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Building community bit by bit along the Atlanta Beltline

By Guest Columnist ANGEL LUIS POVENTUD, a renegade community activist and believer in Atlanta.

Community. I’ve always had it. I was born in 1971 in a Miami neighborhood where my aunts, uncles, cousins and grandparents all lived just three blocks apart, and my elementary school was just down the street. My parents are Puerto Rican who grew up in New York City.

My mom worked as an executive secretary, and my dad worked as a printer for Eastern Airlines, so we were able to travel the world until about the time I turned 15.

After I graduated from high school, I tried going to college for architecture and toyed with the idea of becoming a city planner. But then I left school to go

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Shaking down the “shakedown” comments by U.S. Rep. Tom Price

By Guest Columnist MICHAEL DAILEY, a business litigation attorney who is active with several environmental organizations in Georgia.

Lost in the uproar which followed Rep. Joe Barton’s now-famous apology to British Petroleum CEO Tony Hayward, for what Barton alleged was a White House “shakedown” of his company leading to the establishment of a $20 Billion escrow fund, was the original Republican scriptwriter for Barton’s ire – Representative Tom Price M.D. of Georgia.

Only hours before Barton unleashed his surprising outpouring of sympathy for the company responsible for delivering America’s foremost environmental disaster, Rep. Price, speaking as Chairman of the Republican Study Committee, issued a statement

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Creating crosswalks that protect pedestrians

Crosswalks. Some would rather watch paint dry than talk about crosswalks.

But well-designed crosswalks can make all the difference in the world when it comes to developing a city that welcomes pedestrians.

Atlanta’s crosswalks — or lack there of — is one of my pet peeves. There’s probably no better barometer about how pedestrian-friendly a city is than the way it designs and maintains its crosswalks.

Friends of mine roll their eyes when I start talking about the beauty of painted piano keys that safely outline the space reserved for those walking from one side of the street to the other.

Those wide white-painted stripes command respect for pedestrians and clearly communicate to cars their boundaries.

To reinforce the message, some cities change the pavement

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Before he retires, CAP executive Paul Kelman talks about the future of downtown Atlanta

More people living downtown is key to creating a vibrant center city for the Atlanta region.

That is the view of Paul Kelman, executive vice president of Central Atlanta Progress, who recently announced his retirement effective July 16 after 22 years with the downtown business organization.

Kelman is the longest-serving employee in CAP’s 70-year history — providing continuity for the organization through at least seven different presidents, and even filling in as interim president during one of its transition periods.

He is the one member of CAP’s staff who dates back to the tenure of legendary president Dan Sweat — who led the organization during the pivotal 1970s and 1980s — when Atlanta’s political power shifted from white leadership to black

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Creating greenways to manage storm water is key to water quality

By Guest Columnist JACKIE ECHOLS, an environmentalist and citizen acitivist.

Second a two-part series on the state of the City of Atlanta’s water and sewer plans.

The Atlanta Department of Watershed Management (DWM) needs to give top priority to demonstrating that the combined sewer overflow (CSO) tunnels and treatment investments already in place will bring Atlanta into compliance by the current 2014 deadline. No time extension should be granted.

However, a time extension to rebuild sewer infrastructure in the combined sewer areas is appropriate. These areas are served by the CSO tunnel and treatment systems. Because water quality

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Atlanta’s Beltline seeking delicate balance between smart design and quicker progress

By Maria Saporta

The magic number on Saturday was 2.5.

Jim and Sarah Kennedy donated $2.5 million to the Atlanta Beltline.

Kaiser-Permanente also donated $2.5 million to the Atlanta Beltline.

And their combined $5 million gift will build 2.5 miles of a multi-purpose trail stretching from Monroe Drive at Piedmont Park to DeKalb Avenue.

On Saturday, there was a celebration to announce both gifts and the latest development plans for the Beltline — a 22-mile corridor that will lasso intown Atlanta.

The long term vision for the Beltline calls for green space with miles of bicycle and pedestrian trails, a transit line and new

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Water quality in question as city spends $3.4 billion on water and sewer fixes by 2014

By Guest Columnist JACKIE ECHOLS, an environmentalist and citizen acitivist.

First in a two-part series on the state of the City of Atlanta’s water and sewer plans.

With another 12.5 percent water and sewer rate increase due in July 2010, the question that should be at the forefront of the minds of City of Atlanta residents is: Are we getting what we’re paying for?

