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Atlanta’s LINK delegation to head to Seattle this week to study the Washington city’s successes

It was back in 1998 when a group of about 70 metro Atlanta leaders traveled to Seattle on what was then the second annual LINK trip.

At the time, Atlantans were particularly impressed by the vitality of Seattle’s downtown. But they were equally critical of Seattle’s urban growth boundary — an effort to concentrate urban development while protecting the rural  character of the outlying areas.

“They have gone too far, and we haven’t gone far enough,” said Sam Williams, president of the Metro Atlanta Chamber, during the 1998 trip.

Now 13 years later, LINK (which stands for Leadership, Involvement, Networking, Knowledge) is returning to Seattle. It will be an opportunity for about 100 Atlantans — including Williams — to see how Seattle has evolved, to reflect on how the Atlanta region has developed and to compare the two leading U.S. cities.

The areas of emphasis of the 2011 LINK trip will be significantly different than what the delegation studied in 1998.

One of the major areas of focus will be exploring the “Seattle Process” — how Seattle and the Puget Sound region is able to make decisions and build community consensus.

Atlanta leaders also will be exploring Seattle’s “Prosperity Partnership” — a coalition of more than 300 government, business, labor and community organizations dedicated to developing and implementing a common economic strategy.

Under the economic development banner, metro Atlanta leaders will pay special attention to Seattle’s role as a world center for global health (a claim Atlanta also can make) and on how the Puget Sound has fueled an innovative economy. Atlanta leaders will learn about the area’s Technology Alliance.

The issues that were high on the agenda in 1998 — transportation, development patterns and downtown revitalization — will only play minor roles during the 2011 trip.

The LINK trip is scheduled to last from May 4 to May 7. It is jam-packed with a host of sessions that range from the State of Washington’s education policies, the area’s international perspective and the governance of the region’s transit operations.

That discussion will be particularly relevant this year because the Atlanta region is in the middle of an exercise with the state government to figure out how best to govern the multitude of transit agencies in metro Atlanta.

“One of the things we want to do is see what makes Seattle, Seattle,” said Tad Leithead, chairman of the Atlanta Regional Commission, which organizes the LINK trips. “Every trip is different. We always come across something unexpected.”

Leithead said he personally is looking forward to learning more about the Seattle’s decision-making process.

“It’s going to be fascinating to understand the Seattle Process,” Leithead said. “Any regional issue (they are facing), they will submit it through the process.”

When speaking about regional transit governance, Leithead said that “was the lynchpin to passage” of the proposed regional one-cent transportation sales tax that will go before voters in August, 2012.

Seeing how Seattle has governed its transit operations “relates directly to us,” he added.

While metro Atlanta leaders profit from studying how other cities are addressing many of the same regional problems as us, the LINK trips are particularly beneficial because it brings 100 people from throughout the Atlanta region to discuss issues and build stronger relationships with each other.

Among the people slated to go on this LINK trip includes: Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, recently-elected Gwinnett County Chair Charlotte Nash, Georgia Department of Transportation Commissioner Vance Smith, MARTA General Manager Beverly Scott, recently appointed state economic development commissioner Chris Cummiskey among dozens of other leaders in business, local and state governments as well as leaders in Atlanta’s non-profit and civic communities.

This will be the 15th LINK trip and the second one that is returning to a city where the group has already visited.  The group’s first trip was to Denver, and it returned to the Colorado in 2008.

The chronological line-up of LINK trips is as follows:

Denver – 1997

Seattle – 1998

Dallas – 1999

Cleveland – 2000

San Diego – 2001

Chicago – 2002

San Francisco – 2003

Boston – 2004

Portland – 2005

Miami – 2006

Vancouver – 2007

Denver – 2008

Minneapolis-St. Paul – 2009

Phoenix – 2010

Seattle – 2011

Note to readers: I will be filing daily updates during the LINK trip on SaportaReport. Upon my return, I also will put together a wrap up package of the trip that will run in the Atlanta Business Chronicle.

Maria Saporta

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.



  1. Rob Turner May 6, 2011 2:40 pm

    Maria – I enjoyed reading your blog today about the LINK delegation’s trip to Seattle. I lived in Seattle for 4 years during the late 1990s while in law school and really enjoyed my time out there and learning about how the city approached (and, to me, effectively addressed) community issues. Hopefully LINK will return to Atlanta with some fresh perspectives that can help it address matters in Atlanta – including a better appreciation for Seattle’s well-developed greenway system and build momentum for additional greenways and parks in Atlanta. I hope the rest of your trip is productive and safe returns to Atlanta.Report

  2. GDOTFAIL May 29, 2011 8:00 pm

    Atlanta and Georgia won’t get anywhere with transit when GDOT under funds, under staffs, and doesn’t put focus a on Intermodal Programs. Just last week GDOT announced the resignation of its Intermodal Division Director, and they put in a temporary replacement person who only has experience in aviation programs.

    The best way to move transit forward in Atlanta and Georgia is to get the Intermodal Division out from GDOT, and just make it a separate state department. If it stays within the Georgia Department of Trans…(Highways), then this state will never get serious about moving anyone around in anything but a car.Report

  3. Burroughston Broch May 29, 2011 8:06 pm

    Let’s all be honest and recognize LINK for what it is – a junket for government/chamber types. There are no expectations other than a free ride and holiday, and no deliverables to compensate for the cost. This is the 15th LINK trip and, like the previous 14, no progress will result. The 16th next year will be more of the same.Report

  4. GDOTFAIL says:
    May 29, 2011 at 8:00 pm
    If you actually think that GDOT is serious about moving people in cars then you REALLY are giving them the benefit of the doubt. GDOT handles transit and intermodal the same way they handle roads and everything else these days, INCOMPETENTLY! The tape of Vance Smith running at the sight of the Channel 2 cameras during the January winter storm debacle and the fact that the troubled agency remains a political hot potato with State Senator Jeff Mullis of Chickamauga now trying to take over as GDOT Commissioner says all that we need to know about the intellectual capabilities of that “organization”. Transit advocates shouldn’t take it personal because GDOT seemingly can’t plan and build rail lines and bike routes because guess what, GDOT can’t plan and build roads either at this point, much less tie their shoes or count to ten. Do you really think that an agency that finds $430 million worth of unpaid invoices from years and years before stuffed in a desk or an agency whose “leader” runs away from cameras during a weather emergency is capable of thoughtful planning, construction and management of a complex transportation system?Report


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