whole ingredients for healthier meals.

The Regional Mobile Grocery is an idea that can change the landscape of food access in the Metro Atlanta region. Food is a powerful social connector, and the Grocery can serve as a hub for communal interaction and neighborhood engagement.

The importance of food as a vehicle for increasing social capital and community cohesion cannot be overstated. The Grocery will enable communities that previously have been cut out of the vibrant food culture of metro Atlanta to share in that regional identity.

Atlanta Regional Mobile Grocery

Action Team #3 pitches the Regional Mobile Grocery to community leaders.

Watch Action Team #3 pitch their idea for a regional mobile grocery to regional leaders.

Learn more about ARC’s Millennial Advisory Panel at:

Joey Shea, along with Christina Cummings, Josh Gately, Allison Bustin, Erin Hendrix, Hannah Janet Pak and Bebe Rogers represent ARC Millennial Advisory Panel Action Team #3.

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Taking MARTA Further

By Nathan Soldat, ARC Millennial Advisory Action Team 2

Nathan Soldat, Community Engagement Advocate-Atlanta BeltLine, Inc.

This is the second in a series of op-eds by members of the Atlanta Regional Commission’s Millennial Advisory Panel. This panel of 135 young leaders was selected from 400 applicants, and worked for the last six months to generate solutions to some of the Atlanta region’s thorniest issues. This editorial is by Nathan Soldat, Community Engagement Advocate-Atlanta BeltLine, Inc., who is representing ARC Millennial Advisory Panel Action Team #2, on the issue of “encouraging healthy transit habits.”

Every year, tens of thousands of runners from all over metro Atlanta hop on MARTA, head to Buckhead Station, get off and make their way to the start of the Peachtree Road Race. When the race and activities are complete, they head back to MARTA for a convenient ride home. What would it take to get tens of thousands of new MARTA riders to do this on a daily basis?

Most people think about public transit as a mode of transportation to get from one place to another, but it can be so much more. It can be interesting, inviting and it can serve as a ticket to experiencing Atlanta.

There is a growing buzz about MARTA these days. The system has new smart phone apps, station improvements, a balanced budget and a flurry of new real estate development around its stations. Clayton County recently joined MARTA, and there are ambitious plans for a larger system expansion.

When MARTA CEO Keith Parker arrived in late 2012, he successfully addressed issues big and small. But, there is more work to be done. Much of this work doesn’t require a lot of resources and all of it is scalable across the various transit operators in metro Atlanta. Most importantly, this work can help to build a sense of community ownership, while it creates great experiences for both residents and visitors.

So, how can we get more people on board with transit in Atlanta? We have a few ideas:

  • Events App – How cool would it be to open an app on your smart phone, pick a date and see a listing of city happenings that are accessible on MARTA? You could select an activity, load the directions, add it to your calendar and share it with your family and friends on social media. The app would connect people to events happening near MARTA stations and bus stops.
  • Adopt a Station/Stop – Community and neighborhood pride is strong in metro Atlanta, and MARTA stations are gateways to our communities. Let’s make these gateways inviting, refreshing and reflective of the communities they serve. We can do this with an “Adopt a Station” program.The Fresh MARTA Market at West End Station is highly successful because it connects food access to transportation. We need to encourage communities to get involved in shaping station activities so that they are responsive to local needs. Underutilized station parking lots could serve as venues for concerts or pop-up community gardens. Stations could install wayfinding signage to highlight local history and direct the public to neighborhood assets. Groups like the MARTA Army  already are working on some of these issues. If we connect the various community stakeholders to their transit stations and stops, we can have a greater impact on attracting new riders.

    Bus stops are just as integral to the MARTA system as train stations. Have you ever seen a bus stop that provides shelter, a place to sit and is in itself a work of art? Many other cities have stops likes this. Let’s borrow that concept and tailor it to our unique communities. We can do this all over the city.

  • Public Art Curator – The art ecosystem in the Atlanta region continues to thrive and, like MARTA, art is a driver of the regional economy. Artists are engaged, invested and care about the future of MARTA. Many art organizations would love to contribute to making MARTA more stimulating and visually appealing. MARTA has already begun to partner with organizations like Elevate, the Atlanta Jazz Fest, #weloveatl and Wonderoot, among others. MARTA has a long history of including public art in its stations. What seems to be missing is a clear point of contact and framework for the continued cultivation of public art.What if MARTA hired a full-time, public art curator to champion artists and channel the flow of artistic expression from neighborhood to neighborhood? Expanding art throughout the transit system, especially to underserved areas, would demonstrate that we believe in equity for our citizens. An art curator position, with a framework for partnerships with outside art organizations and a budget for existing and new art, would greatly improve the customer experience and foster pride in the system as a whole.

