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Mark Pendergrast asks: Is Atlanta on the verge of greatness or mediocrity

BeltLine trail

The future southern extension of the Eastside BeltLine Trail at Irwin Street (Photo by Maria Saporta)

By Maria Saporta

In the eyes of Mark Pendergrast, Atlanta is a “City on the Verge.”

Pendergrast, an Atlanta native and author, has just penned an elaborate and exhaustive tale about the Atlanta BeltLine in his most recent book – “City on the Verge.”

Mark Pendergrast

Mark Pendergrast before his talk at the offices of the Atlanta BeltLine Partnership (Photo by Maria Saporta)

Throughout the book, Pendergrast sandwiches in slices of Atlanta’s history – providing a non-judgmental view of the city’s racial tensions and successes as well as its obsession with transportation and its own identity – nationally and internationally.

To hear more of Pendergrast’s observations about Atlanta, I attended two of his speaking engagements last week (one at the Carter Library and the other at the offices of the Atlanta BeltLine Partnership) to see how his views meshed with mine.

Pendergrast opens up the introduction of his book with this sentence: “Atlanta is on the brink of either tremendous rebirth or inexorable decline.”

In the last chapter, titled “The Future of Atlanta,” Pendergrast elaborates on his thesis:

“Atlanta is on the verge of becoming a great place to live and work, with sufficient density, multiuse trails, and public transit. Especially through the BeltLine project, it is in the process of remaking itself, connecting disparate neighborhoods while encouraging development and a booming economy. If it can happen in Atlanta, it can happen anywhere, and the BeltLine could provide a model for the rest of the country.

“But Atlanta may also be on the verge of falling once more into over-hyped mediocrity, if city leaders continue to grasp at grand-sounding ad hoc plans that do little to change the city’s fundamental inequities and inefficiencies.”

The book comes out at a pivotal time in Atlanta’s history – in the midst of a wide-open mayoral campaign that undoubtedly will determine which path we’ll take to develop our city. Park Pride’s Michael Halicki personally bought nine copies of Pendergrast’s book to give to the leading mayoral candidates.

City on the Verge

Book cover of “City on the Verge” by Mark Pendergrast (2017)

During his talks, Pendergrast challenged Atlanta in several specific areas.

One of the most intriguing were his repeated pleas to take down the fences around the Atlanta Water Works and to not seal off the public from the Bellwood Quarry when it is turned into a manmade lake that will provide a 30-day water supply for Atlanta in the event of a severe draught.

“I’m pretty sure they’re going to put a fence around this beautiful lake,” Pendergrast said. “For goodness sake, let people use this lake. Let people fish on it and swim in it.”

Like many of us who grew up in Atlanta, Pendergrast remembers when the Atlanta Water Works was open to the public. We all remember having picnics next to one of the lakes or the jogging and walking trails around the other reservoir. It literally is one of the most beautiful places to view the city’s skyline – at dawn or dusk – that is if people were allowed to enjoy the city-owned property.

Pendergrast was equally passionate about the inequities that have divided the city and the looming fear that the development of the BeltLine as well as the city’s intown renaissance will force out the poor and the working class – further exacerbating the city’s economic disparities.

In his eyes, affordable housing is not providing rents at 60 percent or 80 percent of our AMI (area median income). Affordable housing is what a family can afford to pay – usually 30 percent of its income. And that’s the gap that needs to be filled with a multiple of tools to make sure we include everyone in Atlanta’s “rebirth.”

BeltLine trail

The future southern extension of the Eastside BeltLine Trail at Irwin Street (Photo by Maria Saporta)

In the book and during his talks, Pendergrast acknowledged being conflicted about the real tensions that exist over the priorities of the BeltLine.

Should it be a corridor primarily for multi-purpose trails and parks – an Emerald Necklace? Should it the priority be to have transit within the right-of-way?

