Making three New Year’s wishes for Atlanta over the next four years
By Saba Long
The city of Atlanta has the capacity to have a catalytic four years ahead. My back of the napkin wish list for the New Year includes three wishes.
They are for city leaders and developers to have a greater focus on repurposing vacant industrial space; to rethink affordable housing and transportation; and to turn Atlanta into a city that sparks the creative curiousity of the Generation Y population — giving us a reason to stay and make this our home.
Let me elaborate on each wish.
1. A greater focus on repurposing vacant industrial space
Like West Midtown’s Goat Farm Arts Center, there are hundreds of acres of boarded up industrial facilities in the city, particularly in the west and southern areas, waiting for repurposing and renewal.
In the late 1800s and early 1900s, the Goat Farm complex served as an award winning cotton gin factory, going on to manufacture ammunition during World War II. Forty years ago, it became an artist haven, much like today, eventually shutting its doors.
Now, the complex functions as an underground visual and performing arts center – even serving as a backdrop for Hollywood feature films including “The Hunger Games.”
Over the holiday break, I purchased a pair of Paige jeans. Separate from the great fit, what I noticed most was the brand’s proud display of its manufacturing label advertising its corporate hub — Los Angeles. “Made in L.A.” is stamped not only on the purchasing tags, but also on the inside of the jeans.
“Made in” campaigns are taking place across the country encouraging local companies to manufacture locally, including in Chicago, Houston, San Francisco and Detroit. Even Goldman Sachs has acknowledged this long-overdue national trend by launching its 10,000 small businesses incubator.
Similarly, state and municipal economic development agencies should consider incentivizing local small businesses to manufacture locally in the same public manner that we celebrate the big wins of Pulte Homes. An intown example could be the Kickstarter-funded Old Fourth Ward Distillery – the first non-beer distillery in Atlanta.
2. Rethinking affordable housing and transportation
The Atlantic Cities notes, “only one in four households eligible for a rental subsidy is able to get one.”
Again, this is not unique to Atlanta. Cities across the country are recalibrating their affordability formula, including an oft-ignored factor – transportation.
Thoughtful consideration should be given to creating tiered affordability incentive packages that factors in age, income, occupation and familial obligations. Dense transit-oriented developments (TODs) may use prefab buildings or build smaller units according to affordability, in a similar vein as those in San Francisco, New York and other notoriously expensive cities.
Atlanta and the region know all too well the cost of sitting in traffic. During the transportation referendum campaign, we labeled it a “congestion tax.” It is inequitable; even more so than a sales tax increase. We cannot expect to succeed in providing affordable housing if we do not simultaneously address comprehensive public transit access.
The transportation debate is too often crippled by arguments of left versus right or poor versus rich. It has become the region’s proverbial split baby.
3. Make me want to stay
And not just me, but the thousands of Generation Y Atlantans that look to the city to provide more than just a place to reside. For us, the city is home and playground, a place that sparks our intellectual curiosity and creates a sense of civic pride.
Too often, I hear of friends leaving for other cities – Washington, D.C., New York, Chicago or Houston. The two most cited reasons for their departure are the need for a more diverse surrounding and the job market. The last point in particular is not industry specific. These are under 35, highly educated, highly motivated citizens.
To be sure, Atlanta is a transplant city, and people are moving here everyday. However, we cannot ignore that nearly half of a graduating class of Georgia Tech engineers leaves the city for opportunities in other cities, including internationally.
Give these residents the opportunity to have a sense of ownership in the well being of the city that extends far beyond paying taxes or participating in the occasional cleanup. Bring organizations such as Leadership Atlanta into college and high school hallways, and connect students with the city’s doers.
We all know it is much harder to leave a place where you have sweat equity in it to make it better. Shouldn’t that apply to a city as well?