    There is no shortage of potential projects. Imagine “MARTA Music Mondays,”  where individual train stations showcase live DJs playing music through MARTA’s speakers. We should highlight the talented artists and musicians that live in our city. Different trains could have different styles of music and riders could track DJ locations though an app or schedule posted in stations.

Recently, we had the honor and privilege of speaking with MARTA CEO Keith Parker to learn more about what MARTA has been up to and where the organization is headed in the future. Mr. Parker understands that transit is more than just a form of transportation. If communities join with MARTA to implement ideas like these, we can truly take MARTA further. We would like to see MARTA and all of the region’s transit operators continually reimagine their role in connecting our region. They do more than just move us from one place to another. And, if they dream BIG and create unique experiences for metro Atlantans, the community will respond and dream big with them.

Learn more about Action Team #2 and watch them pitch their idea for taking MARTA further to regional leaders.

Nathan Soldat, along with Tyler Baker, Blake Bredbenner, Kailor Gordy and Christopher Silveira, represent ARC Millennial Advisory Panel Action Team #2. 

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To Connect the Region, Let’s Advance Atlanta

ARC Millennial Advisory Panel Action Team #1

ARC Millennial Advisory Panel Action Team #1

This is the first in a series of op-eds by members of the Atlanta Regional Commission’s Millennial Advisory Panel. This panel of 135 young leaders was selected from 400 applicants, and worked for the last six months to generate solutions to some of the Atlanta region’s thorniest issues. This editorial is by ARC Millennial Advisory Panel Team 1, on the issue of “championing a unified regional transit system.”

In 1837, when the stake was driven in the Georgia ground to mark the founding of “Terminus,” the city that would become Atlanta began its life as a transportation hub. Today, the home of the world’s busiest airport still thrives as a center for transportation, but its local and regional roads are known more for traffic congestion and conduits for sprawl.

This reality impedes the ability of metro Atlanta to retain residents and companies, as well as attract new residents and businesses to our region.  It makes us less productive workers, less healthy people and less happy residents.

According to the latest Metro Atlanta Speaks survey from the Atlanta Regional Commission (ARC), transportation challenges are a top concern for metro Atlanta residents, but the region also benefits from several positive ingredients: strong workforce density; a multi-centered, cultural renaissance and our transforming – but still skeletal – MARTA transit system.

We need to build on our strengths. Citizens around the region are ready to embrace smart solutions to better connect our lives and ease our stifling congestion. Currently, the areas of the region experiencing the greatest economic growth and rise in property values are prospering due to their proximity to transit. The developments around the Sandy Springs and Dunwoody MARTA stations, including the recently announced Mercedes-Benz and State Farm headquarters, are a prime example of this trend.

Across the country, both Millennials and Baby Boomers are voicing their desire for access to transit and walkable communities, and companies are seeking to recruit and retain top-tier talent by locating their offices in the kind of walkable communities that attract young workers.

We believe that if metro Atlanta is to remain competitive into the future, we will need to provide residents with a comprehensive transit system capable of moving people efficiently through the five core counties of Fulton, DeKalb, Cobb, Gwinnett and Clayton.

That’s why we have founded the Coalition to Advance Atlanta, a grassroots movement of advocates for a comprehensive regional transit system, capable of serving residents of the five core counties.  This coalition is informed by an understanding that legislators don’t make decisions in a vacuum.  The purpose of the Coalition to Advance Atlanta is to demonstrate to our legislators through organizing, grassroots advocacy, media activities and citizen-lobbying that metro Atlantans are ready for comprehensive and connected regional transit.

We can already see the region’s attitude toward transit shifting. In 2014, nearly 75 percent of the Clayton County electorate approved a referendum to expand MARTA into their community.  In Gwinnett County, a Gwinnett Chamber of Commerce poll revealed 63 percent of potential voters supported the expansion of MARTA into their community and 50 percent of those polled said a one-percent county sales tax should fund the expansion.  This emerging popular support needs to be managed and effectively communicated to decision-makers.

The Advance Atlanta coalition will be composed of all segments of the Atlanta region’s population. The coalition will work to harness the many, diverse voices of metro Atlantans, who want to live in a region that will not be undermined by congestion and inadequate infrastructure.

For too long, the debate surrounding comprehensive transit progress has been framed in a manner that pits us against each other.  Whether young vs. old, conservative vs. liberal or urban vs. suburban, these classifications are harmful and these debates fail to illuminate the universal benefits of transit.  The truth is we can no longer view ourselves as independent counties and cities when it comes to transportation and economic development. We will succeed or fail as a metro region.