I must admit I share his ambivalence about the corridor’s priorities. Pendergrast takes a trails first, point of view, but has come to the conclusion that at least parts of it should be served with transit.

In reality, the BeltLine is so many different things to so many different constituencies. It’s hard to accommodate everyone’s interest in the narrow corridor. In my mind, yes, there should be parallel trails – either two one-way trails or having a passive trail for walkers and an active one for cyclists and runners.

It’s amazing there haven’t been more serious injuries on the existing Eastside Trail given how many people use it.

Mark Pendergrast

A crowd gathers at the office of the Atlanta BeltLine Partnership to hear Mark Pendergrast (Photo by Kelly Jordan)

And yes, eventually, there should be transit. But I would suggest that we need to look at ways to widen the corridor wherever feasible to be able to handle parallel trails and transit.

Where I found myself disagreeing with Pendergrast was his dismissal of the Atlanta Streetcar as a disaster, and suggesting that we should solve Atlanta’s traffic problems with bus-only rapid transit lines on our streets.

The Atlanta Streetcar has had its fair share of challenges – and there are a host of reasons why – most having nothing to do with the mode of transportation.

If we really want to create a walkable, thriving city, a streetcar is so much superior to a bus. The permanence of rail does contribute to the kind of transit-oriented development that welcomes density with walkability. Even along the existing streetcar route, we are seeing pedestrian-oriented developments emerge.

While streetcars are more expensive upfront, they are cheaper to operate. And because they are powered with electricity, they are more environmentally-friendly.

Mark Pendergast

An overflow crowd attends the Carter Center book discussion with Mark Pendergast (Photo by Maria Saporta)

There certainly is discussion to be had as to whether streetcars should have their own right-of-way or whether they should share the roadways with cars.

But all of these are issues and questions that we as a community must hash out as we evolve from a city on the verge to a city that has arrived.

In short, “City of the Verge” is an excellent jumping off point for us to explore how we want to Atlanta and other cities in the United States to grow. And the story of the BeltLine is an excellent case study that reminds us that rebuilding cities is hard work.

“The reason I went into such detail of all the challenges the BeltLine faced is to help other cities,” Pendergrast said. “You wouldn’t believe all the things that happened that almost derailed the BeltLine, and there are more challenges ahead.”

In conclusion, Pendergrast is hopeful Atlanta will choose the right path, saying: “Things are moving in the right direction in this city.”

As I see it, cities are always on the verge. Decisions are made every day that will shape our physical and spiritual future. It is up to us to make sure we are making the right decisions to get us to where we want to go.

Howell Mill Reservoir

The Howell Mill Reservoir – also known as the Atlanta Water Works – could be a new park for Atlanta if fences were removed (Photo by Kelly Jordan)

Mark Pendergast and Bill Nigut

Mark Pendergast and interviewer Bill Nigut at the Carter Library for the talk on the “City on the Verge.” (Photo by Maria Saporta)

Maria Saporta

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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  1. Carl Holt May 29, 2017 9:38 pm

    Protecting the water supply of over 1.3M people is more important than allowing people to swim. The BeltLine was envisioned as a transportation corridor, we should be reserving space for transit. People will figure out how to use multiple modals of transportation in the corridor.Report

  2. Jeff Joslin May 29, 2017 10:20 pm

    How about both transit and trail? A monorail around the Atlanta Beltline might be a great solution.Report

  3. Dee May 29, 2017 10:25 pm

    I’m not sure that avoiding “inequities and inefficiencies” is the key to greatness. More like nice to haves.

    The City of Atlanta has neighborhoods where poverty rates exceed 40%. City’s overall rate is 25%. National rate is 15%. The City has more than its fair share of low income people; what it really needs is more middle to high income people, which is what is happening.

    The City will be great when it’s population doubles, its poverty rate is closer to the national average, and all of its neighborhoods have a mix of races, ethnicities and income levels. Beltline is the major engine for making that happen.

