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Thought Leadership Views From Peachtree

A Re/CAP of the Past, a Look Ahead to the Future

By A.J. Robinson, President

Central Atlanta Progress and the Atlanta Downtown Improvement District

On Thursday, January 16, CAP/ADID hosted its Annual Meeting & Awards Celebration at State Farm Arena. The event reflected on 2019, looked ahead to 2020, installed CAP’s 2020-21 leadership, and celebrated deserving community leaders and stewards. Below are excerpts from Robinson’s keynote presentation delivered during the event.

I think it’s safe to say that the recent end of one decade and the beginning of another has left us all feeling a bit reflective.

This year, our staff reached back into the CAP archives and unearthed “Re/CAP,” a printed newsletter series that dates back to the 1960s. You’ll find snippets of past issues in the 2019 Annual Report, and you’ll likely see some familiar subjects that resemble the challenges and opportunities that face us today. Topics like housing affordability, transportation, master planning, social issues, parks and greenspaces, and even this Annual Meeting event.

This exercise of looking back before we look ahead to the 2020s, to me, is an important admission that our work has always been needed and yet is never done—and that’s okay. We’re not going to the moon: we’re reaching for the stars, and to do that, we have to remain committed in this ongoing mission to make “the product of Downtown” the best it can possibly be.

As part of my former real estate job, which now seems many moons ago, I traveled to cities across the globe—from Hong Kong and Jerusalem to Rio and Mumbai. This afforded me the fascinating opportunity to observe the practices of other municipalities and compare and contrast them to how we do things here in Atlanta. 

And today, I continue to ask myself an even bigger question: “How do we get people to really care about all this?”

During a recent trip to Mexico City, I went to a restaurant to catch a little of the Peach Bowl on TV – watching LSU play Oklahoma in Spanish, of course. The broadcast constantly cut to sparkling blimp shots of Downtown Atlanta. All I could really understand was, “Atlanta…mucho bueno,” and all I could think about was, “How do 30 million people in Mexico City feel about Atlanta when they see these sparkling blimp shots?”

You see, you never know who is looking at your community, and when, for that matter. It’s another reminder to me of all the work left to be done, and the many hands that are needed to do it. 

It’s often said that Atlanta’s primary export is boosterism, but we all know that it takes more than artful phrases to create the city we desire. It takes a deep reservoir of civic pride and a willingness to roll up our sleeves and dive in….and stay in.

For nearly 80 years, CAP’s focus has always been the product of Downtown, and we’ve learned it takes a wealth of tools and tactics to refine it and make it truly great.

To do that requires a “big tent” of thinkers, doers, and leaders who support our modest staff of 20-something professionals. This Annual Meeting event is an important reminder that it really does take a village. 

For better or for worse, our four-square mile grid is the visible soul of Atlanta. Let’s commit over this next decade to treasure it, for it is what defines us as Atlanta. 

As the wise saying goes, “It is not our duty to finish the work, but neither are we at liberty to neglect it.” So let’s keep at it.


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