Our belief is this: comprehensive transit infrastructure will solidify metro Atlanta’s status as an economic powerhouse in the 21st Century and contribute to an enhanced quality of life for all citizens. 

To build that infrastructure, we need to develop a vision that can be translated to policy, increased funding and ultimately, timely construction. The Coalition to Advance Atlanta seeks to unite citizens’ voices in a shared vision to do just that.  As 2015 comes to a close, and 2016 offers the potential of a ballot initiative for additional MARTA funding in Fulton and DeKalb counties, we will be working hard to unite supporters of regional transit and to provide a platform for those who wish to join the conversation.

Advance Atlanta Website

Advance Atlanta Website

The Coalition to Advance Atlanta is just getting started. We invite all metro Atlantans to join us at




Learn more about Action Team #3 and watch them pitch their idea for Advance Atlanta to regional leaders.

ARC’s Millennial Advisory Panel Action Team #1 members are: Danielle Elkins, Evie Hightower, Cory Jackson, Karl Jennings, Nicholas Juliano, Patrick Klibanoff, Joey Kline, Andrew Laarhoven, Megan Sikes, Andrew Tate, James Touchton, Joel Wascher.

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Metro Atlanta Winning with Water Conservation

By Kerry Armstrong, Chairman of the Atlanta Regional Commission Board

By Kerry Armstrong, Chairman of the Atlanta Regional Commission Board

By Kerry Armstrong, Chairman of the Atlanta Regional Commission Board

In the 1990s, metro Atlanta’s post-Olympics development boom was threatened by a lack of wastewater treatment capacity.  Less than a decade later, a severe drought brought the region’s main water source, Lake Lanier, to historically low levels.

Things have changed, dramatically. Metro Atlanta has become a leader in water resources planning and water conservation.

Consider these numbers:

  • Since 2000, total water withdrawals in the Metropolitan North Georgia Water Planning District have decreased by 10 percent, even as the 15-county region’s population increased by one million.
  • Per capita water use in the district has decreased by more than 20 percent since 2000.
  • Efficient low-flow toilets are saving 2.4 million gallons of water per day in the District, enough to fill 22 million bathtubs.

These are significant achievements that directly affect the region’s ability to grow and maintain its quality of life and economic vitality into the future.

How did we get here so quickly?

It took vision, bold decisions, and close collaboration by government officials, civic and business leaders and residents across metro Atlanta.

In 2001, the Georgia General Assembly created the Metropolitan North Georgia Water Planning District (Metro Water District) to establish policy, create plans and promote intergovernmental coordination of all water issues in the District. The newly created Metro Water District engaged in a comprehensive two-year planning process for storm water, wastewater and water supply and water conservation.

Today the District brings together 15 counties, 92 cities and more than 60 water utilities to implement an array of strategies designed to protect water quality and ensure we use the region’s water more efficiently.

The Metro Water District’s conservation efforts show that regional collaboration can yield significant results.

What have they achieved?

  • Ten years ago, conservation pricing (the more you use, the more you pay) was a rarity in metro Atlanta. Today, water utilities serving more than 99 percent of the region’s population have implemented tiered rate structures that encourage customers to conserve.
  • Utilities have also stepped up their efforts to find and fix system leaks. Over the last three years, more than 23,000 water system leaks have been repaired.
  • Residents of the region have reduced water usage in their homes and landscapes and replaced outdated appliances with efficient water-saving appliances.
  • Since 2008, more than 100,000 old, inefficient toilets in the region have been replaced through toilet rebate programs offered by local governments or through the Metro Water District, resulting in estimated savings of more than 2.4 million gallons of water per day, enough to fill 22 million bathtubs.

This is good news for metro Atlanta.  But as long as the region continues to prosper and grow, we will need to find new and more efficient ways to conserve our water supply.

Summer is a time when water use increases as we fill swimming pools and water lawns. As we relax in the warm weather, let’s think about how we can reduce our water use even further so that we can all count on a sustainable future for the metro Atlanta region.

Take the Pledge to save water.

Take the Pledge to save water!

