Urban investments must weigh issues of equity, diversity and inclusion

By Saba Long

Since leaving City Hall, I have had the opportunity to get back to my first love – transportation.  I recently joined the boards of two nonprofit advocacy organizations – the Atlanta Bicycle Coalition (ABC) and PEDS, and I am working with MARTA’s media relations and external affairs team.

Over the past few weeks, conversations sparked at our ABC board retreat in February keep playing in my head – particularly given recent discussions about the future of the Atlanta BeltLine and Streetcar as well as broader national comments from U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan on the future of our inner cities.

The retreat focused on advocacy through an equity, diversity and inclusion lens – or EDI as it’s referenced in the academic realm, and I am excited to see an organization even consider publicly broaching the subject.

Why should we care about EDI in placemaking, transportation planning and policy?

According to the Atlanta Regional Commission, although more residents are living in or near job centers than a decade ago, metro Atlanta ranks near the top – sixth highest out of the largest 25 metro areas – in combined household spending on housing and transportation.

The divisive sins of past leaders have certainly impacted present day growth. We see it first hand with debate surrounding the realignment of Martin Luther King, Jr. Drive for the new stadium project. We see it everyday with the region’s current transit system compared to what we could have had in Concept 3.

Past mistakes are evident in charts about school performance, pin points on a map of food deserts as well as the redrawing of political districts.

The built environment impacts how much a family can save, the quality of education a child receives and the quality of life one can expect to receive.

I was just asked, on Twitter, who in Atlanta is focused on an equity-focused placemaking process. It’s not just about improving social connectedness, but it’s also about having an “open door” approach to development and addressing longstanding issues of trust within metro Atlanta’s communities.

The EDI concept may sound granola to some, however its approach is what we all expect from entities impacting the public sphere.

I hope to see more conversations around Atlanta and the region on EDI as the norm. The end result is sure to impact us far more than we could imagine.

Saba Long is a communications and political professional who lives in downtown Atlanta. She serves as the senior council aide and communications liaison for Post 2 At-Large Atlanta City Councilman Aaron Watson. Most recently, Saba was the press secretary for MAVEN and Untie Atlanta -- the Metro Chamber’s education and advocacy campaigns in supportive of the Atlanta Regional Transportation Referendum. She has consulted with H.E.G. an analytics and evaluation firm where she lent strategic marketing and social media expertise to numerous political campaigns, including that of Fulton County Chairman John Eaves and the 2010 Clayton County transportation referendum. In 2009, Saba served as the deputy campaign manager for the campaign of City Council President Ceasar Mitchell. Previously, Saba was a Junior Account Executive at iFusion Marketing, where she lent fractional marketing strategy to various ATDC technology startups operating out of the Georgia Tech incubator, ATDC. For the past two years, Saba has presented on online marketing and politics to the incoming fellows of the Atlanta chapter of the New Leaders Council.

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