Dear Mayor Reed: Former city planning chiefs share ideas

By Maria Saporta

Three of Atlanta most important former planning commissioners had a message for newly-elected Mayor Kasim Reed — good planning should be an integral part of his administration.

The three former commissioners were invited to the “Dear Mayor Reed” program by the Georgia Tech Student Planning Association Thursday night at White Provisions on Howell Mill and 14th streets in one of the most striking meeting spaces in Atlanta.

As the moderator of the discussion, I wasn’t able to take diligent notes of what was said. Fortunately, my colleague Thomas Wheatley, a reporter with Creative Loafing, was there, and I look forward to reading his report.

But there were several memorable messages from the evening.

As Mayor Reed struggles with underfunded pensions, budget deficits, public safety concerns and countless other city headaches, he should also take a forward-looking view of Atlanta. What makes a city work?

Leon Eplan, who did two terms as planning commissioner — (1974 to 1978 and 1990 to 1996) under the late Atlanta Mayor Maynard Jackson — spoke of how policies enacted 30 or 40 years ago led to the resurgence of the city.

When Jackson passed a new city charter in his first tenure as mayor, it shifted the city’s power in a couple of ways. Atlanta went from having a weak mayor/strong council form of government to a strong mayor government. It also gave neighborhoods a much greater voice in planning and land-use decisions through the Neighborhood Planning Unit system.

Mike Dobbins served as planning commissioner from 1996 to 2002 mostly under former Mayor Bill Campbell.

Dobbins provided a three-paged single-spaced synopsis of how Mayor Reed should approach planning in an effort to reduce poverty and racism and how he can help “lift city policy to shape development to meet community needs and aspirations” and not just aim to please developers.

And then there was Steve Cover, who served as commissioner from 2006 to 2008 under former Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin.

He offered Mayor Reed six tangible recommendations: develop the multimodal station downtown, focus on the Fort McPherson redevelopment opportunity, build the Center for Civil and Human Rights, implement the Connect Atlanta transportation plan, rewrite the city’s zoning code. and outsource part of the department’s operations, such as the Bureau of Buildings.

Dobbins took exception to the privatization recommendation, which was just one example of how the three planners agreed and disagreed with each other — offering a lively exchange of ideas of how Atlanta should prepare itself to welcome growth in the future.

But they all agreed that the mayor should gain a greater appreciation for the role planning can play in encouraging healthy and sustainable economic development, which will contribute to the city’s tax base.

Dobbins suggested that Mayor Reed spend time in Charleston, S.C. with Mayor Joe Riley to better understand the role of good planning in building great cities.

Getting three Atlanta planning experts in a room and getting them to share ideas and discuss different approaches to the city’s thorny problems was a stimulating way to spend an evening.

And had Mayor Reed been present, he would have walked away dreaming of Atlanta’s possibilities rather than being weighted down by all of our city’s problems.

Maybe next time.

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.

4 replies
  1. Rankin Fyle says:

    Atlanta must preserve and expand its urban forest-its greatest natural asset. A department of the environment
    should be at the top of the mayor’s list of to do’s.Report

  2. Ed Dibble says:

    Credentials: Member, Atlanta Planning Advisory Board-chairman envionrment cmte. Fulton Cty Comm on the Environment, Member NPU-B, Leader-Phipps Neighborhood Watch/Civic Assoc., member Buckhead TSAD, consultant Atlanta Water Bureau.

    Recommendations in past; streamline City Hall…more than 7,000 employees for approx. 965,000 population vs. Cobb’s 2,300 staff for more than 2,000,000 population.

    First plan, then develop project budgets, not the other way around.

    Open up dead-ended streets in Buckhead to improve emergency response, and improve traffic flow. Override NIMBYs.

    Actually find someone for planning commissioner that can, and will, plan. At the same time, find someone to enforce zoning regs., (i.e. buildable area boundaries), and who draws land use zoning to match reality…and not play kissy face with developers.

    Make use of the intelligence and knowledge of former Councilmember Myrtle Davis, who was too honest and intelligent to be Mayor in days past.

    This is only a short list, with other recommendations that could be added from 30 years past experience in Atlanta.Report

  3. Speed Racer says:

    A planning department can’t cure ills such as racism and poverty. The government’s job is to decrease obstacles that get in the way of the private sector (in this case, developers) and the market will respond to the demand of the consumers (residents of Atlanta). Supply and demand: May seem like a cliche but it works when it is allowed to work.Report

  4. Sadie Dennard says:

    I commend the Georgia Tech Student Planning Association for hosting this conversation among three former planning commissioners. Are copies of their remarks and recommendations available from the student association?Report


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