Want to reduce your water usage? Visit and find:

  • Tips for using water wisely
  • Water Use Calculator to find out how much water you really use
  • Links to Toilet Rebate Programs
  • Pledge to reduce your water usage
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Walk Friendly + Bike Friendly Community Forum Seeks Your Input

Byron Rushing

By Byron Rushing, ARC Bicycle and Pedestrian Planner

In 1973, the metro Atlanta region, like the rest of the country, was experiencing a bicycle “boom” brought on by skyrocketing gas prices and increasing environmental awareness. In response, the Atlanta Regional Commission (ARC) became one of the first metropolitan planning organizations in the nation to develop a comprehensive bicycle plan, titled The Bicycle. In the 42 years since that plan, the region has experienced tremendous growth, and the bicycle plan has evolved from a bicycle plan into a bicycle and pedestrian plan. The challenges we face around highway congestion, rising gas prices, increasing obesity and lack of economic opportunity, however, are not that different than the challenges we faced in 1973.

ARC is currently developing a new vision for walking and bicycling in the region that will be captured in the Regional Walking + Bicycling Transportation Plan. Walking and biking are inexpensive, healthy and fun transportation options, and we hope to ensure through the plan that trips throughout the region will be safe, comfortable and convenient. Each walking and bicycling trip may not seem that significant, but cumulatively these trips add up to big benefits for our communities throughout the region.

We need your input to develop the vision for this plan, so on May 29, ARC is holding a Walk Friendly + Bike Friendly Community Forum to gather input and discuss opportunities and needs related to walking and biking. At the forum, you will hear from national walking and biking expert Mia Birk and learn how investing in walking and biking can make your community healthier and more economically competitive.

The first goal for the plan is to gather research and input that will give us a better understanding of how walking and bicycling can help the metro Atlanta region improve in the following areas:

Traffic Safety – While traffic fatalities have decreased over the past decade, pedestrian fatalities have increased in both real numbers and as a percentage of all deaths. Pedestrian and bicycle fatalities occur most often on high-speed, multi-lane roads that lack sidewalks, crosswalks or protected bike lanes. We will work to understand the locations and causes of fatalities and link them to proven engineering countermeasures.

Mobility (the ability to travel) – Our highways are well-known for congestion and our transit system — local buses, express buses and rail — is vital but often inconvenient in too many areas. We will explore how increasing connectivity and improving the comfort and convenience of active transportation can increase transportation options, improve access to jobs and services and increase transportation reliability.

Economic competitiveness –  A growing body of data demonstrates that walkable urban places are becoming the new blueprint for community success. Metro Atlanta’s WalkUP Report, conducted in 2013 by Chris Leinberger, estimated that walkable urban places, such as Buckhead, Decatur and Perimeter Center, are increasingly desirable and command 112% higher rents than driving-focused suburbs. Premium bicycle corridors also attract visitors, investors and spending. Cobb County’s Silver Comet Trail attracts $50 million annually, and the Atlanta BeltLine has generated over $1 billion in private investment. These are enormous returns on relatively modest public investments. We will highlight where the region can replicate many of these successes.

Social Equity – The Atlanta region has the third lowest rate in the country for upward economic mobility, a fact that is exasperated by a lack of transportation options in the region. When car ownership is required to access jobs and basic services, it places a costly burden on low-income households. We will study how investments in walking, bicycling and transit can provide options and make transportation less expensive and more reliable for all households.

Once we have completed the research for the plan, our second task will be to use the research outcomes to develop a regional vision for improving walking and cycling within our metro communities and increasing connections across the region. This is a huge task for a large and diverse region. Our recommendations will likely include different things for different areas – dense networks in urban centers, scenic trails in suburban and rural areas and routine connections to regional transit – but the overall goal is to improve transportation throughout the region.

The Bicycle

The Bicycle, 1973, first bicycle plan for Atlanta region

We hope you will contribute to the vision and join us on May 29 for the Bike Friendly + Walk Friendly Community Forum.

For more information, visit the ARC website or contact Byron Rushing, ARC Bicycle & Pedestrian Planner, at 404-463-3345.

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The Power of Public Art


By Greg Burbidge, ARC Senior Program Specialist, Arts and Culture

Public art can surely enhance the aesthetics of a city, but it can also change lives — according to Jane Golden, executive director of the Philadelphia Mural Arts Program.

The Arthur Blank Foundation recently brought the dynamic Jane Golden to Atlanta through its Speaker Series to share her story about “The Power of Public Murals: It Ain’t About the Paint.” Ms. Golden talked about the power of public art in relation to community engagement and community development.  She deftly illustrated how the mural arts program in Philadelphia has produced real change in disadvantaged communities.

“This was not art that was parachuted down from the sky or imposed on people. This is what is called today “co-creation, co-collaboration.” It was working together. And, it was really valuing the opinion of the people who were there.” – Jane Golden

At the event, the Atlanta Regional Commission (ARC) announced the launch of the Atlanta Regional Public Art Program. Inspired by the Philadelphia model, our regional public arts program is intended to commission and install public art of all kinds throughout the metro Atlanta region. This is an exciting moment for ARC and our region, as it marks the culmination of a year-long effort that began last year through our LINK trip to Philadelphia. It further solidifies ARC’s ongoing commitment to the arts.