Almost 13 years into two federal consent decrees, the City of Atlanta has asked the court for an additional 15 years, until 2029, to complete wastewater fixes that are supposed to finally bring it into compliance with the 1972 Clean Water Act.

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Atlanta leaders hope streetcar proposal will win in second round of U.S. TIGER grants

Maybe the second time will be the charm.

The City of Atlanta hopes the federal government will give its streetcar plan a green light during the second round of TIGER (Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery) grants.

City leaders are presenting their revised streetcar proposal to the Atlanta City Council this week and need the full council’s approval before July 16 when pre-applications are to be submitted to the U.S. Department of Transportation.

Atlanta and Georgia did not fare well during the first round of TIGER grants — when $1.5 billion were distributed to transportation projects across the nation. In the first round, the federal government was offering 100 percent of the funding.

This round is not quite as generous. Only $600 million will be

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Tapping the potential of high school students

By Guest Columnist CHARISSE M. WILLIAMS, director of Posse Atlanta — the local arm of the Posse Foundation, a national non-profit that recruits young leaders in urban public high schools and helps them enroll and excel in college.

As we look ahead to the upcoming college season, there are many high school students in metro Atlanta and throughout the country without any post-secondary education plans.

The earning potential of these young people is bleak. A person without a college degree is more than twice as likely to be unemployed as someone with a college degree.

For minorities, the outlook is even more dramatic. At a

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Opportunity exists to create a regional transit system; new leaders at the helm

A transit evolution is underway in metro Atlanta.

But what form it will take is still a mystery.

What key regional leaders do know is that the status quo is no longer acceptable.

The incremental progress for transit is literally running on parallel tracks.

On one track is the state legislature and the state government. After several years of inaction, the state legislature passed a transportation bill that will permit regions to vote on a penny sales tax two years from now.

The bill was flawed, however, because it singled out MARTA — stipulating that none of those sales tax revenues could go to existing MARTA operations. The bill also mandated a new governance structure for the MARTA board and established a

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City needs parking policy that promotes people-friendly streets

By Guest Columnist MIKE DOBBINS: a Georgia Tech professor of architecture and planning who also served as the city of Atlanta’s commissioner of planning, development and neighborhood conservation from 1996 to 2002. Dobbins also is author of a new book: ‘Urban Design and People.

Parking is about a lot more than storing cars and generating revenue.

Parking, and in the current situation on-street parking, is about access and walkability, retail, restaurant and residential viability, and altogether the character – the attractiveness and functionality – of the more intense parts of town.

Various studies have confirmed the common sense that cars parked at on-street parking spaces provide a

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Who are the good guys and who are the bad guys; and from where should we buy our gas?

What’s a socially- and environmentally-conscious consumer supposed to do?

I haven’t bought gas at an Exxon station since 1989 following the disastrous oil spill of the Exxon Valdez oil tanker hit a reef in Prince William Sound on March 24, 1989.

It was a matter of principle. Exxon’s response to the oil spill was slow, defensive and insensitive. All these years, I have not wanted to spend my money on a company like Exxon.

On the other hand, I truly believed BP was worthy of my money.

I really got to see what BP was made of back in 2000 when I was working on a column about our upcoming smog season.

At the time, the state of Georgia had passed requirements for

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Atlanta’s pension problems can be solved through defined contribution plan

By Guest Columnist JOHN MATTHEWS, a commercial real estate investor and an MBA graduate of Goizueta Business School

Atlanta’s public employee pension system is a structurally flawed retirement program that does not serve taxpayers, does not serve city workers and puts our city at risk of financial insolvency.

Significant changes will have to be made to the pension plan in order to prevent the city from entering either permanent economic decline or outright failure. If the city wants to put itself and its employees on a permanent path to long-term fiscal security, our city

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The King Center’s eternal flame is burning brightly again thanks to Atlanta Gas Light

Something was wrong.

Walking along Auburn Avenue during the Sweet Auburn Festival, we stopped by the crypts of Martin Luther King Jr. and Coretta Scott King — one of the most sacred spots in Atlanta.

We sat next to the eternal flame and realized that the coals were cold and the eternal flame had been extinguished.

How could that be? Wasn’t an eternal flame supposed to burn forever?

Underneath the flame, there was a plaque saying that the eternal flame had recently been refurbished by the Atlanta Gas Light Co., the keeper of our city’s Shining Light Awards.

