Atlanta LINK group heads to Phoenix to learn about water, education and transportation

If it’s 2010, it must be Phoenix.

About 110 leaders from throughout the Atlanta region will leave Wednesday morning to spend three days in Phoenix as part of the annual LINK trip.

This is the 14th annual LINK (Leadership, Involvement, Networking, Knowledge) trip where regional leaders visit a city to learn about how that metro area is handling its challenges.

In Phoenix, the major topics the group will explore will be water, higher education, immigration and transportation.

LINK is organized by the Atlanta Regional Commission, and the decision to go to Phoenix was made shortly after U.S. District Judge Paul Magnuson ruled last July that the Atlanta region has no legal right to rely on Lake Lanier for most of its water supply.

The judge gave the Atlanta region three years to come up with a way to resolve the issue, possibly by reaching an agreement with Alabama and Florida on the distribution of water from Lake Lanier.

Arizona, which is in a much drier section of the country, has had to live with a limited water supply for decades. The Phoenix region has experienced significant growth, with its population increasing by 45.3 percent from 1990 to 2000 and 31.7 percent from 2000 to 2008, making it the 12th largest metro area in the country.

In 1980, Arizona passed the Groundwater Management Act that requires developers to very that they have secured physical legal and continuous access to a 100-year supply of water.

Higher education also is a centerpiece for the development of Phoenix. Arizona State University is expected to grow from 50,000 undergraduate students today to as many as 90,000 in 15 years.

The university also is building its profile as a research institution and working to become a leader in biotechnology. The ASU’s Biodesign Institute recently was named as the finest new laboratory in the United States by R&D magazine.

In the past week, Arizona has been in the new for passing some of the toughest new immigration legislation in the nation. Although Georgia’s immigration issues are far less pronounced than those in Arizona, the LINK delegation will explore the disparate and controversial views that exist in Phoenix.

Lastly, the Phoenix region has been investing in transportation. In 2004, voters in Maricopa County passed Proposition 400, which authorized the continuation of a county-wide, half-cent sales tax for regional transportation improvements. As a result of that tax, Phoenix now has a new light rail system with 28 stations and an initial 20-mile segment.

The Georgia legislature, after years of stalemate and deadlock, just passed legislation that would permit different regions in the state to vote for a one-cent transportation sales tax.

Another area that is relevant to Atlanta is that the Phoenix metro area has nearly a dozen transportation agencies with their individual operating boards, but they have a common marketing platform. The governance of metro Atlanta’s transit agencies currently is under review.

Although the main purpose of the LINK trips is to learn about how other regions address their problems, the three days also gives participants an opportunity to get to know each other and share ideas.

In some cases, people on the LINK trips will hold side meetings to try to find solutions or reach agreements on some of metro Atlanta’s thorniest and most pressing issues.

The delegation includes almost all of the chairs of metro counties as well as other elected and government leaders, including Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed and DeKalb County CEO Burrell Ellis.

Because the state legislature decided to extend the session through April 29, all the representatives and senators that had planned to go on the trip had to cancel.

The LINK group also includes key business leaders, developers, architects, engineers planners, consultants, bankers as well as representatives from utility companies and various chambers of commerce.

And the civic, non-profit sector and the philanthropic sector also is well represented, including the Atlanta Community Food Bank, the Livable Communities Coalition, the Community Foundation, the Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation, the Woodruff Arts Center among others.

The first LINK trip was to Denver in 1997, followed by Seattle: 1998; Dallas: 1999; Cleveland: 2000; San Diego: 2001; Chicago: 2002; San Francisco: 2003; Boston: 2004; Portland: 2005; Miami: 2006; Vancouver: 2007; Denver: 2008; and Minneapolis-St. Paul in 2009.

During the trip to Phoenix, I will be providing regular updates of the different sessions on SaportaReport as well as the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Upon my return, I will write a comprehensive piece that will run in the Atlanta Business Chronicle.

Maria Saporta, Editor, is a longtime Atlanta business, civic and urban affairs journalist with a deep knowledge of our city, our region and state.  Since 2008, she has written a weekly column and news stories for the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Prior to that, she spent 27 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, becoming its business columnist in 1991. Maria received her Master’s degree in urban studies from Georgia State and her Bachelor’s degree in journalism from Boston University. Maria was born in Atlanta to European parents and has two young adult children.

14 replies
  1. Tiger Woods + Jesse James = SuperBAD meets SuperEVIL in "SUPERUGLY!" says:

    “Another area that is relevant to Atlanta is that the Phoenix metro area has nearly a dozen transportation agencies with their individual operating boards, but they have a common marketing platform. The governance of metro Atlanta’s transit agencies currently is under review.”

    You know, Maria, that may not be such a bad idea for mass transit agencies in the Atlanta Region to take from Phoenix. To keep transit agencies separate in operation but to have a COMMON MARKETING PLATFORM.Report

    Reply
  2. Daniel says:

    It’s too bad none of the state legislators are able to attend, I think of all the possible participants they have the most to learn. Hopefully those in attendance can educate them upon their return.Report

    Reply
  3. Tiger Woods + Jesse James = SuperBAD meets SuperEVIL in "SUPERUGLY!" says:

    “It’s too bad none of the state legislators are able to attend, I think of all the possible participants they have the most to learn. Hopefully those in attendance can educate them upon their return.”