ARC’s involvement in the arts began in May of 2012, when our Board voted to incorporate arts and culture into the agency’s planning efforts for the 10-county Atlanta region. In doing that, we acknowledged the importance of a thriving arts community to the culture, quality of life and economy of the region, and we made a commitment to grow the region’s reputation as a flourishing center for the arts.

Then, on the LINK visit to Philadelphia last year, we met Jane Golden and the seeds of ARC’s public art program were planted. LINK is a cross-sector, cross-county leadership exchange, organized by ARC, to expose regional leaders to other metro areas and how address similar challenges and opportunities. In Philadelphia, we explored community redevelopment, innovation and technology, transportation and economic development.  But, one speaker in particular excited, provoked and inspired the LINK trip participants. That speaker was Jane Golden.

And, after hearing her inspirational talk, many participants on the LINK trip were moved, on the spot, to make two very specific commitments.  The first commitment was to pledge their own funds to launch a regional public arts initiative in metro Atlanta. The second commitment was made by the Blank Foundation to bring Jane Golden to Atlanta so the LINK participants could share the same excitement they experienced.

What inspired LINK participants to pledge funds after hearing Jane Golden was the way her program in Philadelphia used public art, not just to beautify communities, but to encourage community engagement and act as a tool for community development. Those are the goals we hope to achieve in the Atlanta region.

“Sometimes they were about people’s stories or their histories, their struggles, their aspirations, their triumphs, their history. Their history on large walls. Mirrors that you hold up to people and you say, ‘Your life counts’.” – Jane Golden

The Atlanta Regional Public Art Program is a competitive grant program that will use the funds pledged by LINK participants and others, to provide matching grants to local governments, community improvement districts, neighborhood associations and nonprofits.

Interested organizations may apply to receive up to $15,000 in matching funds for the creation and installation of public art in their communities. Once an organization is selected, they will choose an artist to work with their community to develop a public art installation that responds to a regional theme. We have chosen a theme that allows each community to celebrate their individuality within the region. The theme is: “Atlantans share the belief that there is ample opportunity to participate in making history in our region.”

Each community that receives funds will interpret this theme in their own unique way and will work to develop their response through a variety of community engagement tools. We understand that collaborative public art will be new to many communities in metro Atlanta, so ARC plans to offer workshops to provide training and technical assistance for both artists and project sponsors. These workshops will guide participants throughout this process. We can’t wait to see the art they create and the impact it may have!

To view the program details, sign up for updates and download the application for the program, please visit our website,

Common Threads by Meg Saligman

Common Threads by Meg Saligman

And, to experience the enthusiasm and excitement of Jane Golden and see what she has accomplished with the Philadelphia Mural Arts Program, watch a webcast of her talk in Atlanta at the Arthur Blank Foundation: The Power of Public Murals: It Ain’t About the Paint.


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2015 Legislative Session Positive for Metros and State

Scott Haggard, ARC Government Affairs Manager

By Scott Haggard, ARC Government Affairs Manager

Considering the important issues at stake during the 2015 Georgia General Assembly, the session ended fairly quietly at midnight, Thursday, April 2, but the its impact on Georgia’s future will be big. And, for the metro Atlanta region, the session stands as a qualified success.

On many of the major issues important to the region — transportation, water and aging services —  legislators made advances that will pay dividends for years to come. More importantly for the Atlanta region, dialogue about how to move forward on the issue of adequately funding public transit, a topic that has vexed lawmakers for years, was begun in a serious way and holds great promise for the future.

Legislation to address the chronic underfunding of transportation infrastructure in Georgia was one of the most highly anticipated bills taken up by the General Assembly this year. The Transportation Funding Act of 2015 passed and will substantially increase our state’s investment in critical transportation infrastructure, a top priority for the region and for the state’s leadership.

The effect of the bill will be to add nearly $1 billion annually to state transportation infrastructure funds. This is a critical investment to the state’s future and demonstrates a commitment from state leaders to address challenges that might negatively impact economic prosperity in the future.

This legislation shifts taxation away from a complex formula of excise and sales taxes on motor fuel to a direct 26-cents per gallon excise tax. This shift ensures that these monies will be spent on transportation uses and not diverted to the state’s general fund. In addition to the excise tax, a new fee on hotel rooms per night, expected to raise about $200 million annually, will not be constitutionally restricted to roads and bridges, and therefore will be eligible for purposes such as transit.

