By Maria Saporta
The Civic League for Regional Atlanta managed to get 600 citizens from all over the metro area to spend most of Saturday working on building communities.
It was the Second Annual Neighborhood Summit, which attracted a hundred more folks than last year’s Neighborhood Summit.
After just two summits, it has become one of the signature regional events of the year by capturing the involvement of mostly ordinary citizens dedicated to improving their individual communities.
Atlanta has never quite figured out how to seize all the energy from the ground level to actually effect change in our region.
As it has often been said, metro Atlanta needs to sit on a three-legged stool with the active engagement of business leaders, government officials and ordinary citizens.
But it has been the citizen sector where involvement has been lacking. For more than one decade, the Civic League has been trying to formally organize citizen leaders and harness their dedication into a force for change in our region.
It continues to be a work in progress. The Civic League has had trouble securing a permanent executive director and a steady stream of revenue to support the organization.
And yet, thanks to a host of local organizations and sponsors, the Second Annual Neighborhood Summit showed the potential of having a coordinated citizen movement.
“We are in a political season where we are going to change leadership,” said Bill Bolling, founder and executive director of the Atlanta Community Food Bank, who facilitated one of the general sessions. “Finding our voice is going to be essential to our region. We need to be regional citizens with a voice with collective decision making.”
In addition to the general sessions, the Neighborhood Summit had a host of breakout sessions to have different communities learn from each other for the greater good.
One of the sessions was to get feedback for the Atlanta Regional Commission’s Plan 2040. ARC’s Mike Alexander shared the latest demographic data and population projections for the region.
Georgia will be the fourth fastest-growing state in the nation — after California, Texas and Florida. “We expect our region to grow by another 3 million people by 2040,” Alexander said. About three-quarters of the population growth in Georgia will happen in the 20-county Atlanta region.
Alexander then presented four different scenarios of how the Atlanta region could grow. Two scenarios had the best outcomes for transportation and land-use — concentrated growth (with most of the population increases inside I-285) and Unified Growth Policy Management (where most of the growth occurs around town centers throughout the region).
The worst scenario was sprawl — spreading growth farther and farther away, eating up undisturbed open space, and forcing continued dependence on cars and roads to get around.
These are all critical issues for our region. We need informed citizens to understand the choices that we have; and then we need to be sure they are engaged so their voices will be heard by leaders in business and government.
Only then will we be able to avoid the pitfalls of our past and plan intelligently for our future.
By the way, Civic League Chair Lesley Grady, who is with the Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta; announced that Clair Muller, former Atlanta City Councilwoman and longtime ARC representative, will be the 2011 chair of the organization.