All great cities have at least these four elements:
If this sounds wrong, then think of the following cities:
Visionary leadership is also a necessary component. Though this element is often fleeting or transient, it is necessary to have this as often as possible. It is important to have a Baron Hausmann who can envision great boulevards and other civic beautifications. Though the implementation of their ideas may be hard at the time of implmentation, their ideas are seen as pure genius in retrospect.
If the City of Atlanta is to turn into a truly great city, it must provide:
My questions to the leaders of Atlanta and to those who are running for Mayor are as follows:
1>Most Mayoral candidates are focused on problems inside the city instead of planning for the future and focusing on how to make the city a beautiful place to live and to visit. Paris has the Eiffel Tower, and enough attractions to keep tourists busy for weeks. Atlanta's infamous claim to fame was the Gold Club. What is your long term vision to make people want to visit and to make Atlantans proud of having a world class city?
2>Have you been abroad? If so, which great city should Atlanta aspire to in its quest for greatness and which features of that or other great cities should Atlantans plan to see as part of your vision for the future?
3>What is your focus on promoting Atlanta to the rest of the world?
I should give you some background on where these questions are coming from. I have lived here since 1970. I was born in Canada, and lived there for the first four years of my life until we moved here. My father is Indian, my mother is French, and I have had the pleasure of traveling abroad incessantly. I am guessing from your name that you are perhaps from Africa, perhaps even the French speaking part of Africa. Forgive me for being presumptuous on my guesses, but if I am correct, then I assume that you have also seen many great things, since most of my friends from Africa are very well traveled. If so, you may share my frustrations. I feel that this city is like a person who has been in college for seven years and doesn't know how to graduate or what to do upon graduation.
I had very high expectations with Mayor Campbell's election. I have met Mayor Sam Massell (I was the UNICEF child for Atlanta in 1971 and sat on his lap!), Mayor Maynard Jackson, and Mayor Andrew Young. I felt that Mayor Jackson, and especially Mayor Young had great vision for Atlanta. They marketed the city relentlessly, championing it abroad to many countries in Africa as well as elsewhere.
They did an outstanding job in this respect, culminating in the 1996 Olympics, which we somehow won in spite of their being at least four or five cities which objectively speaking deserved it far more than we did. I think that we won it due to Mayor Young's and Billy Payne's sheer determination.
But once again, where is the vision? There is almost NO TRACE of the Olympics, unless one goes to the stadium (no longer the Olympic Stadium) and sees the Olympic Flame or perhaps counts the Georgia State dormitories. In any case, the stadium looks completely dark when approached from the direction of the airport. But technicalities aside, the average visitor would never know that we are one of perhaps 30 cities that has ever hosted the games in modern times.
Atlanta could have a pedestrian corridor stretching from Underground Atlanta to Pershing Point. Atlanta could have free shuttle buses up and down that same corridor to minimize traffic problems and help curb smog and congestion. Atlanta could have luxurious condos on the banks of the Chattahoochee instead of the factories that are anchored there. Atlanta could save its buildings, such as the one that was torn down to make room for the new symphony hall, where at least the facade could have been salvaged. Atlanta could renovate the Sweet Auburn area, as my father, a noted area architect had proposed in the mid-70s. Atlanta could make the King Center a great and a safe place to visit. Atlanta could build a Civil War museum and a Civil Rights museum instead of trying to build yet another aquarium that could never be as interesting as that in Chattanooga. Atlanta could have at least one great monument. The list goes on and on. But the city fathers are myopic. I don't know if you were here when the City Council went to visit Barcelona during the 1992 Olympics. Most of them had never been abroad, and had no idea that a city could have character and be beautiful like that.
Atlanta has all of the right elements to be a great city. It has the warmest people in the world, a young and vibrant workforce, a great economy, the world's busiest airport, and much more. I feel that the lack of vision at the top is what prevents us from becoming a truly great city.
Thank you for reading this far. I am also adding an article that I had originally written in March of 2001.
March 25, 2001
Atlanta's greatest asset is its people. But next to that, it is perhaps the beauty of the endless forests and the rolling hills that map out the contours of our great city. For a long time, we have had a wonderful quality of life, great demographics, and a booming economy. Our city has produced great leaders like Jimmy Carter, Martin Luther King, Jr., Ted Turner and Robert Woodruff. On paper, we seemed to have it all.
But change is inevitable, and in many cases, it has taken a change for the worse. The metropolitan area's beautiful forests are vanishing at a rate of 50 acres a day. General Sherman, on his infamous March to the Sea only burned 200 acres of Atlanta. Our developers do that in one week, and then keep repeating it every week of the year. The cynically named Arbor Place Mall off of I-20 paved over about 80 acres of pristine forest and then planted a handful of glorified bushes instead. The DOT keeps building more and more roads, and still our congestion increases and commuting times seem to grow exponentially. City temperatures are rising. Our man-made lakes seem to run out of water every summer. But this kind of negative change is not inevitable. There is no hard and fast law that says that we must give in.
So what can we do?
We can restrict the clear cutting of trees. Developers should be given incentives to keep existing trees in place and to redevelop abandoned lots.
We can cut back on new roads. This will give existing communities and neighborhoods a much need respite from congestion and related pollution and noise cutting through their front yards. We can encourage further multi-use and multi-modal development at existing commercial nodes, such as the Downtown, Cumberland, Perimeter, Midtown areas. This will bring jobs closer to existing communities which means decreased commute times, less pollution, etc.
We can cut back expensive White Elephant projects such as the Outer Arc which only serve to divert much needed monies from supporting existing infrastructures and civic improvements.
The Maglev train is another project which should never see the light of day. Who ever heard of a Maglev that could be financially self-sufficient on a track that only goes 40 miles? And what exactly would we connect that's within 40 miles of Atlanta?
Our leaders, such as Mayor Bill Campbell, Wayne Shackleford, and others, have demonstrated their astonishing lack of vision. Where is the redevelopment of the famed Sweet Auburn District? Why does the MLK Center lie practically forgotten by most Atlantans? Why is the Chattahoochee River's only commercial purpose to serve as a method of conveyance for chemical effluviants rather than a mecca for beautiful residential areas that are the backbone of most cities with rivers? Why are MARTA stations rarely in convenient walking distance of the business and residential centers they purport to serve when in Paris they are always within 500 feet? Why is there so little public art? Where are the great museums that would encourage tourism? We don't have to build yet another aquarium when we have the perfect historical location for both a Civil War museum and a Civil Rights museum. Why did we bury all traces of the Olympics as soon as they were over? Maybe our city leaders have never been to other cities to see what other ideas are out there.
As individuals, we can do our part as well.
We can make our leaders responsible to us. We shouldn't let them get away with carte blanche give-aways to billboard companies. We shouldn't allow them to get bogged down in petty infighting when there are major quality of life issues at hand. We can contact our representatives, such as our mayors and county commissioners. We must require our leaders to mandate tougher pollution laws for heavy trucks and older vehicles. We can stop taking jobs that have us commuting for an hour when there might be another one near by making a little less, but giving us more time to enjoy the day as well as contribute to society as a whole by polluting less, consuming less fossil fuel, and decreasing the load on our infrastructure. We can take advantage of the contours of our yards to prevent water runoffs to decrease how often we must water our lawns. Some terracing or a cistern here or there would do wonders.
We, and those who have been here before us, have built a great city. If we can pressure our elected officials to have some vision, if we can pressure our developers to develop responsibly, and if we as individuals can do our part, then we will reverse the recent negative trends and keep Atlanta moving forward as one of the great world cities of the 21st century.