With the passage of time, it is easy to forget the economic insecurity and fear that followed Sept. 11, 2001. The appalling human tragedy of that awful moment in our nation’s history dwarfs the financial market shock of Sept. 15, 2008.
But one cannot avoid a sense that we have been here before. I am confident that we will rise to the occasion once again.
The dreadful déjà vu for me is a repeat of the economic conditions we faced just as a milestone project for our city was gaining momentum. We are proud that Atlantic Station is invoked so frequently today as the sort of project that others wish to emulate.
But the spring of 2002 was not, at first blush, a promising time to be tackling the most ambitious brownfield redevelopment to date in Atlanta.
Similarly, as this spring arrives, it is a daunting time to be attempting the most ambitious mixed-use redevelopment to date south of downtown – Aerotropolis on the site of the former Ford plant in Hapeville.
But the most remarkable and significant parallels between then and now are not the challenges we confront but, rather, the opportunities at hand.
While economic, political and social cycles come and go, significant long-term trends persist:
• Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport has driven our city’s economic development for more than a half century;
• our success in attracting human resources to Atlanta has inversely impacted our natural resources and adversely affected our quality of life; and
• the region’s ability to continue to thrive on inexpensive energy requires a combination of innovation and conservation.
Economic development, talent, natural resources and energy.
How do we balance them all to the benefit of the crucial urban core of our region?
The aims we pursued at Atlantic Station, and others have since pursued elsewhere around the city, are more relevant than ever.
Let’s reclaim former industrial sites to create environmentally and economically sustainable places that attract people to live, work, pray and play in proximity to a mix of transportation options.
We re-developed Atlantic Steel into Atlantic Station on 138 acres at the intersection of interstates 75 and 85, and created it transit-ready, with a shuttle to MARTA to the east and prepared for the BeltLine to the west.
We’re developing Aerotropolis on 130 acres at the juncture of Interstate 75, the Airport’s new international terminal, the Southern Crescent Transit Center, and future transit such as the Griffin line.
Why is it important to shift our focus south of downtown to the airport?
Because just as seaports drove development in the 18th Century, railroads drove development in the 19th Century, and cars drove development in the 20th Century, it is airports that will drive the most important, progressive development of the 21st Century.
We’ve been transforming brown fields. We now need to see them as brown ports – places with potential, like traditional seaports, to receive all forms of transportation and to transfer all sorts of cargo, from tangible goods to intellectual capital.
As Richard Florida recently described in an Atlantic magazine article, “The places that thrive today are those with the highest velocity of ideas, the highest density of talented and creative people, the highest rate of metabolism…. The economy is driven by key urban areas ….”
Atlanta will rise to the occasion.