Most weekends my husband and I go for walks in the woods. Last weekend was no different. We hiked a short trail near Smyrna called Heritage Park. Similar to Sweet Water Creek state park, this trail was built along mill ruins that connected the resources of water and land via economic development. The hike made me reminisce about growing up in Social Circle and Monroe- both mill towns as well. When I was a small child my mother worked for the Monroe Mill. My grandmother was born in the mill village in Social Circle. Mills must have been a tool of economic development at one point, moving folks (mainly white folks) from the fields to the factories. It made me remember how Atlanta and Marietta grew because they were/ are train towns. Decatur as well. So as I pondered economic development of that past, I wondered if this could be an indicator of future economic development for the area. Where do Atlanta and Georgia’s other crown jewels fit into the picture? How do they work together to catapult our state to the next level? What part do we as citizens play in each locale? Spoiler alert: it’s our people that make the difference, and the diversity of our state that makes us a dynamically competitive economic engine. Please allow me to explain using NPU R as an example.
I’m going to discuss a bit of Georgia economic history here, so if you’re skimming, skip down to the 6th paragraph.
Georgia legislators (and Farm Bureau as well as Cotton Commission) like to remind stuffed shirts in Atlanta that our economy is still driven by the agriculture industry. That’s absolutely true, yet before you picture folks in Pointers and Carharts, I’d like to remind you that modern day farming involves software engineers, mapping the planting of row crops down to the nth degree to maximize field space allocation and water resources, and jailbreaking tractors. The multiplier effects of this industry still require rail. CSX and Norfolk Southern won’t be trading in their rail lines anytime soon. Instead, we ship out and in things from Cordele, our inland port, and carry goods via trucking companies from field to train.
Georgia’s cities developed out of intersections-in the past it was rail. Terminus was Atlanta’s previous name, afterall. Folks moved to the cities for work and new technologies/ means of carrying goods and people emerged with airports. In the background, the CCC built out our park systems as a relief to our densifying cities and the TVA brought electricity to rural areas like where I grew up. Social Circle’s Hard Labor Creek was named for the CCC effort to construct it. In Atlanta you had a boom in certain areas- my home was built in 1944 anticipating folks returning from the war. It’s the American Small House plan, the starter home that sprung up across the South at that time. The New Deal that benefited white folks also redlined neighborhoods, including mine, imbedding segregation in our city and others across the country.
Chick Fil A grew alongside Delta’s pilots in Fayette County and as the airline moved people from place to place, so Atlanta positioned itself (and her surrounding suburbs) as a place to receive them all with good food and Southern hospitality before sending them along their way. We beat out Birmingham and their steel industry that solidified our corporate airline path forward. The Southern Strategy, the interstate system, and its division of Black neighborhoods perpetuated the Jim Crow system in the South until the Civil Rights and Black Power movement empowered Black folks in our cities to integrate (or separate) and further develop their own systems of power. In the background, George Romney, (father of later Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney) worked on desegregating suburbs via his efforts at HUD and eventually the Equal Housing Act was passed in 1968, and I go through training every year to ensure my efforts as a REALTOR® do not further contribute to segregation in our cities.
The Reagan years were good for some, yet trickle down economics didn’t seem to work for all. The crack and AIDS epidemic made us recognize our fragile health support systems and William Borders Center still serves the indigent community in the Edgewood neighborhood in Atlanta. In the ‘90s Georgia had a bank boom- lots of local banks became the investment forces of our communities and our next businesses. Adding the fuel of monetary support, Georgia positioned herself differently with the increase of college students staying in the state due to the Hope Scholarship thanks to Zell Miller. In Alpharetta, Milton, etc., in what some refer to as the Innovation Crescent of Georgia, we have become a clearing house all over again, instead of Delta, this time, for the majority of financial transactions in the nation. For the past decade, Georgia has been working on attracting more of the film industry here. Big tax breaks to studios for the increased opportunity that the SCAD grad can get their dream job in films to be seen across the country. Hallelujah! I would have loved the artistic opportunities kids now have in Georgia when I was entering college.