There were other encouraging signs for transit in the 2015 legislative session. For the first time ever, the state budget contained a line item in the amount of $75 million for transit needs, statewide. These funds are expected to be administered as a competitive grant program, through which transit agencies can address urgent needs.

In addition, legislation was passed that will allow individual counties in the Atlanta region to put before their voters a funding opportunity for transportation and transit projects and services. This “county T-SPLOST” option, available as early as 2016, is a variation of the larger regional T-SPLOST that failed at the ballot box in 2012, and allows for a vote on a fractional sales tax in .05-cent increments, up to a full penny, to fund a specific list of transportation or transit projects over a five-year period.

These advances suggest that the state may have reached an important tipping point on transit. Public comments made on multiple occasions from top state leaders such as Governor Nathan Deal, Lt. Governor Casey Cagle and Speaker David Ralston stressed that transit can no longer be an afterthought in our transportation future.

In addition to the positive movement on infrastructure funding and transit, the Atlanta region will benefit from bills passed that will provide much needed relief for Georgia’s aging population. Added funding in the state budget will help to remove 1,000 persons from the waiting list for home and community-based aging services. This $1.7 million line item will benefit many families whose loved ones are better able to be cared for in their own homes, rather than in an institution. The state budget also contained funding for eight new GBI agents specifically for investigating cases of abuse against elderly persons, and legislation was passed strengthening the penalties for such offenses. Finally, the new Georgia Adult and Aging Services Agency will bring much needed attention to the many issues specific to the rapidly growing share of the population of older adults in the state.

The Atlanta region also has good news in the area of water resources. A specific $500,000 line item in the state budget will allow the Metro North Georgia Water Planning District to have adequate resources to begin its required Water Plan Update for the Atlanta region. This will be a critical update, in light of ongoing litigation in the federal courts between Georgia, Alabama and Florida.

Looking back over the 2015 General Assembly session, residents of the metro Atlanta region can be thankful for the work of the General Assembly toward generating outcomes that can lead us toward a more prosperous and livable future.

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Preparing Leaders for Metro Atlanta 2.0

Douglas R. Hooker, Executive Director, Atlanta Regional Commission

by Douglas R. Hooker, ARC Executive Director

The Atlanta region is one of the 10 largest metros in the U.S. and has an economy larger than all but 35 countries. To remain competitive in this fast-changing world, our leadership and vision must grow and respond to current and future challenges and opportunities.

Today, the leadership of metro Atlanta falls primarily to the Baby Boomer age cohort. Strong, visionary leadership has always been a hallmark of our region; this is a factor that sets us apart from many other southeastern metros. So, conveying the mantel of leadership to future leaders to help envision and shape metro Atlanta 2.0 is an important and timely task, one that we must approach with intention.

This will be a demanding process. This new leadership cohort will face difficult and novel decisions. It must consist of informed, creative and passionate individuals who are open to new ideas, new visions and new technology. How will these leaders prepare for the challenges they face?

As part of our core mission, ARC offers several leadership programs to involve and inform participants about the regional challenges and opportunities we face. Two of these programs are recruiting now for 2015 members. They are the Regional Leadership Institute (RLI) and Model Atlanta Regional Commission (MARC).

Regional Leadership Institute

RLI is a program for metro Atlanta’s new or emerging leaders who aspire to become more effective, connected and active in their professional lives and communities. The intensive, week-long program, held in Savannah, focuses on topics relevant to the Atlanta region. It exposes participants to local and national thought leaders, who present on a range of topics all related to keeping metro areas sharp and competitive. Just as importantly, the RLI program fosters a network of educated, active and connected citizen leaders, who can mobilize around important issues to help solve our current and future challenges.

RLI’s mission is to:

  • Create a shared sense of community in the Atlanta region.
  • Build relationships of trust between businesses, government, non-profit, civic, religious, racial, ethnic and cultural groups.
  • Expand leaders’ knowledge regarding the key issues, opportunities and challenges that face the region.
  • Bring clarity to the role of community leadership and aid in the development of new skills, awareness and competencies required to lead.

Model Atlanta Regional Commission

The MARC program is the Atlanta Regional Commission’s award-winning youth leadership initiative. For 18 years, MARC has brought together groups of 50+ metro Atlanta high-school sophomores and juniors for six months of study, field trips and hands-on exercises. The program is designed to immerse and engage youth leaders in key issues affecting the Atlanta region, while honing their leadership skills.  MARC participants learn about regional issues from both community leaders and ARC experts. The students are exposed to the challenges of transportation, air quality, human services, land use and water supply and quality. Using that knowledge, students gather in committees to explore regional issues and develop possible solutions to challenges by crafting plans and resolutions they present to the official ARC board.

