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Thought Leadership Views From Peachtree

Views from Peachtree, San Diego Edition

By Jim Durrett, President of the Buckhead Coalition and Executive Director of the Buckhead CID

I woke up this morning in San Diego. I was here four years ago on the Atlanta Regional Commission’s LINK trip. When we arrived in 2018, we were greeted by a sight that my friend and colleague, Kevin Green, described as “jarring.” Everywhere we looked there were scooters and bikes, zipping to and fro’ seemingly in Brownian motion. It may have been the epicenter of the birth of this transport mode. The scooters are still here, but the chaos seems to have dissipated. 

Last night, my taxi driver, who arrived in San Diego in 1979 from Odessa, Ukraine (part of the U.S.S.R. at the time), told me that he has no desire to live, or even to travel, anywhere else. He did mention that there is a significant homelessness problem and that home prices are increasingly out of reach in San Diego. And last night, I woke up several times to the sounds of car or motorcycle engines being revved in selfish incivility. Sound familiar? San Diego and Atlanta may be thousands of miles apart, but they have quite a bit in common. 

This morning I went on a walkabout to get reacquainted. I am staying downtown in the Gaslamp District, and this part of the city is pleasantly walkable with a grid of small blocks, shade trees, sidewalks in good repair and decent public transit. I found my way to the greenspace within Petco Park where I sat down to write this.

Over the next four days, I will be attending the Urban Land Institute’s Spring Meeting, one of two major conferences convened by ULI every year. I joined ULI 22 years ago shortly after I was hired to be ULI Atlanta’s executive director. It has been, for me, THE source for learning best practices in the development of urban places. I have been privileged to participate in a couple of small groups within ULI: one focused on building healthy places, and the other focused on what is called “the triple bottom line” in real estate investment, being mindful of the creation of social and environmental value while generating financial returns.

When the Building Healthy Places Forum kicks off later today, I will gather with others to learn from and about the people, projects and initiatives advancing health equity in under-resourced communities, with a focus on Southeast San Diego. On Thursday, I will gather with about 50 of my fellow members of ULI’s Responsible Product Investment Council to learn from each other and invited guests about exemplary initiatives and projects dealing with the impacts of climate change and historical social and racial inequities as they relate to real estate development. And in between, I will have the opportunity to dive into the issues of the importance of “third places” and urban parks.

These ULI experiences with my friends have always taught me valuable lessons that have helped me do my job in helping to shape the urban environment of Atlanta. They have also nurtured my emotional well-being, but I have decided that this will be my final meeting with my ULI colleagues. When I am part of something, I really give it my all, and now my all needs to be focused like a laser on Buckhead and Atlanta. I’m confident that this week’s ULI conference will provide valuable insights, and I look forward to taking what I learn in San Diego and putting it into practice back home.


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