The International City Goes Third World

Greetings from The City Without Reliable Water! 

No, not Jackson, MS, or Flint, MI, but our very own Atlanta, GA!! Here we are happy to tell you we’re ready to commit millions of dollars over the next generations to host the surrounding cities’ law enforcement officers (maybe alongside Israeli forces-who knows?) but we can’t seem to maintain our own water infrastructure to ensure our senior citizens are able to bathe! 

Who’s ready for the World Cup?

Not us! Although DCP will notify concert goers via Instagram when a concert is canceled, but we can’t seem to create a working plan of communication across City Departments to inform residents of water outages. 

Bless our hearts! And the poor Commissioner who is in charge just got promoted to this position, right? I hope we can all recognize that the failing infrastructure that led to this is not one man’s fault, yes? Nor is it the fault of any recent decisions- no, this, like the egregiously derelict police and fire safety training facilities are the result of literal decades of City leadership ignoring the regular maintenance that is required of a city. 

And it isn’t over, right? Here’s my notification from NOTIFYATL this afternoon, at 3:49 PM.

The system is breaking in different points around the city, and if it isn’t affecting me today, there’s a great likelihood that it will at some point. Thankfully dear reader, yours truly keeps rainwater barrels, and a gas powered stove and a water heater after her family was without power while living in Gwinnett County in addition to living for a week or so without heat in Walton County during the blizzard of ‘93. (Poor infrastructure is more prevalent in older suburban and rural areas in Georgia.) Georgia’s heat and random cold patches have been my motivating factors for learning survival techniques. Who knew these techniques would be helpful in the city ‘too busy to hate’, but here we are!

Some time ago, when I was on the Peach Pundit podcast, Jason Pye asked me why the lack of infrastructure and development in parts of the city mattered. He rightly pointed out to you that it had been this way since the 1970s. He didn’t see how that tied to the Cop City movement. Well, if you recognize that the City has left your neighborhood behind for 50 years, not keeping buildings, roads, and water lines up to code, then you live wondering when the shoe is going to drop. In my case, it was a portion of a dead tree the City of Atlanta refused to remove from the vacant property behind my home which fell on my vehicle, even though I reported it and sent certified letters to every address on county tax files in order to reach the owners-it was a contested ownership- so not as even straight forward as just a vacant lot. And I’m not a unique and special snowflake in Atlanta- there are TONS of homes that are owned by private equity firms instead of people here. Remember that piece I did on the Governor taking pride in inviting more private equity ownership in our state? I’m living the downside of his boneheaded plans. From the AP, it appears I’m not the only one.

For countless others in the city, it was a dearth of running water this weekend. Those millions City Council and the Mayor have signed away for Governor Kemp and Senator Randy Robertson’s wet dream of a mock city for the APD to play literal cops and robbers in, could have been spent on, I dunno- some updates to the valves that are literally popping like bottles all over our city right now.

But by all means let’s let people who live outside of the City of Atlanta continue to dictate our city funding and agendas! That seems fairly consistent with Progressive politics, I’m just unclear how this jibes with local control that used to be a tenant of conservative values. Someone’s going to have to explain that to me like I’m five. 

Now look, you already know I’m no fan of Mayor Dickens, but rather than rail on the man (we’d be here all day), I’d like to highlight some ways that the City of Atlanta *could* in theory, dig themselves out of this cluster. 

  1. Establish a communications plan that enables departments to report up and out for messaging across departments across the City of Atlanta. I have no idea why DCP was posting on Insta about Megan Thee Stallion, but I know in well working systems, the message is consistent and timely across platforms. I feel like Atlanta has more than one PR firm to choose from if anyone from the City wants a master class on crisis communications.
  2. Find a mapping solution that all of your departments can rely upon and feed into rather than siloing off. GIS is a mapping system used by many departments in the City of Atlanta and the state of Georgia. The last time I inquired the City pays around $100K for licenses to use. Layer data should include households and businesses. If I can geocode canvassers to door knock in my neighborhood, you should be able to highlight to your citizens where a problem is occurring and demonstrate in real time how many households and businesses are affected. It seems like this is a process the City of Atlanta is already using, but not across platforms, so may I encourage transparency again? Councilmember Alex Wan emailed out a GIS map this afternoon. Why isn’t this being circulated more? When you share information, you build trust, and right now, the City of Atlanta needs to rebuild the trust that has been lost.
  3. Audit every City department. I don’t mean to put too fine of a point on it, but last year in budget hearings Public Works shared they’d move FOR THE FIRST TIME IN THE YEAR OF OUR LORD 2023 from a paper system to digital for routes. I literally don’t even know how that would meaningfully work in a city with constantly changing traffic patterns!! So I’m betting that every department needs some sort of updating. My uninformed, solution-oriented suggestion: find the new kids that came on board in every office, take ‘em out for a drink of their choice, tell ‘em nothing they say will be recorded (and mean it), and ask them to tell you what they see is wrong or can be improved. Kids have thoughts and often have innovative solutions. 

I’m not a City employee. I don’t have any experience with Watershed either, so I’m not trying to dumb down complicated systems that I know both of these departments use. I’m just a politico who has been watching crises across our state play out over the last 42 years of my life and I see patterns- lack of communication, lack of shared data, and poor succession planning. These are things I’ve done in one way or another in almost every place I’ve volunteered and worked in my lifetime. It’s not rocket science, and it is naive to assume that crises won’t arise- they always do. One just has to know how to communicate them and how to mitigate them as quickly as possible in the future. 

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