Investing in the future

Why should ARC invest time and energy in nurturing a wide breadth of leaders in the region? The answer is simple: the region needs a diverse set of perspectives and the collective insight of new leaders, leaders ready to help shape our tomorrow.

The curriculum this year for both ARC leadership programs will mirror work of the ARC Board in looking at three key initiatives to ensure a winning future.  We believe these initiatives will keep the region attractive and desirable for future generations.  They are:

  1.  Innovative Economy – Fewer than 73 percent of our students graduate from high school and far fewer go to college or technical school. How can we ensure a ready workforce for the jobs of the future?
  2. World Class Infrastructure – How do we strategically invest limited public funds to introduce more alternative means for moving people from home, to schools or to jobs as our region grows? And, with a limited water supply and a growing population, how do we ensure safe, plentiful water for future residents?
  3. Healthy, Livable Communities – How can we create more walkable areas like Midtown, Suwanee and Avalon, where people are able and comfortable walking to work, schools, restaurants and shops? This is important for both young workers who don’t want to drive and for older adults who find it increasingly difficult to drive.

To achieve our goals in these three areas, we will need the cooperation of local governments, chambers of commerce, civic and not-profit leaders and informed citizens.  These initiatives that are so critical to the future success of metro Atlanta require leaders who are well versed in these issues.

I believe that our region is at the precipice of tremendous change and opportunity. The choices before us are more important than ever.  The issues we face today are inviting us to make new, different and difficult choices about our future. We cannot take the easy path. It won’t take us to the future we most desire. We need an informed cadre of leadership that will take us boldly down new paths of opportunity and livability. Join us and help us create that vision for metro Atlanta 2.0.

Regional Leadership Institute (RLI)
The application deadline for the 2015 RLI class is Friday, April 17. Anyone within the Metro Atlanta area who aspires to be a more effective leader in the region may apply. Class members are selected based on demonstrated leadership in the community. Additional information and the application form are available on ARC’s website at: www.atlantaregional,com/rli.

Model Atlanta Regional Commission (MARC)
The application deadline for the 2015-16 MARC class is Friday, April 17. Any student currently in the 9th or 10th grade who lives or attends school in the 10-county region may apply. Additional information and application forms are available on the ARC website at

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Water Conservation Is Everyone’s Business

Mayor Boyd Austin, Chairman of Metro North Georgia Water Planning District

by Mayor Boyd Austin, Chairman, Metro North Georgia Water Planning District

Feels like it’s rained a lot lately, doesn’t it? But all that rain doesn’t guarantee an unlimited water supply. Metro Atlanta depends almost entirely on rainfall and our ability to store water from rain events because we have little groundwater in the region.

At the moment, we’re tracking close to average rainfall for the past three years. We cannot count on that indefinitely, however. We know that droughts will occur, even if we don’t know when. And we know we will add more residents who will need water. Thus, we must plan carefully and thoughtfully to ensure an adequate water supply in the years ahead.

The Metropolitan North Georgia Water Planning District (Metro Water District) creates regional water plans for water supply and conservation, stormwater and wastewater management. With limited water resources and a growing population, the region must effectively manage its vital water resources. To that end, the Metro Water District stands as a success story.

Created by the Georgia General Assembly in 2001 to promote regional management of metro Atlanta’s water resources, the Metro Water District includes 15 counties and 92 cities. The District’s comprehensive watershed, wastewater and water supply plans offer a blueprint that supports anticipated growth while protecting the environment. These plans help safeguard water quality and public drinking supplies, provide region-wide water conservation measures and minimize the potential detrimental impacts of continued urban and suburban development on waters in and downstream of the district. The District will adopt updated plans in 2016.

As we continually seek to improve our management of this precious resource, the Metro Water District builds on more than a decade of leadership, particularly when it comes to water conservation. The Water Supply and Water Conservation Management Plan mandates an aggressive water conservation program with 19 measures that are implemented by local systems. We know of no other major metropolitan area in the country where more than 100 jurisdictions are working together to implement such a comprehensive water conservation program. The pay-off has been substantial. Between 2000 and 2010, the region’s population increased by one million – or 20 percent – while total water use decreased by 10 percent.

The water conservation measures required by the plan include conservation pricing (the more you use, the more you pay); replacing older, inefficient plumbing fixtures; reducing water system leakage; and much more. For example, since the toilet rebate program began in 2008, more than 100,000 old, inefficient toilets have been replaced. This has resulted in savings of more than 575 million gallons of water per year. On the supply side, the Metro Water District has supported utilities in their efforts to identify and reduce system leaks. During the past three years, utilities have identified and repaired more than 23,000 leaks.