All of this- from our trains and roads to our camera click-throughs positions Georgia as an intersection. We’re one giant pass through for the nation and have monetized that time and time again. It is the space Atlanta has always leveraged. This intersection of so much activity and business is why Atlanta influences everything. Even our city itself has the widest income gap in the nation. I’d respectfully say, where there is a gap, there also lies an opportunity. Some Governors and Mayors recognized this (I think of Deal and Reed) and some didn’t (Kemp and Bottoms missed a big healthcare opportunity in the pandemic IMHO). So as I think about planning for the city of Atlanta in my board service, I often think less about the individual neighborhoods and more about the region where stuff comes in, and out, and how does business flow through Atlanta and her surrounding areas to leverage economic development in our corner of the globe?
What are the intersections now?
As I mentioned in my last piece, Georgia is receiving a multi-million dollar grant opportunity that as a result of the Technology Association of Georgia’s working with the Russell Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, Augusta University, etc. will more than likely make generational change in our area by linking our wealth of HBCUs and our cybersecurity education center to tech. Augusta Tech is developing businesses in their own backyard as well. (I personally appreciate their focus on micro businesses.) That’s the Atlanta to Augusta connection, but don’t think Macon, Rome, Savannah, Cordele, and Columbus won’t benefit as well. Folks still need to ship goods through the port or run through Rome on their way to northern states. Columbus’s proximity to the engineers at Auburn and the military base will forever connect it to the rest of the state. Macon is at the center of it all, and I’m hopeful for the Cotton Avenue business district. Macon’s Southern Gothic history connected to the future, the newly named Chamber of Commerce President, Jessica Walden, will lead their business community into, hopefully with the support of Georgia’s potential next Governor.
The future is decidedly female, y’all.
But rather than being isolated, the pandemic has forced us to find new ways to connect while technology is moving companies to be more human centered. The mining and sale of data that enables companies to hack who we are, what we all individually like, and how to motivate us to do different things and buy more seems like a much more likely intersection of what future commerce shall be. As fiber lines are buried in my neighborhood this week I cannot ignore the fact that Microsoft, Google, and Amazon want less to come up with bigger ideas and more about simplifying things down to choices they can code and what makes our lives easier. In my own life, I now pay people for convenience to save time we lost spending with my friends and family. Things like delivering groceries, clothing, and communications via apps are a far more prevalent part of my life than they were even two years ago. We’re moving to a more consumer oriented space that provides comfort, ease, and if it can reduce our gas cost and time waiting- we’ll shell out.
If we choose to pay attention to these patterns, I think Georgia (via Atlanta and the region) can lead if they wish.
We have an incredibly diverse metro area that does more than checks boxes for grants, so why aren’t we employing more accessibility features of Microsoft’s products to reach more folks? Our language diversity in our region makes me wonder why Birmingham delivers their public school report cards in both English and Spanish but APS doesn’t. That isn’t weird; that’s dumb, and a missed opportunity. I think if you’re going to grow up in some small town like I did and stay there for the rest of your life, perhaps you may not need to learn another language, but I’ll kindly remind you that our employers like Kia, Kubota, Mercedez Benz, and others would probably appreciate some bilingual employees.
Maybe coding is the language of choice folks will choose to engage. Knowing how to engage more residents in an app to move money, vote, or dispense information or influence is an invaluable skill some have already pioneered here. Emotional intelligence and resilience skills are high demand skills in any workplace, and Atlanta has it in spades. Atlantans have literally gone through massive fires, massacres, and more recently protests against police violence. The rest of Georgia thinks Atlanta is dangerous and violent.
…But Atlantans know that steel is forged in heat and diamonds are formed only under pressure. We are the city represented by the phoenix for a reason. We will always rise above the ashes and reinvent ourselves to be a bridge to the future for the state. Bet on that.
As a result, I am always deeply troubled when folks underestimate people here. I think it’s so incredibly myopic. Not everyone speaks in pretty words, or shows up in heels, but I believe very deeply that if their voices aren’t heard, it is OUR loss. Me? I learn something new from my neighbors and friends every day whose lives are different from mine. Some people think I’m charitable, but I get far more in return than what I give. These friends give me a wealth of knowledge I otherwise would not have. Some have been unhoused, some have been sex workers, they have connections I do not among the folks on the street. Some live on section 8 and can tell me about their movements from the projects to Mozley Park, and now back to the area from whence they came even though the projects are no more. They tell me about the wait times at Grady. The displacement due to the Beltline, the MLK corridor project, and rising rents and mortgages is a very real thing they’ve lived, rather than waxing philosophically about, and section 8 doesn’t satisfy all affordable housing needs in Atlanta.
