To move forward, Atlanta must find its magic and rediscover the ‘Atlanta Way’

By Maria Saporta

Several years ago, retired Coca-Cola President Don Keough told me that the real secret of Coke was not its formula. The real secret was magic.

The company sold consumers magic and a wonderful array of good feelings. For a few discretionary coins, someone could “Have a Coke and a Smile” or could “Have a Pause that Refreshes.” And there was “Coke Adds Life” and most recently “Open Happiness.”

Over the years, the magic of Atlanta paralleled the magic of Coca-Cola.

Two themes helped define Atlanta’s spirit — “A City too Busy to Hate” and the “Next Great International City.”

Both conveyed aspirational and uplifting messages. Atlanta leaders set a high bar to reach for — a sense that the city was on the move and that better days were coming.

Former Atlanta Mayor Andrew Young, his daughter — Andrea Young and recently retired Georgia State University professor — Harvey Newman are documenting the city’s modern-day history — focusing their work on an oft-repeated sentiment — the Atlanta Way.

“We developed the fairness formula,” said Andrea Young, executive director of the Andrew Young Foundation. “We were creating a progressive Atlanta, first a regional city, then a national city and then an international city.”

Newman, who is working on the history project in his retirement, said he was humbled by being able to continue learning about the magic that made Atlanta special as it came of age.

“The Atlanta Way is about connecting the right people,” Newman said, quoting Rita Samuels, founder of the Georgia Coalition of Black Women. “Connecting the right people was the way we got things done.”

A common refrain today is that Atlanta has lost its way. The city has been weighed down by a sour economy — caught in the crossfire of regional, state and national politics. It is hungry for uplifting leaders who can inspire our sprawling region with a common vision of where we want to go.

So it was with great anticipation a couple of weeks ago to have the unveiling of the latest “Forward Atlanta” strategic plan put together by the Metro Atlanta Chamber and the Boston Consulting Group.

The five-point plan was described as bold and aggressive.

Strategy One: Jump-start short and mid-term job growth.

Strategy Two: Catalyze on new business formation.

Strategy Three: Elevate quality of life and core infrastructure.

Strategy Four: Confidently tell our story.

Strategy Five: Drive strong higher education and business collaboration.

The Metro Chamber is raising at least $30 million to implement the multi-pronged initiatives with countless fine points determined by some of the best consulting minds in town.

And yet after a year of working on the strategic plan, the end result feels sterile — a by-the-book recipe — a cookie-cutter solution — a plan that almost any other city could adopt.

Something was missing — the magic and the soul of Atlanta — attributes that have set us apart for more than 100 years.

Just like Coca-Cola has not sold itself as carbonated, colored sugar water, Atlanta should not sell itself as just another ordinary city looking to boost its economy.

Atlanta is, or at least should be, more than that.

We are a city that can recapture its magic. We can shine a light on the need for civil and human rights around the world. We can make the right connections to solve our problems — both at home and abroad. And we can be a progressive place with a vision of what our future can be.

Yes, we can be bold, really bold — just like we used to be.

And yes, Atlanta can find its way — again — the Atlanta way.

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.

15 replies
  1. DH-ATL says:

    The old notion of the ‘Atlanta Way’– call it magic or mojo or spirit or something else– can ‘it’ exist in the same way in a diverse city approaching 6 million as it did in an eager little town on the make of a million or so– This may be the most pertinent question– The attitude is vital, but the problems are quite different now… We need the ambition, but we also need the wisdom that should come with a few years now of being a big city–Report

    Reply
    • The Last Democrat in Georgia says:

       @DH-ATL
       Exactly…No longer is the City of Atlanta the largest municipality/political entity or only urbanized entity in the region as it was early on with once-suburban and exurban, but now increasingly highly-populated and urbanizing North Fulton, Cobb and Gwinnett counties dominating the political conversation by way of their populations that are much higher and legislative delegations that are much larger and much more powerful than the City of Atlanta.
      The urban core that used to be confined only to the City of Atlanta and some of DeKalb County now stretches across five counties with the developed area stretching across parts of roughly 14 counties.Report

      Reply
      • DH-ATL says:

        @The Last Democrat in Georgia — Well maybe not quite the last. There are still quite a few of us, here and there–
        True Atlanta has become a very diverse region and much of the population lies outside of the city proper– making consensus difficult. I would still argue though that even for this vast region that the city needs to offer leadership and direction– and still plays a central role in the overall destiny of the almost 6 million or so folks that now call Metro Atlanta home.Report

        Reply
        • The Last Democrat in Georgia says:

           @DH-ATL  @The
          “@The Last Democrat in Georgia — Well maybe not quite the last.  There are still quite a few of us, here and there”
          I know that there are still quite a few Democrats left, they just are not represented very well, if barely at all, at the statewide level these days.Report

          Reply
        • The Last Democrat in Georgia says:

           @DH-ATL  @The
          “True Atlanta has become a very diverse region and much of the population lies outside of the city proper– making consensus difficult.  I would still argue though that even for this vast region that the city needs to offer leadership and direction– and still plays a central role in the overall destiny of the almost 6 million or so folks that now call Metro Atlanta home.”
          I agree that the City of Atlanta plays a central role in the overall destiny of the 28-county Greater Atlanta region as, despite the diminished role that the city may play overall politically in relation to the greater region of 6 million people, the city proper is still home to major job centers in the Airport, Downtown, Midtown and Buckhead, the sports franchises, the bulk of the convention industry and the Mayor of Atlanta proper is still one of the most highly-visible political figures in the entire region and state despite only being elected to office by an increasingly small fraction of the region’s growing population. Report

          Reply
  2. Question Man says:

    Isn’t it possible that Atlanta was mostly lucky over the years, and now that we have to work at it, we find that our institutions and leaders are not up to the task?Report

    Reply
  3. Shirley Franklin says:

    Maria
    Amazing things are happening all over Atlanta. I would contend that it’s the messengers who are different not the message or the reality.
       • The Atlanta Housing Authority model is working and serves as a national model for community development and energizing the fight against multi generational, chronic poverty.
        • MARTA worked and now the region wants more transit. Sure it took a long time. 
        • Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport is the world’s busiest and among the most successful airport financial models in the United States. The world’s aviation leaders marvel at its’ success.
        • Colleges and Universities – the original Atlanta eight plus a dozen others including  Emory, Georgia State University, Clayton State are strong and charting a new course in higher education. There are more students of all ages, both genders, many interests, and ethnic and racial diversity than ever before.
        •  Atlanta’s downtown is growing and stronger in investment, attractions and as a metro wide gathering place for recreation, commerce, tourism, sports, etc.
      • The legacy of business centric and public/private partnerships is strong as ever—hence the T-Splost collaboration between business and political leaders
        • The King, Carter, Allen, Margaret Mitchell, Turner and civil rights legacies are renowned the world over. So are the Atlanta Olympic Games and nationally the Beltline is heralded.  And the list is longer than mentioned here.  We shouldn’t ignore or denigrate the history we make.
     
    Who talks about these? Very few and mostly on special occasions like groundbreakings, building dedications or funerals.Our leaders – Maynard, Ivan, Andy, George Busbee and others even the local media like the Atlanta Journal Constitution and television and radio used to tout Atlanta’s specialness in telling the city’s story every day. Today we are more likely to read and hear about what is wrong with Atlanta instead of what makes the city unique and special. Who are the messengers and do they get it? 
     
    Today, we lament the present like people focused only on remembering the past. We talk about how good things used to be instead of celebrating our successes as we strive for a better future. The Atlanta Way is alive and well and Atlanta’s magic reveals itself everyday in many ways. 
     Report

    Reply
    • Karin Koser says:

       @Shirley Franklin Former Mayor Franklin brings up a lot of good points. I haven’t read the plan Maria is writing about, but I would love to see our leaders and messengers being bold – both in describing who Atlanta is and how we can be! We miss you, Mayor!Report

      Reply
  4. SteveBrown says:

    The Metro Atlanta Chamber has been most disappointing.  They are not adept at maneuvering through government channels and they often cannot get past some of the special interest desires of certain influential members.
     
    Their efforts with the Atlanta Public Schools were horrible, plagued with scandal and cover-up and end with a stealth exit without so much as an apology.
     
    With the TSPLOST they light their hair on fire and yell “crisis.”  I agree with Mercer University Economics Professor Roger Tutterow that the crisis is greatly exaggerated.  In a CNBC report, Georgia ranks number three in transportation and infrastructure.  They are caught between the rock (a horribly non-productive project list) and a hard place (key special interests within the chamber who want the money).
     
    Business leaders in Atlanta can do A LOT more to step-up and help resolve traffic congestion at very little expense to our taxpayers – start with telecommuting and flexible work hours.
     
    To this point, the chamber has been seen by many as an obstacle and I have to agree with that position. 
     Report

    Reply
  5. Burroughston Broch says:

    @ SteveBrown.
     
    I agree with you wrote, except for the Metro Atlanta Chamber’s adeptness.
     
    They are very adept at influencing business executives and high government officials, particularly behind closed doors and in small groups. Typical of this style is the Atlanta Public Schools cheating fiasco, with Sam William’s fingerprints all over it.
     
    They are not adept in relating to voters, who come in large numbers and don’t feel inclined to always vote the way their “betters” tell them to vote. Typical of this method is the Chamber asking their members to strongarm their employees into voting for TSPLOST.Report

    Reply
  6. SteveBrown says:

    Burroughston Broch, good point on the sermonizing to the employees.  I would honestly say that tactic could backfire as well.  
     
    I think the Internet age has made it extremely difficult to for the chambers in all 10 metro counties to remain in the “good old boy” structure of political advantage.  I know in Fayette County, many of the civic and political groups view the chamber with disdain.  The chamber cronies come to the meetings of others, but no one is allow in their secret discussions.  You hear the same in Henry and Cherokee too.  
     
    It is depressing to watch CEOs and CFOs spit out pre-assembled talking points lacking a lot of relevant knowledge on the topic.
     
    Their closed-door style is making them irrelevant.  Report

    Reply

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