    We will never have the density to support a fixed-rail intracity transit network. That is obvious to anyone who has studied it. Trails and greenspace should be the priority.Report

  4. daniel valdes (@danielvaldesATL) May 30, 2017 9:43 am

    in order for the Atlanta Streetcar to really be successful, it will need to have it’s own right of way and out of the vagaries of traffic. Having it stop at Hilliard and Edgewood at the same time, every time it’s expected, the way MARTA trains do is essential to it’s success as a mode of reliable public transit. That vision should be carefully explored before any added routes are installed and diverting car traffic around it’s route will dramatically increase it’s punctuality and reliability as a way to get to your appointment or event./Report

    1. CH June 2, 2017 9:56 am

      A “streetcar” by definition shares public right-of-way with other vehicles – you’re thinking of light rail, but even that mode crosses and so must sometimes yield to other traffic…Report

  5. BC May 30, 2017 12:48 pm

    Bus rapid transit can’t serve the Beltline corridor the same way that streetcars or light rail can. Rails can be laid in a greenway, buses require a full lane of asphalt.

    Widening trails isn’t as important as establishing transit. Not everyone can walk or run or ride bicycles. And the pedestrian traffic on the trail will likely change when the transit exists.Report

    1. Sally Flocks May 31, 2017 9:46 am

      With rare exceptions, everybody walks, especially if you include people who use wheelchairs or other assistive devices. It’s unlikely the # of people who use transit on the BeltLine will come close to the number who walk — or even to the number who ride bicycles. Having some form of transit on the BeltLine is essential, especially during bad weather or to serve people with disabilities or who need to get to the airport. But be aware that routes requiring transfers to a separate line discourage ridership. And few people will choose transit if they have to transfer twice.Report

      1. Maria Saporta May 31, 2017 12:13 pm

        Sally, you and I have always agreed that sidewalks and pedestrian amenities serve everybody – not just those who can afford to have their own set of wheels – and even they have to walk to get to their cars. I’ve always loved the concept of the 8×80 Cities – creating cities that work for 8 year olds and 80 year olds – and yes, few in those age groups drive. And yes, making transit accessible to as many people as possible will help us create a city for 8 year olds, 80 year olds and everyone in between. Walk on sister. MariaReport

  6. Mark Pendergrast May 31, 2017 8:15 am

    I am grateful to Maria Saporta for coming to hear me speak twice about CITY ON THE VERGE last week, and for writing this thoughtful commentary. I waited until people had a chance to comment before I responded to the article and these comments. So here goes. First, let me say that I hope people will actually READ THE BOOK before drawing conclusions about it. I also urge you to click on http://www.cityontheverge.com and explore the website, which includes clips of the interviews I conducted under “Audio” as well as guest blogs. Once anyone has read the book, I am open to a 500-word guest blog written from your own experience and expertise, in reaction to anything in the book. (Maria, I would certainly be honored if you would write one.)

    Getting down to specific issues – I’m glad Maria and I agree on the need to take down the fences around the Atlanta Water Works on Howell Mill Road and not to put up fences around the filled quarry in the forthcoming Westside Park (other than to prevent people from falling off the high cliffs). Reader Carl Holt commented: “Protecting the water supply of over 1.3M people is more important than allowing people to swim.” But this is not a matter of either-or. This gem of a lake will be an emergency untreated water supply, and there is no need to “protect” it. If you read my book, you will see that city planner Alexander Garvin always envisioned that it would also be used for recreational purposes such as kayaking and swimming.

    Maria and I also agree about the urgent need for a comprehensive program for affordable housing that is truly affordable, allowing people to live in decent homes or apartments and spend no more than 30% of their income on it. There are many possible mechanisms to accomplish this, including an Atlanta inclusionary zoning ordinance with a sliding income scale. Right now, there are laudable but piecemeal efforts. This is an urgent issue, because the rising rental rates and home prices around the BeltLine are already pushing residents out.

