ARC’s State of the Region breakfast returns to message of hope, progress

By David Pendered

The tone of this year’s annual ARC State of the Region breakfast was dramatically improved from the 2012 event.

Chris Leinberger, an urban land use strategist who addressed the ARC's 2013 State of the Region breakfast, said walkable urban places command higher rents and sales prices than car-oriented neighborhoods. Credit: Donita Pendered

Chris Leinberger, an urban land use strategist who addressed the ARC’s 2013 State of the Region breakfast, said walkable urban places command higher rents and sales prices than car-oriented neighborhoods. Credit: Donita Pendered

The 2013 State of the Region returned to traditional themes of hope and progress that were notably absent from last year’s event. The 2012 breakfast seemed overshadowed by a subtext of “lift yourself up by your bootstraps” despite a sour economy and voter rejection of a proposed sales tax for transportation.

The event Friday looked ahead to long-term prosperity expected to come out of an emerging development trend that’s been quantified in a recent report by urban land use strategist and developer Chris Leinberger, the keynote speaker. In addition, the ARC formally unveiled a survey showing that two thirds of respondents are happy to call the region their home.

The event also marked a milestone in the evolution of ARC, which traces its roots to 1947 as the nation’s first publicly funded, multi-county planning organization.

The ARC board is to elect new chairman in December, to replace Tad Leithead, who’s said he hopes the board will retain him as a citizen member. Four candidates for chairman have stepped forward and they represent the gamut of board members – a citizen member, a mayor, and two county chairmen.

ARC Chairman Tad Leithead, who's stepping down as chair, receives a gift on behalf of the ARC staff from ARC Executive Director Doug Hooker. Credit: Donita Pendered

ARC Chairman Tad Leithead, who’s stepping down as chair, receives a gift on behalf of the ARC staff from ARC Executive Director Doug Hooker. Credit: Donita Pendered

The organizational structure implemented early this year by ARC Executive Director Doug Hooker and the board is gaining traction. The purpose of the reorg is to refocus the organization on devising solutions rather than studying problems; a quick example would be for ARC planners to examine mobility rather than transportation, a shift that reframes the issue.

The State of the Region also provided the ARC an opportunity to commend the four winners of its annual Developments of Excellence Award. The awards were handled differently this year in a way that kept the program moving quickly – awards were given out in pairs, rather than all at once; and honorary photos were taken after the event had concluded.

This year’s winners are:

  • Development of Excellence: Oliver House at Allen Wilson, Decatur Housing Authority;
  • Great Place: Piedmont Park, Piedmont Park Conservancy and City of Atlanta;
  • Woodstock won its second award from ARC for redevelopment that prompted urbanist Chris Leinberger to designate the historic downtown as a local-serving neighborhood WalkUP, or walkable urban place. Credit: Donita Pendered

    Woodstock has become a walkUP community, as defined by urbanist Chris Leinberger – a loca-serving neighborhood that’s walkable. Credit: Donita Pendered

    LCI Achievement Award: Woodstock West, City of Woodstock and Walton Communities;

  • Exceptional Merit for Adaptive Reuse: Atlanta BeltLine Eastside Trail, Atlanta BeltLine, Inc., BeltLine Partnership, and PATH Foundation.

At the 2012 breakfast, keynote speaker Bruce Katz, of the Brookings Institution, hit dour notes – “We have a federal government that is not only broke, but broken;” “This metropolis, with its sisters … needs to understand this is coming and needs to adjust;” “The cavalry is not coming.”

Lineberger began his speech with a quick reference to videos that had previously shown metro Atlantans enjoying aspects of their communities. He quickly shifted to present his data and then assigned homework to the gathering of just over 1,000 community leaders.

Midtown has become an eminently walkable community, according to urbanist Chris Leinberger. Credit: Donita Pendered

Midtown has become an eminently walkable community, according to urbanist Chris Leinberger. Credit: Donita Pendered

“It showed you – on streets, in parks, on sidewalks – enjoying places,” Leinberger said of the videos as he shifted back to his prepared remarks. “After studying you for 30 years, you are fundamentally changing how you invest inthe environment, how you invest in yourselves.”

Lineberger hit the highlights of his recent report on the growing number of walkable communities in metro Atlanta, “The WalkUP Wake-Up Call: Atlanta.” The title refers to walkable urban places, or walkUPs. Leinberger quipped that this acronym was chosen because an alternative, “WUPs,” sounded too much like “whoops,” and that wasn’t the message of the report.

The homework Leinberger assigned calls for local leaders to continue the work that promotes walkable communities:

  • Learn from sister cities; invest in the right infrastructure; promote the interaction of people with their places.
  • Divide transportation funding 50/50 between transit and highway, with the majority of highway funding earmarked for maintenance.
  • Expand MARTA. (The audience applauded enthusiastically).
  • Leon Eplan

    Leon Eplan

    Develop the BeltLine.

  • Manage the established and emerging walkUPs.
  • Employ a three-way split of federal, local and private funding, with the private sector paying for rail, transit and bike improvements – as was the case in Atlanta when the developer of Inman Park paid for a transit line to connect it with downtown Atlanta and maintained it with profits from the development.

Leinberger paid homage to Leon Eplan, Atlanta’s long-retired planning commissioner.

Twenty years ago, Leinberger said, he told Eplan to, “get real,” when Eplan said metro Atlanta was destined to become more walkable. Leinberger gestured to Eplan, seated at a table.

The audience responded with a spontaneous round of applause.

The Perimeter CIDs have added seven miles of sidewalks to establish a walkable community. Credit: Donita Pendered

The Perimeter CIDs have added seven miles of sidewalks to establish a community urbanist Chris Leinberger reports is the region’s largest WalkUP, or urban walkable place. Credit: Donita Pendered

The Perimeter CIDs initiated the diverging diamond interchange to improve vehicular mobility at the intersection of I-285 and Ashford Dunwoody Road. Credit: Donita Pendered

The Perimeter CIDs initiated the diverging diamond interchange to improve vehicular mobility at the intersection of I-285 and Ashford Dunwoody Road. Credit: Donita Pendered

 

David Pendered, Managing Editor, is an Atlanta journalist with more than 30 years experience reporting on the region’s urban affairs, from Atlanta City Hall to the state Capitol. Since 2008, he has written for print and digital publications, and advised on media and governmental affairs. Previously, he spent more than 26 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and won awards for his coverage of schools and urban development. David graduated from North Carolina State University and was a Western Knight Center Fellow. David was born in Pennsylvania, grew up in North Carolina and is married to a fifth-generation Atlantan.

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