    Boy, do they ever have a lot to learn! I never thought that it was possible for any one group of people to go so far on a Preschool-level education…that is, until I witnessed the Georgia General Assembly in action. Who said that one needs an education to succeed in life? (By the looks of things one at least needs a third-grade education to serve in Congress or the White House, though a first-year junior-high education is preferred)
    Anyways, enough about our brilliant legislators in action (or “inaction”).

    “LINK is organized by the Atlanta Regional Commission, and the decision to go to Phoenix was made shortly after U.S. District Judge Paul Magnuson ruled last July that the Atlanta region has no legal right to rely on Lake Lanier for most of its water supply.”

    “The judge gave the Atlanta region three years to come up with a way to resolve the issue, possibly by reaching an agreement with Alabama and Florida on the distribution of water from Lake Lanier.”

    “Arizona, which is in a much drier section of the country, has had to live with a limited water supply for decades. The Phoenix region has experienced significant growth, with its population increasing by 45.3 percent from 1990 to 2000 and 31.7 percent from 2000 to 2008, making it the 12th largest metro area in the country.”

    “In 1980, Arizona passed the Groundwater Management Act that requires developers to very that they have secured physical legal and continuous access to a 100-year supply of water.”

    Now I may not be a rocket scientist, but one would think that if Phoenix can survive and even grow and thrive while having no obvious choice but to conserve water in a DESERT on all of five to seven inches of rainfall annually then one could defintely infer that maybe, just maybe, virtually rainforested-Atlanta could squeeze by on conserving water while receiving more than ten times the amount of rainfall as perennially parched desert-saddled, water-challenged Phoenix. I’m not trying to say that Atlanta is wrong for not trying to be more water-efficient all these years until the Great Drought of 2006-09. I’m just saying that maybe in a region that receives 50-55 inches of rain annually, like, oh, let’s say NORTH GEORGIA, that there might be more than enough water to go around for necessary uses with just a little bit of water conservation.

    In the midst of the recent drought and before the state legislature passed a bill calling for permanent comprehensive water conservation in the shadow of possibly losing virtually all access to water from Lake Lanier, I brought up the suggestion of conserving water for critical uses like sanitation, hygiene, hydration, etc by banning other not-so-critical uses like excessive outdoor watering and washing cars at home in the driveway in North Georgia as they do in many other urbanized regions of the U.S., even the areas with a seeming abundance of water. After suggesting this I was shouted down and called a tree-hugging environmentalist liberal and accused of being a Sally Bethea-type communist advocating the advance of nanny-state tyrannical totalitarian government intrusion into our personal lives.

    Hmmmm, I wonder where those same idiots are now after the passing of comprehensive water conservation by the state legislature and as the court-ordered date when almost all of Metro Atlanta will be cutoff from Lake Lanier of July 2012 grows closer and closer? Why don’t I hear these same idiots screaming about now being forced to permanently conserve water by an overbearing government? Any suggestions?Report

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  4. Yr1215 says:

    It seems to me LINK is one of the most valuable things the Atlanta leadership does every year. A lot of these people are incredibly busy. To have a mechanism to educate them, and for them to learn from other cities successes, is just terrific for the city.

    Of course, converting those lessons into results can be more of a challenge. Hopefully they can learn some of that while in AZ as well.Report

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  5. Tiger Woods + Jesse James = SuperBAD meets SuperEVIL in "SUPERUGLY!" says:

    “Of course, converting those lessons into results can be more of a challenge. Hopefully they can learn some of that while in AZ as well.”

    Comment by Yr1215 — April 27, 2010 @ 6:16 pm

    Yr 1215, hopefully they can learn what NOT to do from Arizona as well as the passage of the new “immigration law” is helping to run away nearly all of the convention and tourism business from a city (Phoenix) and a state (Arizona) that has been hit really hard by the housing bubble and resulting economic downturn and could use every last dime of money generated by that tourism and convention business, that is now running away in droves like their hair is on fire, to climb out from the deep black hole that has been this brutal recession. I guess that is what happens when the “idiot contingent” of the state government takes over!

    I guess that these same idiots in Arizona trying to run away all the tourists and conventioneers with the passage of this terribly-flawed new “immigration law” didn’t quite fully learn the lessons of when the state of Arizona refused to observe Martin Luther King Day in the ’80’s and ’90’s and lost tons of convention and tourism business and more importantly, lost even tons more money. I guess they didn’t remember when the City of Phoenix and the State of Arizona lost the Super Bowl in 1993 when it was moved from Sun Devil Stadium to the Rose Bowl at the last minute because the Arizona Legislature steadfastly refused to observe MLK Day? Okay, now consider the economic carnage that was done during that period of “ignance” (ignorance) and “stupitty” (stupidity) and multiply it times about ten or more and you get the economic carnage that the State of Arizona is facing in 2010 from the new “immigration legislation” as opposed to the MLK Day debacle in circa-1990. Brilliant, just brilliant!Report

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  6. Dose of Reality says:

    How many ideas from previous trips have been successfully implemented in metro Atlanta? I’d like to know what specific results have come from these trips. Metro business and political leaders can keep visiting other parts of the country to see how much more progressive they are, but it will never amount to anythinguntil the state gets on board with implementing good ideas. These trips will continue to be wastes of time, money and resources until someone with power at the state level gets onboard. Only Nixon could go to China.Report

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  7. Yr1215 says:

    I agree it would serve everyone’s interest if more state leaders went. But there is no doubt in my mind, that these trips have served the metro Atlanta leaders well.