These friends live the application of the policy theories I have seen at the Capitol. They show me the realities of what is swept under the rug in the ivory towers. They show me where my good ideas and intentions fall short. They explain to me why Black and brown folks don’t always trust me. White women have a looooooong history of using and abusing their nonwhite counterparts. They give me their first & their friends’ second hand accounts of the shootings off of Cleveland Ave. They show me where the street lights are out despite calling the city repeatedly. They won’t be serving on any boards any time soon because most of the board people would probably underestimate them even more than me, sadly.
I’ve been underestimated before many times, in my life, as have members of my family. Passed over and disregarded by the white men in power and older women who saw me as a threat. I don’t take it personally anymore, just either get louder like the men in my midst or move to a space where I hope my voice can be heard. I had hoped Atlanta would be better.
But in truth, the good ‘ol boys under the Gold Dome aren’t very different from those I encounter in the Atlanta Planning Advisory Board. The demographics are different, and slightly more progressive thought, but only to a certain extent. It’s still a very conservative ‘we know best’ mentality. And in both spaces I will respectfully say they fight over scraps without asking meaningful questions.
That’s how I see the situation before NPU R now. I’ll share here what was a later update in my last piece- video of the APAB meeting with the presentation by the Dept. City of Planning offered at the last APAB meeting. If you’re looking for it on Atlanta’s City provided news coverage (Channel 26) they somehow didn’t film this portion of the meeting. Thankfully, Adrian Coleman Tyler did. Here’s a link to that on Youtube.
I was invited to attend a meeting of some NPU R neighbors earlier this week and I felt like what I heard affirmed what I already knew. Some residents see this NPU boundary discussion as helpful- presenting them with an opportunity for newfound resources and who could blame them for wanting that? My question is: Is there no other way to go about dispersing these resources? And what exactly are these resources? Why should NPU R have to disburse/disband themselves to receive resources from the city their tax money has already paid into? What threat does this small group of people present to the city so much that they will not provide resources to them without disbanding? That seems like a strange practice.
I was asked what I would recommend as actions for NPU R, yet the truth is- NPU R residents already know. They don’t need my help or strategy, they clearly knew what they needed and then discussed their needs among themselves- better representation and more responsiveness from their council members, neighbors that engage regularly, and planning for the future that is the highest and best use of their land resources within the NPU. More residents of NPU R shared at the CDHS meeting on Wednesday as well. (BTW, there will be a Council work session on 10/27 at 9:30AM in Council Chambers to discuss the NPU boundary process and what this will look like citywide.) NPU R residents seem to want better quality of businesses- less convenience stores and a grocery store. Some named they want affordable housing for the unhoused in their area.
I found the lack of responsiveness of Council and our Neighborhood leadership in Mozley Park previously as well when my husband and I moved into the neighborhood. Our previous existing leadership (neighborhood at the time, city, etc.) did little to nothing except show up to meetings and collect dues. Our Council members rarely came, and despite repeated requests for various things within the district (more trash cans on the street and Beltline, more children’s programming at C.A. Scott Rec Center, speed humps on various roads to slow down the rampant speeding), there was never anything done. So my husband and I worked with our Neighborhood Association leaders, bought a voter list, cut walk lists for organizing neighbors to drop off Project 55 voter registration and absentee ballot applications. That, combined with the tireless door knocking efforts of Rogelio Arcila (previous competitor of current Council member Jason Dozier), was an organized effort in Mozley Park to get the representation changed. The Neighborhood was successful and I believe it has made a significant impact- aside from my own botched efforts at doubling up on distributing Project 55 packets on a street someone else had already completed. This wasn’t a single person’s effort- far from it. Many neighbors’ hands made the work light.
It’s my understanding that SWATS is supposed to receive their own master planner to ‘help’ them create the community they want. That sounds great- I sincerely hope they get that and much more. I hope they ALSO receive the education to train their leaders on how to perpetuate business and community development. Bottom line: ALWAYS ASK FOR MORE. One might ask why it took nearly 50 years and reorganization of the NPU system to build this out, but I’m sure I’ll be told I should just shut up and listen again. Sustainability is a challenge in any economic space- especially when you’re making big bucks. The tendency to keep two books or competing interests within a space isn’t a new phenomenon. Yet I will remind Georgians we have an entire state park created as a result of poor farming practices. Let this be a lesson: it doesn’t matter if it’s farming or data mining- one can’t keep doing the same thing in perpetuity and expect to remain relevant or to not exhaust resources. Environments that adapt and respond to the stimuli around them are the most sustainable.