    Thus I completely disagree with Dee, who wrote: “I’m not sure that avoiding inequities and inefficiencies’ is the key to greatness. More like nice to haves.” She then went on to point out how serious the poverty and inequities in Atlanta are. She thinks that we only need to encourage more middle income and affluent citizens. Tell that to the residents of the south and west side of Atlanta who are struggling to survive. This is not only a humanitarian, ethical issue, but one of practicality. Atlanta didn’t experienced severe race riots during the civil rights era, but if these glaring inequities are not addressed, riots may yet occur. You want a city that is fair to ALL citizens. And this is not just an issue facing Atlanta. Read Richard Florida’s book, THE NEW URBAN CRISIS, which lays out the issue worldwide in alarming detail.

    Maria and I apparently disagree about streetcars versus buses, though I suspect we may be closer than it appears. The current Atlanta Streetcar is a disaster because it runs in traffic, as Daniel Valdes observes in his comment. The way to get people out of their cars is to provide them a faster (and hopefully cheaper) way to get where they need to go. I am recommending that the BeltLine put streetcars on the Eastside Trail as soon as possible. Otherwise, the eastern BeltLine is simply going to attract more and more cars and gridlock. Connect it to the current streetcar, and ban traffic from Auburn Ave. and Edgewood, for starters.

    In terms of what to do in the rest of the city, it is important to get buses or streetcars, whichever you choose, OUT OF TRAFFIC. Give them dedicated lanes. I suggest starting with buses because they are far easier and cheaper for starters. You don’t have to rip up the roads, etc. If you decide to do streetcars later, fine, but then you will at least have the dedicated transit lanes available for them. This is urgent. Atlanta’s population may TRIPLE in 30 years. Think about that!Report

    1. Maria Saporta May 31, 2017 12:24 pm

      I am honored to have you comment on SaportaReport. We are both hoping to enliven the conversation about the important issues facing our community – you through your book and Facebook page – and me through the SaportaReport platform where writers and readers are encouraged to contribute to the discussion in a civil and respectful way.
      One point I did not make about transit is the following.
      There is good congestion and bad congestion. Bad congestion is being stuck on an interstate or arterial and not being able to enjoy the environment around you.
      Good congestion is having a community that is so alive with people who want to experience it rather than drive or ride through it. Too often, traffic conversations focus on getting as many people through an area in the shortest amount of time. I want a city that is not made up of thoroughfares. I want a city that is full of destinations that can be enjoyed by walking, hopping on a streetcar, experiencing our lush green environment and being a place where we can see each other’s smiles.
      Thank you Mark for sparking these conversations. A bientot.Report

  7. Burroughston Broch May 31, 2017 12:37 pm

    The author is focused on the City of Atlanta only, not the region.
    The City had a chance to become great when Ivan Allen, Jr. was mayor during 1962-1970. Since then the City has been mediocre at best because of weak leadership, racial politics and the greed of insiders.
    The City will never be more than mediocre unless the voters turn out entrenched politicians and their cohorts.Report

    1. Mark Pendergrast June 1, 2017 4:48 pm

      I did focus on the city of Atlanta itself, but not solely. Have you read the book yet? Look at Chapter 14, “Outside and Inside the BeltLine.” I think you will find plenty of grist for your mill in much of what I wrote, however…..Report

      1. Burroughston Broch June 1, 2017 5:26 pm

        I will read it when I can.

