By Maria Saporta
Call it the maturing of our mayor.
Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, in his last two years in office, seems positioned to make a constructive impact on our city.
During a conversation on Dec. 16, Reed acknowledged that he had developed a much greater appreciation to preservation and sustainability during his years in office.
I asked him about what was happening with city-owned Gaines Hall, the former dorm that used to be part of Morris Brown that suffered a major fire earlier this year.
And I also asked him about the Bell Building, which is owned by Georgia State University. Preservationists and architects have been trying to save the downtown building, which GSU President Mark Becker had previously wanted to be demolished and turned into a surface parking lot.
“We are trying to figure out how to pay to preserve them,” Mayor Reed said of both buildings, adding that they both had been identified as historically-significant and worth saving.
Was the mayor becoming a preservationist?
“I’m trying to be much more sensitive about the city’s preservation efforts,” Reed said.
Because the mayor had not always been on the side of preservationists (think Crum & Forster on Georgia Tech’s campus), I asked him what had changed. Had Tim Keane, the city’s relatively new commissioner of planning and community development – and a preservationist who came from Charleston, S.C., influenced the mayor?
Not exactly, the mayor said.
For the past several years, whenever he has had the opportunity to go to the world’s greatest cities, Reed said he walks around to gain a better appreciation of what makes them special. He said he realized that a common denominator was that those cities respected their history.
In fact, when Reed was looking for a new planning commissioner, he wanted someone who shared a similar appreciation of cities – and that’s why he selected Keane to join his cabinet.
Interestingly enough, Reed first strong stand for preservation goes back to the Trio building, one of the contributing historic structures in the King historic district. The city had awarded a demolition permit to the Atlanta Housing Authority, but preservationists mounted an 11th-hour campaign to save the building. Reed joined the chorus – working with his friend – AHA Chairman Dan Halpern to explore opportunities to reuse the building.
The Trio building was saved a half year before Keane joined the Reed administration.
Reed also has become more to attune to environmental concerns during the years he’s been in office.
I remember one of Reed’s first moves in office was switching the mayoral security cars from the Ford Taurus to two GMC Yukon Denalis – not exactly the most environmentally-friendly vehicle on the road. The mega-sized SUVs did not necessarily fit the image of a mayor who wanted to make Atlanta one of the most sustainable cities in the country.
But that was nearly six years ago. Reed has since become a champion for the environment. The mayor recently hired Stephanie Stuckey Benfield as his director of sustainability, another recent example of how he made some of his strongest appointments during his second term.
Reed has been a key driver behind the Better Buildings Challenge. And most importantly, Reed joined a group of mayors who went to Paris to support the passage of the new multilateral climate change agreement.
Some may question why Mayor Reed would go to Paris – one of the world’s most beautiful cities with historic and artistic jewels on every block – to advocate for a more environmentally-sustainable future.
But it was good for Atlanta and the world for Reed to go to Paris – a city that is oriented towards pedestrians, cyclists and transit. – all essential moves to reduce carbon emissions.
As Mayor Reed has matured in office, he has come to recognize that the world’s cities are the best agents of societal change.
In fact, being mayor of a leading global city is one of the most powerful positions one can hold today. More of the world’s population is gravitating to urban areas, and cities now are becoming the most entrepreneurial governments we have.
As my regular readers know, I occasionally have been critical of Mayor Reed in the past.
And that’s why it’s even more important for me to commend him when I think he’s on the right track as it relates to preservation, the environment and transit.
The future of Atlanta depends on it.