Yet, there is always more we can do. EPA estimates that leaks in the average home waste more than 10,000 gallons of water a year. Metro residents are encouraged to check for leaky toilets, faucets, showerheads or irrigation systems during EPA’s Fix a Leak week, March 16-22. More information on ways to use less water is available through the District’s website, My Drop Counts.

In spite of recent rains, it is imperative that we use our water resources wisely. We must build on the successes of the past decade to increase water efficiency and to step up protections of our watersheds. Together we will continue to move the region toward best-in-class water resources management.


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Housing Affordability in Metro Atlanta – It’s Complicated!


by Mike Alexander, Manager of Research and Analytics at the Atlanta Regional Commission


Is metro Atlanta an affordable place to live? The affordable price of housing in metro Atlanta can be credited with helping to add more than one million new residents to the region over the last decade. Our median sales price for a single-family home is $167,500; among the largest 25 metros in the United States, only St. Louis and Tampa have lower median sales prices for houses. But does that mean metro Atlanta is an affordable place to live?

Affordability is a tricky issue.  A host of factors that are not necessarily related to housing can affect the affordability of a region, and one of the most significant factors is the cost of transportation. By some metrics, when transportation costs are added to overall affordability costs, metro Atlanta becomes one of the LEAST affordable large metros for moderate-income families. These families spend an average of 63 percent of their income on transportation and housing costs. To further complicate things, the region’s largest employment centers lack affordable housing located nearby, meaning that many lower-income workers cannot afford to live near their jobs.

So how do we talk about affordability in the region? Here are some available metrics:

  • The Housing Opportunity Index refers to the percentage of homes that are affordable to a family earning the area’s median income. Using this metric, Atlanta ranks as the sixth most affordable place among the largest 25 metro areas in the U.S.
  • HUD’s Location Affordability Index, adds transportation costs to housing costs and considers different household budget scenarios. Metro Atlanta ranks in the middle of the pack for affordability in this index, spending, on average, 53 percent of income on housing and transportation costs. (The Center for Neighborhood Technology suggests a threshold of no more than 45 percent.)
  • The Center for Neighborhood Technology (CNT) uses a more expansive definition of “Moderate-Income” (50% – 100% of Area Median Income) than HUD’s Location Affordability Index, and they find metro Atlanta to have the sixth worst affordability among the 25 largest metros for “moderate-income” households.
  • The Census Bureau measures the percent of households that spend more than 30 percent of income on housing costs and reports data for both owner costs and renter costs. Using this measure, Clayton County has the lowest income in the 20-county region and the highest percentage of households spending more than 30 percent of income on housing costs.
  • Renters fare badly in almost every jurisdiction in metro Atlanta, spending at least half of their income on housing costs. The National Low Income Housing Coalition publishes Out of Reach, which evaluates the wages needed to afford rental housing at Fair Market Rate. In many of the region’s counties, at least 60 percent of renters cannot afford a two-bedroom apartment (i.e. they spend more than 30 percent of their income on housing costs).

Looking at these different metrics, then, is metro Atlanta an affordable place to live? The answer truly is complicated. But here are some things we can infer from the data:

  • Metro Atlanta home prices and values are relatively low when compared to other metro areas. But cost-of-living plays a role in these rankings. Metro Atlanta has a low cost-of-living, so we should expect lower home prices compared to higher cost-of-living metros.
  • At the neighborhood level, affordability is determined by multitude of factors, including simple supply and demand near job centers. In the Atlanta region, many of the largest employment centers also have some of the region’s most expensive housing.
  • Transportation plays a key role in assessing overall affordability. Often, the most affordable housing options are located far away from key job centers. When transportation costs are added to the cost of a home in the suburbs or exurbs, housing becomes less affordable, particularly for lower- to moderate-income households.
  • Renters have a particularly hard time finding affordable options throughout the region. In many jurisdictions, particularly poorer exurban counties, living in an average-priced two-bedroom apartment consumes more than 60 percent of the average renter’s income, and that does NOT factor in increased transportation costs.

Overall, it’s important to understand the role transportation costs and the distance between affordable housing and job centers can play in determining affordability for moderate to low-income families. These factors can affect the region’s attractiveness to newcomers, especially the young, creative millennials that metro Atlanta hopes to attract; the high cost of transportation, the long commutes, the lack of transportation options and the high cost of rental housing can impact their decision to choose metro Atlanta as place to live and work after college.

Explore the Data:

rental data

Infographic: 2015 Housing Affordability in Metro Atlanta

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