  8. mike dobbins June 1, 2017 3:29 pm

    Regrettably, Pendergrast’s book perpetuates exactly what he is trying to challenge – Atlanta’s penchant for moving from one “great” project to the next, uninformed about their realities and never addressing the city’s biggest challenge yet greatest opportunity – to close the wealth divide and become a city for ALL its citizens. BeltLine transit began as a “solution” in search of a problem. Atlanta’s transit problem was and is getting people from where they live to where they work and need to go, whose destinations are heavily concentrated in the Downtown-Midtown core and in Buckhead. To spend a few billion dollars to go around instead of to these destinations, the transit loop rationale, out of ignorance of these realities, has been fatally flawed over these last 12 years of transit futility. Instead, the BeltLine has spent billions of dollars, multiples of what has been required, to develop the worthy trail system in order to structure in a streetcar future, most of it in mostly well off, mostly white neighborhoods. Looking into the future, these flaws only magnify travel technologies and travel behaviors that are already changing how and where we move about, where all bets are off moving forward. This is the time when we should be studying all modes and patterns for shaping a transit future that begins with feasibly meeting peoples’ now and future transit needs, not just proclaiming the streetcar and displacement development scenarios as “The Solution.”

    The BeltLine’s failures to abide by the Community Benefits Agreement that citizen activists persuaded the Council to incorporate into the 1995 Tax Allocation District enabling legislation, along with not making good on its commitment to improve local infrastructure and falling way short of its 5600 “affordable” housing units commitment further underscores another of its fatal flaws: People forget that the BeltLine’s primary funding device depends utterly on pumping up property values, thus taxes and the tax increments that are its financial base. So no wonder that the BeltLine displaces people and their neighborhoods wherever it goes, countered only by beautifully crafted PR eyewash.

    The BeltLine has become an alternate city within the City, founded on alternate “facts,” with a well paid staff of 35 or so, a seemingly unstoppable juggernaut dedicated to its own perpetuation, striking fear into any who might want to redirect its resources into more people-serving programs. It will eventually become apparent that the BeltLine is the grandest example yet of the very challenge that Pendergrast fears: “But Atlanta may also be on the verge of falling once again into over-hyped mediocrity, if city leaders continue to grasp at grand-sounding ad hoc plans that do little to change the city’s fundamental inequities..” Indeed, the BeltLine is exacerbating these inequities, but I guess in the Atlanta Way, bigger trumps better.Report

    1. Mark Pendergrast June 1, 2017 4:52 pm

      First, let me say that I have great respect for Mike Dobbins, former Atlanta planning commissioner and current Georgia Tech professor in the School of City and Regional Planning. He was generous with his time, expertise, background papers, and opinions as I researched CITY ON THE VERGE. He emailed me after the book came out to object to my calling him a “gadfly” about whether streetcars should go on the BeltLine or not, and I will in future printings of the book change that word – which I certainly did not intend in a pejorative sense – to “critic.”

      But I am, frankly, surprised and hurt by his criticism here, which I think is quite unfair. He wrote that my book “never addresses the city’s biggest challenge yet greatest opportunity – to close the wealth divide and become a city for ALL its citizens.” Not true! The second sentence in the book begins: :The perfect storm center for failed American urban policies, Atlanta has the highest income inequality in the country….”

      In fact, I emphasized the issue of income inequality and affordability throughout the book, in virtually every chapter. There is an entire chapter on homeless issues, and another chapter on public health and inequity. Below are a few selected excerpts as illustration. I do not think the BeltLine is a cure-all, and unless drastic action is taken very, very soon, its development will drive out the very people it was designed to help, because they will not be able to afford to live nearby.

      As for the issue of streetcars on the BeltLine, I suggested that a streetcar be put on the Eastside Trail for starters, to connect to the current Atlanta Streetcar, because the density is clearly there to support it, and if that doesn’t happen, the BeltLine will simply become a magnet for more and more cars and traffic jams. But I suggested bus rapid transit in the rest of the city. I urge readers to actually READ THE BOOK and come to their own conclusions.

      Here are the selected excerpts:

      Prologue: Part of the BeltLine mandate is to provide thousands of affordable housing units, but already lower-income residents are being forced out of this neighborhood. In a city with vast economic inequities, it is an issue that will challenge Atlanta in years to come.

