As an ever-changing metropolis, Atlanta can catapult to greatness

By Saba Long

Atlanta is an unfinished city. Don’t worry. All cities are. But, the real magic of cities is the process of adding to their canvases.

Atlanta is at a tipping point. The region is also, perhaps to a lesser extent.

The constant war in our growth continues to be identifying holistic solutions over death by balkanization.

The Atlanta Regional Commission has convened a 100-plus person advisory panel comprised of Millennials – of which I am a member – from around the 10-county region to address three critical issues: world-class infrastructure; healthy, livable communities; and the innovation economy.

Over the past two months, I have attended a handful of sessions and dinner meetings to discuss the future of the region. While we each had to initially choose an issue to focus on – world-class infrastructure was my pick – the individual discussions in each cohort are nearly identical.

Take Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport. It neatly fits in the world-class infrastructure category, right?

Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport

Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport

Not so fast. It has a $70 billion economic impact on the state of Georgia, a robust public arts program and is the cornerstone of the upcoming Aerotropolis development.

Last year, metro Atlanta welcomed more than 40 million visitors. What good is world-class infrastructure without healthy, livable (and affordable) communities? What innovative economy lacks both?

The viewpoints of my Millennial peers mirrored a recent Modern Atlanta discussion: Designing an International City – Atlanta’s Transportation Revolution.

Naturally, the conversation turned into an “expand transit” rally.

A panelist, one of our own, Maria Saporta put things into perspective. Atlanta, like many cities, devolved. We were once Terminus, the transportation hub, but white flight amongst other factors halted – and in some instances- reversed our trajectory.

But, there are many projects on the horizon that have the capacity to catapult the city into greatness. Perhaps even more importantly, they will break down the ITP (inside the perimeter) vs. OTP (outside the perimeter) barriers that have hindered the region.

The Atlanta BeltLine is the one economic development project that fully ignores the car. Everything is about building and connecting healthy, livable communities that emphasis walking, biking and transit.

MARTA has three rail expansions, plus a possible commuter rail line that could impact the 19-county region. Where the BeltLine will transform Atlanta proper, the Chattahoochee River will serve as a connector to Carroll, Coweta and other counties miles away from Peachtree Street. Imagine being able to conveniently take transit – or bike – from inside the perimeter to a natural water feature. What would that do to quash the regionalism debate?

We have big, important plans. Like any well-designed object, the devil is in the details.

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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