So sitting there, I sent an email to John Somerhalder, CEO of

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Four keys to how HB 277 can mean a better transit system for metro Atlanta

By Guest Columnist RAY CHRISTMAN, executive director of the Livable Communities Coalition

After a three year debate, the Georgia General Assembly passed last month HB 277, The Transportation Investment Act of 2010, which provides the opportunity for the Atlanta region (and other regions of the state) to pass a one percent sales tax dedicated to transportation improvements.

The bill’s passage generated much celebration among transportation advocates of all stripes who had worked for years on this goal. And it induced a good bit of teeth gnashing as well, particularly by those who felt the legislation unnecessarily penalized MARTA.

But with the bill passed and the rules and processes in place for moving forward, it is now time to turn

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New urbanists descending on Atlanta this week, sharing their insights on healthy cities

If Atlanta feels a bit more flush with lofy ideas this week, credit the Congress for the New Urbanism.

The 18th annual meeting of the Congress for the New Urbanism (CNU18) will bring more than 1,000 architects, planners and related professionals to Atlanta from Wednesday through Saturday.

The theme of CNU18 is “New Urbanism: Rx for Healthy Places.”

Two of Atlanta’s bright lights — Georgia Tech professor Ellen Dunham-Jones and architect Laura Heery Prozes — have been the local organizers of CNU18. They have explored every avenue to find ways for the Atlanta region to benefit from this influx of urban leaders.

They are partnering with a host of local organizations — from Central Atlanta Progress, the City of Atlanta, the Atlanta

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Atlantans to take to the streets for first “ciclovia” on May 23

By Guest Columnist REBECCA SERNA, executive director of the Atlanta Bicycle Coalition and key organizer of Atlanta Streets Alive!

Streets take up almost one-third of the average U.S. city and represent the majority of our public space.

Yet the streets in car-dominated cities like Atlanta are not entirely public, at least not yet. Owning a car is widely viewed as a requirement for life in Atlanta. Those of us who choose to use bicycles to get around are often made to feel marginalized, as if our time and safety are less valuable than those who have made other choices.

Far from being a space only for cars, our streets — paid for with property taxes and public dollars — could be

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Transportation bill gives transit and MARTA the short shrift, improvements needed in 2011

It’s just not good enough.

There’s a lot of self-congratulatory back patting going on in this town. After years of failed attempts, the Georgia legislature finally passed a bill that will allow 12 different regions in the state to pass a one-penny sales tax for their transportation needs.

But this bill is flawed. And patting ourselves on the back is premature at best.

The flaw? The bill falls short in helping the Atlanta region pay for its transit needs — arguably the greatest need that we have.

Then there’s the maliciousness of this bill against MARTA — the largest transit agency in the state and the one that is the backbone for all the other transit systems in the region.

What a disappointment House Speaker Pro Tem Jan Jones (R-Alpharetta) has turned out to be.

Thanks to her insistence, MARTA got screwed — plain and

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Metro Atlanta’s university campuses need a physical link

By Guest Columnist MICHAEL GERBER, president of the Atlanta Regional Council for Higher Education.

During the recent LINK trip of regional leaders to Phoenix, Arizona State University professor Grady Gammage, referring to Atlanta-area colleges and universities, observed “You have got us beat on every turn. We talk a good game… But we would kill for the quality of institutions that you have.”

Accolades aside, the good professor probably gave Atlanta leaders something to think about. Just what does our region have in higher education? And are we using it to our full advantage?

What we have here is nothing short of phenomenal. Few metro areas enjoy such a concentrated and diverse

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Universities – linked by transit – can play a vital role in reinvigorating our cities

Not so long ago, Arizona State University had a mediocre reputation mainly known as being a top party school.

And then in 2003, Dr. Michael Crowe was tapped to become ASU’s president, and all of that changed.

Today there are a total of nearly 70,000 students on ASU’s four campuses in the Tempe and Phoenix urban area, and Crowe has garnered a national reputation as a transformative leader.

But to the Atlanta delegation that was visiting Phoenix as part of the annual LINK trip put on by the Atlanta Regional Commission, the most important contribution that has occurred under Crowe’s leadership is the relationship between the university and the metro area, particularly downtown Phoenix.

The result is the New American University — a bold declaration designed to make a national splash, according to Grady Gammage, an attorney and an ASU faculty member at the