      Chapter 4: There are really two Atlantas, black and white, and despite native son Martin Luther King Jr and Atlanta’s central place in the civil rights movement, the racial divide remains an often unspoken aspect of every other issue facing the city, including transportation, housing, food, education, religion, health, and the environment. Today, African Americans live primarily in the southern and western parts of the city and whites to the north and east. The BeltLine will connect them all and promises, at long last, to promote mixed-race neighborhoods and equal enjoyment of the trail, transit, and parks, if sufficient affordable housing and jobs accompany the project.
      Yet for a city, historical roots continue to influence current behavior and decisions, just as for an individual, childhood experiences remain crucial to adult attitudes. Not all that long ago – about a century and a half – most African Americans living in Atlanta were slaves, the property of white owners who could sell or mistreat them at will.

      Chapter 6: Poor naked wretches, whereso’er you are,
      That bide the pelting of this pitiless storm,
      How shall your houseless heads and unfed sides,
      Your looped and windowed raggedness, defend you
      From seasons such as these? Oh, I have ta’en
      Too little care of this!
      –William Shakespeare, King Lear

      As part of my quest to understand my native city, I found my visits in homeless encampments and shelters to be both profoundly disturbing and inspiring, because of the tragedy of the stories I heard and the resilience of the human spirit I encountered. It would take a book in itself to deal adequately with this topic in Atlanta, which is among the worst American cities in terms of the wealth gap between haves and have-nots, but it certainly deserves a chapter.

      Chapter 7: True, 15 percent of the TAD funds — $8.8 million from the first bonds — were set aside to support affordable housing, but even with an extra stipend, most developers were loath to commit the hot new units to such purposes. And unless they were forced to do so by mandatory inclusionary zoning or other such legislation, it was unlikely they ever would.
      Such assistance reached only a small number of people, however, who were middle income rather than poor, and the housing was not guaranteed to remain affordable forever.

      Chapter 8: Atlanta still has startling health disparities. Not surprisingly, the wealthier, whiter north and east sides have better health outcomes in virtually every category, while the poorer, blacker south and west sides suffer from more environmental pollution, inadequate nutrition, and shorter life expectancies.

      Chapter 12: A few months later, that family was evicted. Poventud posted on Facebook: “This boy, his mom and his 10 siblings’ stuff was all out in the front yard getting rained on. Such mixed emotions. Those kids, I’ve worked with most of them the last three years around the house, with their bikes, and on the BeltLine cleaning up, paying them with my time, water, soda, and some extra money here and there. The house was a problem for the street, no question, but those kids. Uprooted once again.” Such disturbing evictions were likely to continue as the Westside Trail was completed, unless more progress on affordable housing occurred.

      Chapter 15: Mandatory inclusionary zoning, which forces developers to include a certain percentage of affordable housing in any new project, is no silver bullet, but it would provide a fundamental foundation for assuring that every development offers decent homes or apartments to low and middle income city residents. In his 2016 State of the City address, Kasim Reed, not hitherto noted for paying much attention to the poor, surprised his audience by citing the need for affordable housing. “I’m committed to an inclusionary zoning effort,” he said. “It might be controversial for a city like Atlanta – but it’s the right thing to do.”• City council member Andre Dickens agreed, noting that luxury rental units comprised 95% of those built in Atlanta from 2012 to 2014, with many more in the pipeline. It was essential, he wrote, to require new residential developments “to dedicate affordable units for our workforce — I want our teachers, police, nurses and office admins to have the choice to live in the communities they serve.”
      But it isn’t just middle-class employees who need help. I emailed Dickens: “I hope that you will have a sliding scale of affordability that includes people who are really poverty-stricken, such as many of the people who live in Atlanta’s most devastated neighborhoods on the south and west side.” He answered that it was “extremely tough to incentivize developers” to include truly impoverished residents. But it seems to me that demanding true affordability for all would create a level playing field for developers. They might scream and yell, but they would be forced to obey the law and could continue to profit by charging higher prices and rental rates for luxury homes and apartments. Otherwise, well-meaning affordability efforts such as those of the BeltLine organizations, Invest Atlanta, the Atlanta Housing Authority, and the Federal Home Loan Bank will make only a dent in the problem.