In contrast, APAB remains unchanged and unresponsive to the city around it. In APAB my initial questions regarding the role of DCP, NPUs, and APAB were brushed off, ignored, and I was indirectly told to play nice. More recently I’ve been told ‘you are part of the problem’, yet I don’t find anyone else stepping up to solve it otherwise, so by the grace of God go I. Happy to step down if anyone else wants to step up with some accountability measures. These deeper root questions seem to be core at why APAB functions so poorly yet no one wishes to tackle them. Like the city of Atlanta, APAB isn’t willing to question and listen to its members in order to adapt and survive.. What I see happening now is the circling of wagons and the perpetuation of fear of Council intervention instead of hope of reinfusing control to residents. I’ve heard from more than one source now that NPU R shouldn’t lean on their own understandings and council members because they ‘don’t know what they don’t know’ and the council members are only out to serve themselves. I can see how citizens may see that, if they didn’t read the legislation. I might know a bit about Council members who don’t listen to their people, after a few years of living with Cleta Winslow as a Council member. Whew. And I encourage any Atlantan to organize their neighbors to ensure their voices are heard or their council representation is voted out.
It is my assertion though that much of Georgia and Atlanta’s leadership challenges can be more attributed to ignorance rather than malice. Smaller thinkers fight over smaller details.
I’ll point out as I did before that the city (and state) have an opportunity to reinvent themselves. The Wellstar departure of old Georgia Baptist means that some CONs are available for the city of Atlanta to reconfigure. It’s my understanding SWATS would like a hospital in the midst of their neighborhoods. Why not listen to them? Why not place it in NPU R? What would be the harm in bringing a well paying, large facility to that area that is already experiencing longer wait times from first responders? It seems the city is already considering contracting a new ambulance service, so why not center it in SWATS? Many hospitals across the state use incentives of paying for school debt to attract new doctors to areas of need. Why not work with the AUC and specifically Morehouse School of Medicine to ensure the population is served by doctors demonstrating how representation matters. This could contribute to the building and keeping of Black wealth in the area. Just a thought, from a white woman who knows the difference generational wealth and proximity to power can make. Amazon wants to create a medical delivery mechanism to compete with CVS’s and Walgreens. Why don’t we set up some test cases here and let them compete in the city ‘too busy to hate’? I’ll be your guinea pig. Presumably my husband and I can get our drugs filled faster via Amazon than the slower-than-molasses-in-January CVS in the West End. Better yet- let’s allow them to compete in urban AND rural settings in Georgia, like Crawfordville, GA, where the small clinic on the site of the K-12 school is the only medical service delivery in the entire county.
Hack healthcare- Georgia can be the pilot for something new.
These intersections of human need and compensation for services is where Georgia will always find her sweet spot for opportunity. Whether it’s moving goods, services, humans, or pets is where to look for opportunities in business and economic growth. If Georgia and Atlanta’s leaders want to take us to the next level: listen to our people, and you will know the path forward. Isn’t necessity the mother of invention? Then why aren’t we marketing our city and state as the muse to further develop life saving care and convenience that innovative minds are looking to solve.
This is what we did in the past- all those little mill towns were just churning out the cash crop grown here and turned into clothing, placed on trains to market elsewhere. But the need isn’t elsewhere now- it’s here, it’s among our own people, as well as the solution that will meet them. I need the city and state to focus a bit more investment dollars in Georgia Grown businesses- and I hope the ethnic, racial, or socioeconomic background of who creates them reflects the diversity of the metro Atlanta area. We need all the big thinkers we can get! I need the City of Atlanta to listen to its own people-rather than its departments who filter out what they don’t want others to hear.
Responding to residents’ needs, will. Put another way, by a wiser Atlantan than myself, “We must learn to live together or perish as fools”. This is often touted in terms of racial division, and I see so many of Atlanta’s challenges intersecting as class as well. The widest income gap in the nation makes us a city where we need to be asking ourselves more questions to make better policy, provide better resources, and work to not divide us further. Figure out how to lift folks up, and we’ll have something worthy of sharing with the rest of the world more than just our red labeled bottles here. Atlanta has always been an intersection, and this has been our strength, not our weakness. My hope is we will lean more into investigating what these human intersections point to as needs rather than assuming we already know.