Column: New survey says that public opinion of downtown Atlanta is rising

By Maria Saporta
Friday, November 25, 2011

The perception of downtown is rising, according to a new survey commissioned by Central Atlanta Progress and the Atlanta Downtown Improvement District.

The perception of public safety has shown strong improvement with 69 percent of the respondents saying that downtown was either “very safe” or “somewhat safe.” In 2002, only 61 percent felt that way; and in 1996, that number was only 55 percent.

The Schapiro Group, an Atlanta-based firm, conducted a telephone survey of more than 400 residents living in Cobb, Clayton, DeKalb, Gwinnett and Fulton counties. About three-quarters of those interviewed lived outside of Interstate 285, and most of them had visited downtown more than twice a month.

“There has been a general uptick in the perception of downtown as a place were there’s something for every one,” said A.J. Robinson, president of Central Atlanta Progress (CAP). “Obviously, we have the attractions, the sports teams, Centennial Olympic Park and Underground. These are assets that are not in other parts of the metro area. They help raise the people’s fondness for the downtown area.”

Beth Schapiro, president of the Schapiro Group, said there had been a “clear improvement” in the perception of what downtown has to offer — from sporting events, attractions and dining.

“All those measures are on the upswing,” Schapiro said. “People are coming downtown because there’s more to do.”

The survey also measured whether people would consider moving downtown. That percentage — 26 percent — is roughly the same as it was when the last survey was taken in 2002. Of those who would consider moving downtown, the majority were young, unmarried and already living inside the Perimeter. The downtown population has been getting younger.

Robinson said CAP commissions the survey on a regular basis so it can monitor perceptions and attitudes in the Atlanta region toward downtown.

“We do these surveys as a way to judge not only how we are doing, but how the general community is doing,” Robinson said. “We believe we can always do better.”

The areas where respondents gave negative responses about downtown were over parking and traffic.

“There’s a consistent challenge that has shown up since we have been doing these surveys,” Schapiro said. “Metro-area residents perceive traffic and parking as a detriment to coming downtown. It’s the hassle factor.”

Also, many of the respondents probably come when there is a special event — such as an Atlanta Falcons game — when there is more traffic and a demand for parking. Still, it could be more perception than reality.

“Parking continues to be a mystery to us because we have more than 100,000 parking spaces downtown,” Robinson said. “That’s just a big-city issue.”

Teacher training

The Georgia Council on Economic Education is having an impact on the quality of education in our state’s classrooms.

A new research report recently released by GCEE shows that students whose teachers have taken GCEE workshops do better on the state-mandated economics End of Course Test (EOCT).

The study was led by John Swinton, director of the Center for Economic Education at Georgia College & State University. The university researchers analyzed nearly 180,000 test scores in economics by the Georgia Department of Education over the past three years.

The research was funded by the U.S. Department of Education with matching support from Georgia contributors.

“Anecdotally, we knew that our workshops were effective,” said David Martin, executive director of GCEE. “But we wanted to quantify that scientifically. Thanks to this research, we now have confirmation that high school economics students in the classes of teachers who attend GCEE workshops score significantly higher on [the economics test].”

The economics test was introduced in 2004, and there was a passing rate of only 44 percent the first year — the lowest of the eight subjects tested.

GCEE developed a two-day training workshop for high school economics teachers, and the passing rates began to rise steadily each year. In the fall of 2010, 73 percent of the students passed the economics portion.

“We now have solid evidence that our teacher training makes a difference to teachers and to students,” Martin said. “Thanks to funding from individuals, business and foundations, we are able to provide workshops and classroom materials to teachers at no financial cost to them or the school system.”

Steve Selig honored

Business leader Steve Selig received the 2011 Lifetime of Achievement Award from the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta at a community event on Nov. 21.

The Greater Atlanta Community Event at the Cobb Energy Centre returned after a 10-year hiatus and featured Seth Meyers, the head writer of NBC’s “Saturday Night Live” and anchor of “Weekend Update.”

Selig, chairman and president of Selig Enterprises Inc. as well as chairman of its subsidiary AAA Parking, has served in numerous roles with a number of Jewish organizations. Selig is a past president of the Temple, the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta and the American Jewish Committee. He also is on the board of the Anti-Defamation League of Atlanta.

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.

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