      [FOOTNOTE: A more effective approach would require a federal policy change to provide housing vouchers for every family below the poverty line. Currently, only a limited number of such “Section 8” vouchers are issued. The family would pay 30 percent of its income towards housing, with the voucher covering the rest.]Report

      1. Burroughston Broch June 1, 2017 5:32 pm

        @ Mike Dobbins
        If closing the inequality divide between wealthy and poor defines a great city, then is New York City (particularly Manhattan) a great city? By this definition I say no, since only the very rich and the very poor can afford to live in the city. All the rest commute.
        The same can be asked of San Jose, CA where an 800SF, 2BR, 1BA apartment in the worst ‘hood costs $3,500 a month.Report

        1. gt7348b June 2, 2017 2:32 pm

          As a middle class resident in New York City recently moved from Atlanta, this statement is completely incorrect. My co-workers and friends are all middle class and live in all five boroughs. Yes, it is more expensive than Atlanta, but people of all income levels live within NYC itself. Prices in the Financial District in Manhattan are not that different than prices in the new apartments in Midtown Atlanta (i.e. Yoo, Alta on the Park, Skyhouse, etc).Report

          1. Burroughston Broch June 2, 2017 4:22 pm

            And how much affordable housing is there in Manhattan (excluding the rent-controlled) racket, particularly in the Financial District, in your experience? I worked at Times Square with 200 other folks and no one lived in Manhattan, five lived in Queens, six in Brooklyn, none in the Bronx, and the rest commuted from NJ and LI.Report

  9. CH June 2, 2017 10:07 am

    The connection between public transit and attempts to solve perceived “income inequities” seems like strained social engineering to most reasonable people – how about we just focus on creating wonderful public places while providing efficient transportation options that get the most people to those places, and let the economics work for themselves?Report

  10. Burroughston Broch June 2, 2017 10:50 am

    @ CH
    You are so correct. 100 years ago the City had one of the best public transport systems in the country, but the economic inequalities were the same as today.Report

  11. mike dobbins June 2, 2017 2:16 pm

    I don’t doubt Pendergrast’s sincerity in raising Atlanta’s growing inequity and wealth disparity as a serious problem. I’m glad that my comment prompted him to highlight those parts of the book that address that question. But his juxtaposition between that problem and his embrace of the BeltLine as somehow representing a “solution” is a mistake, obscuring the fact that the BeltLine is in fact making the problem worse. I admire his research and reporting, but the BeltLine bamboozle is not the answer to the inequity problem.Report

  12. Vincent W. Holt Jr. June 2, 2017 8:42 pm

    George Sparks reservoir is or at least was used as a water supply for East Point. The Chattahoochee supplies Atlanta– i’d say it is hardly a clean river. Water in the reservoir still requires treatment and should therefore be an open park.Report

    1. Burroughston Broch June 3, 2017 12:13 am

      The water supply for East Point City is Sweetwater Creek in Douglas County; water withdrawn from the creek is pumped to the Ben Hill reservoir.Report

      1. Greg Hodges June 3, 2017 12:46 am

        Correct. The water is then pumped from the reservoir on Campbellton Road to East Point’s treatment/purification complex on Headland Drive. From there it is distributed throughout the city.Report

  13. Someone June 5, 2017 9:23 am

    I was born here, raised here, moved away, and am back for certain reasons. Here’s what I know about Atlanta. It’s not a great city. I’m doubt it ever has been. This, today, is as good as it’s ever been. However, with so much of the country falling apart, and opportunity drying up in so many places, Atlanta has become a city many from the rust belt, CA, MI, and NYC flock toward to create a new life and find their American dreams. Many of those folks can recall what a great city looks like. They see the current gaps and want to make the town whole. Very few people from South can. The South has never liked cities. It still doesn’t and Atlanta shows the scars of this 150 year debate and neglect.

