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Sustainable Communities Thought Leadership

What does a livable Atlanta mean to our next Mayor?

By: Daphne Bond-Godfrey, Senior Director, ULI Atlanta

Today Atlantans will cast their vote for the City’s next Mayor. In total, 14 candidates are running – all with a shared passion to enhance the future of our City. ULI Atlanta recently hosted a Mayoral Forum in collaboration with CREW Atlanta to dive into candidates’ views on housing, infrastructure, transit, and economic development. All Mayoral Candidates were invited to share their platforms and 9 of the 14 candidates running joined this event. Rose Scott, a veteran reporter moderated the discussion.

The primary audience for this forum were professionals in land use, real estate, financial services, capital markets, and the public sector – leaders and practitioners who all deeply understand how the next mayor’s policy platform on housing, transit, and infrastructure will deeply impact their work and our shared goals for our city.

Much of the conversation focused on Atlanta’s growth and what the impacts of that growth has been on our housing ecosystem, legacy Atlantans, and our infrastructure systems like roads, sewer, and water. If there was an overall theme of the discussion was questions of who is Atlanta for? How can growth continue and do so in a way that everyone benefits? 

Felicia Moore said Atlanta’s “number one threat is public safety followed by basic services like trash pick-up.”  Atlanta’s growth will continue to put strains on these vital city services, as its population growth has accelerated during the COVID pandemic. ULI’s recently released publication Emerging Trends in Real Estate calls Atlanta a ‘super’ Sun Belt city. Why? Much of the people and talent exodus we see happening from higher-cost cities like San Francisco, LA, and New York are seeing influx to markets like Atlanta. 

In recent years we’ve seen a number of corporate relocations – and some prominent ones like Microsoft who want to call Atlanta home. “It’s not enough to just want to put those buildings here though. We need our people to work in them” said Andre Dickens as he shared his focus as Mayor would be to ensure Atlantans are getting those jobs. He talked about technology and workforce training programs that show a commitment to an ecosystem where we’re all in this together. Kenny Hill agrees, “we need to do our part to provide workforce training and development – invest in jobs for Atlanta in communities in Atlanta.”

Sharon Gay pointed out that we need to ensure that “change is happening with Atlantans and not to them”. In the Microsoft example, she noted the huge impacts on transit, transportation, and our broader infrastructure. On the process, she said “Developers can’t figure this out on their own. We need the City at the table. We need place-based planning.”

The Atlanta Regional Commission projects that by 2050, our region will grow by 2.9 million people. Outside of housing supply and demand – this will most prominently impact our mobility. How will we move that many people around our city and region?

A big focus of the forum around housing was about where development is and is not happening. “Anywhere but Buckhead” said Rebecca King, noting it needs a more equitable approach to where investments occur. Atlanta also needs a comprehensive legacy resident retention strategy that is City-wide. Nolan English talked about how he sees private sector actors using “blight and dilapidation as an opportunity”. So how do we stop the displacement of legacy residents?

One of the most important aspects of not displacing someone is to “educate our communities and give them the resources to negotiate these deals and community benefits,” said Antonio Brown.  Understanding these trade-offs and engaging the community in these decisions empowers them to have a seat at the table. One of ULI’s programs called UrbanPlan for Community Leaders does just this – takes neighborhood leaders through a problem-solving exercise of a fictious town where they have to make critical land-use policy decisions. What kind of commercial retail will the community have – grocery or big-box? Where will the community build affordable housing or a homeless shelter? How can development balance the varied and sometimes competing community needs with required capital and fiscal returns? All of these are critical elements in elevating discourse and understanding of the development process at the local level. 

 “Join your next NPU meeting” said Rebecca King. It helps residents understand what decision their City’s Mayor faces each day.

The forum ended with a discussion on leadership and how the next Mayor will use their office to collaborate across City departments to carry work forward. Kirsten Dunn said “What is challenging every city department is understanding and inclusion are two love languages that Atlanta needs badly. We need to have a collective conscious and come together to solve issues like affordability and crime.” 

While the candidates shared their specific platforms and ideas that would make them uniquely suited for the role – it is clear that they all share a deep passion for our City. Whoever it is, the next Mayor of Atlanta has a standing invitation to be a member of the Urban Land Institute – and problem-solve with ULI Atlanta members on issues related to development partnerships, land-use, and housing.

Special note: Candidate quotes have been taken from their responses to questions and editorialized for this blog. The October 22 Forum included participation from: 

  • Andre Dickens
  • Antonio Brown
  • Felicia Moore
  • Kenny Hill
  • Kirsten Dunn
  • Nolan English
  • Rebecca King
  • Sharon Gay
  • Walter Reeves


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