    If the state doesn’t have an interest in learning from other states, so be it. (Although I think current and previous governors have a significant interest in learning from their peers.)

    But Atlanta has learned significant lessons in the area of transportation (think of the Beltline as a material result of Atlanta leadership receptive to a good idea), education, city planning, etc.

    It can be incredibly difficult for many leaders to envision the possibilities for Atlanta, but much less so when they get the chance to travel to other cities as a group and see them first hand.Report

    Reply
  8. Dose of Reality says:

    “But Atlanta has learned significant lessons in the area of transportation (think of the Beltline as a material result of Atlanta leadership receptive to a good idea), education, city planning, etc.” -Yr1215

    The Beltline was the concept of a GT graduate student, not from someone from another city. I don’t think Ryan Gravel came up with his idea after going on a LINK trip.

    And to claim the Beltline as an achievement is pretty tenuous. At this point, nothing beyond the land it is to someday occupy physically exists. The transit component – which was the original concept – is still many years away at best, and still very much uncertain whether it will come to fruition at all.

    Atlanta is a relatively progressive center in a state that seems to be tripping over itself to go backwards. Until the metro area can muster the resources to proceed without support of (or interference from) the state, I don’t see much tangible benefit out of this program. I would contend that instead of visiting another city for a week, these same leaders should go into a bunker and strategize how to move forward all the good ideas that already exist.Report

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  9. Yr1215 says:

    DoR – no kidding. You didn’t listen. Of course R.G. came up with the idea. It would have gone absolutely nowhere without a receptive city leadership.

    I agree that the Beltline’s existence is tenuous. But the transportation bill’s passing the legislature and Reed’s determined support make it much more likely to happen in some form or fashion. Of course, you also ignore the significant and expensive land acquisition process that has already occurred for as significant portion. A huge first step.

    I also agree that the city needs to find ways to move forward without the state. But your concept that city leaders should never spend time learning from other cities is so close minded as to be just, frankly, dumb.

    This is not a boondoggle. Boondoggles get hidden. The LINK trips are a real benefit to the city and its leadership.Report

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  10. Yr1215 says:

    DoR, also if I have to lead you step by step down the path on the Beltline.

    1. City leaders have traveled to places like Portland, Seattle, Chicago, San Fran, all cities with admirable public transit systems.
    2. Ryan Gravel comes up with the Beltline concept, drawing attention to the abandoned rail lines.
    3. Receptive city leadership understands the appeal and value of light rail due to their trips to other cities as mentioned above.
    4. The city leadership pushes the Beltline and Peachtree streetcar, to varying degrees of success.
    5. MARTA engineering is planning the light rail. For all Ryan’s capabilities, he’s not a transit engineer. Making the Beltline rail transit component happen, if it happens, requires the MARTA team to actually figure all the nuts and bolts out, from what was previously a broad stroke concept.

    So if you think somehow that the Beltline, if it happens, is the magic work of Ryan Gravel only, and not fundamentally the real work of the city leadership, you are sorely misinformed.Report

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  11. FJ says:

    Dose of Reality you make some very good points. The state government is keeping vice-like grip on any authority to plan and implement transportation in the Atlanta area and until that changes I’m not sure that anything CAN change on a regional scale.Report

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  12. Dose of Reality says:

    Yr1215: you’ve outlined the timeline of the Beltline pretty well, but still haven’t shown the connection between its development (a term used loosely in this case), and LINK.

    If, at one time in the past, the eyes of city leaders were pried opened as to what Atlanta could be – as you pose, and if LINK trips helped in this cause, I say great. But now that we have these wonderful visions of light rail and street cars and transit, I think the energy needs to shift away from inspiriation to implementation.

    I’ve never been on a LINK trip, so wouldn’t speak from firsthand experience, but everything I’ve read (including Saporta’s many articles over the years) frames them in more of an exploratory/introductory element, than one of adaptation and problem-solving. If LINK should continue in any way, it ought to consider revisiting some of the initial cities, to see if what was considered a success several years ago has encountered any problems since.Report

    Reply
  13. Yr1215 says:

    DOR – there is very clearly a connection between seeing light rail work in a place like Portland versus peripheral knowledge of it in the abstract without substantive discussions with other city leaders on the results of those investments. Simply stated, the progress on the Beltline is significantly attributable to LINK trips.

    I don’t disagree with your point on revisiting previously visited cities. But it always helps to visit new cities to learn about new ideas.

    These trips (on which I haven’t been either) help build institutional knowledge and awareness of alternatives to the regular way of doing things.Report

    Reply

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