    Telling yourself you’re great won’t make it so. Saying you’re a tech corridor won’t make it so. Atlanta has always said things but couldn’t always make what it had to say reality. Now, mainly because of the country falling apart, Atlanta still has a chance to do something more than words

    I wouldn’t dream of living in Atlanta city. It’s sky high crime, failing schools, poor civic support and traffic make it such that I’m better off living in LA where I can have all of those “features” plus the beach and better weather. No, the draw here is cheap housing and jobs and that’s about it.Report

  14. Burroughston Broch June 5, 2017 1:22 pm

    @ Someone
    From Franklin Garrett’s “Atlanta and Environs”:
    A civic booster from Savannah once said of Atlanta City civic boosters, “If Atlanta could suck as well as it blows, it would be a seaport.”Report

    1. Someone June 6, 2017 10:22 am

      I know a few people looking to move to the South now. Nashville and Charlotte will offer a better quality of life for them. I was amazed at how much density and rebuilding is going on in this town. People may wish South Atl was better but you should see the real busted places in this once (not now) great country. Most of those places are white. The forces behind what we see with the beltline include the metropolitiazation of the world. That force is powering 1.8 million dollar new homes @ avalon next to 100k homes of long time residents.

      Density will mean priced out residents under that force, and that my beloved boiled peanut shack is destroyed replaced by a live-work-play mega structure.Report

  15. TheOtherDonald June 8, 2017 5:13 pm

    This similar Great/Mediocrity analysis was played out during the time leading up to the 1996 Centennial Olympic Games – over 20 years ago now. Could Atlanta become the next known City rising up out of the ashes and becoming that next great “International City” it was destined to become, comparing it to Barcelona, LA and other great Olympic venue cities. Especially after given the amount of new money infused into our economy, with new facilities construction, HQ relo’s, a housing boom and the Olympic Family coming to town, it was sure to happen! Then the Games were held and was a great experience for the Olympic visitors. The Circus came and went and Atlanta was left with a few Post Games icon development incubators (Centennial Olympic Park and enhancements from Streets Atlanta across the downtown area) among other institution’s facilities upgrades – Civic Cente, Fulton County / Ted Stadium and benefits at GA Tech, AU Center, and others. Transit upgrades however appeared to be few and far between during this time, resulting in a lost opportunity.

    What was missing then was the political foresight and visionary leadership to bring us along, keeping the development / city marketing and growth momentum going. Recall it was Mayor Campbell who ended up selling out to the local vendors in a last ditch effort to make a place “for all the people” to be included during the Games. Street vendors showed up in all the streets of downtown to claim their vendor/kiosk stake and economic opportunity. This part of the Olympic experience was where Atlanta apparently had failed in the eyes of many, and the Games officials could do nothing but bite their tongues and look the other way of the rule violations over the proper “Marketing of the Games”. The city’s momentum was lost, the visitors left and not much of an International blip on the radar had occurred since.

    There is a similar occurrence with the Light Rail / Beltline, whereby the city political arena has raised its arrogance again, put down the lay of the land on where the first Light Rail has run (the trolley circle to nowhere), where it will connect in the future with the Beltline of benefit, and how best to develop along its right of way to make the most of it by activating it for ALL our city to benefit by. There continues to be a great divide in Atlanta – our vision, politics, economics, and other opportunity. As long as it continues to continue on in the manner it has these past 20 years, the verge of mediocrity is a foregone conclusion. It’ll take great visionaries within the City’s leadership role to make this a Great City and to pull off the Beltline Vision making it the great incubator for development for all of the City of Atlanta, or continue historically on a new circle to nowhere.Report

  16. Frank Whittle June 21, 2017 8:04 pm

    Mildly interesting provincial capital. That’s the future. A bigger version of Austin, and just as egocentrically arrogant.Report


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