by Odetta MacLeish-White
Day Two of ULI Atlanta’s 2015 Center for Leadership (CFL) program focused on Regionalism and Infrastructure. The speakers and activities for the day provided us with a glimpse into the scope and complexity of keeping a region running smoothly. Some of the themes that cropped up over and over throughout the day included:
- Communication makes regionalism work, but you must find leaders for current problems without alienating future leaders;
- The problems are immediate but many of the real solutions take a long time to develop and implement;
- Regionalism exists within many contexts – state/federal; local control/pragmatic cooperation; demographics that need resources to make their lives more secure and productive; maintaining existing structures and relationships/innovating and creating new strategies; and
- At the end of the day, people and their needs or desires remain the driving force behind regional competitiveness and infrastructure decisions.
The first presentation of the day was given by Col. Thomas Tickner with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Col. Tickner assumed command of the Savannah District in 1993, putting him in charge of the Savannah Harbor Expansion Project (SHEP). The SHEP highlights the importance of the Savannah Harbor to Atlanta’s economic prosperity; adding a mere 5 feet to the harbor’s depth creates a benefit to cost ratio of 5:1. In addition to the anticipated economic impacts, SHEP provides a rare contemporary example of how infrastructure makes interesting bedfellows. The City of Atlanta’s Mayor and Georgia’s Governor have been closely aligned in advocating for the expansion of the Savannah Harbor.
- Transportation: over the next 25 years, $57 billion will be needed for transportation infrastructure, but 71% of that amount is for maintenance rather than new construction or expansion.
- Water: Georgia has no access to aquifer and relies on run-off or lake water. Continuing to protect our access to these sources is critical and often affected by our political connections at the Federal level.
- Aging population: Metro Atlanta will see a major boom in aging populations and must plan infrastructure to respond to aging in place and longer life expectancies.
We also had a lively discussion about the role of education in the region’s future. The Atlanta Public School system continues to face a long period of rehabilitation; in the meantime, families with school-age children and younger are making the decision to live in suburbs that have stronger public schools. This decision cycle feeds into the need for transit and transportation infrastructure.
The third presentation for the day was a panel of Community Improvement District executive directors. Representing Buckhead, Denise Starling; Cumberland, Malaika Rivers; and North Fulton, Ann Hanlon; these CIDs provide private investments into public infrastructure through dues paid by business owners within a defined geography. As private actors, the funds provided through CIDs can be more nimble than municipal or federal funds, but they are also not regulated for environmental and other impacts.
In order to create a CID, 50% of the owners of commercial property representing at least 75% of the assessed value of the property must agree to create the entity. This implies that a strong commercial market already exists with key supporters and clearly identified local ownership. Hard hit communities in metro Atlanta would find it difficult to impossible to create and sustain a CID, leaving unanswered the question of how we can create financial resources to support commercial and retail markets in deeply underserved neighborhoods.
CFL participants heard from Joshua Waller from Georgia’s Department of Transportation, whose presentation really “drove” home the costs of merely repairing and maintaining existing roads in the state. City of Alpharetta Councilman Chris Owens gave us an “outside the Perimeter” perspective on regionalism and the dynamic growth of cities ringing the City of Atlanta. Some of the concerns are the same, such as transportation and education. However, he also deals with a very different definition of “regionalism”; two or more cities in close proximity working together can be a form of regionalism.
We ended our day on Regionalism and Infrastructure with a conversation with MARTA staff: Rukiya Eaddy, Chief of Staff and Kelly Hayden, Manager of Service Planning & Scheduling, shared some of the principles that have guided MARTA’s recent turn around: reliable, consistent, convenient service. They also shared some of the innovation that can be found in MARTA’s operations today: compressed clean air and fuels, completely automated passenger counts and mobile apps that provide routes, schedules and times to stations to help passengers plan their MARTA use more efficiently. We also discussed the Clayton County Penny Referendum; if passed the first 50% of the money raised will be used to purchase properties and the remaining half would support capitalize equipment and staff for up to 8 fixed routes and 2 flexible routes.
The group activity for Day Two was a role playing exercise that really brought home the challenges of running municipal and county governments and agencies. Given a scenario of a terrorist attack at Hartsfield-Jackson Airport, the class was divided into groups representing the Mayor’s Office, the CDC, Clayton County Police, FEMA, the Governor’s Office and other key public stakeholders. Trying to create clear lines of internal and public communication, as well as response strategies that would be effective and legal, made it clear that regional partnership is far easier to describe than to achieve.
This was a very informative day and would not have been possible without the dedication and organization of our Program Day Chairs, Valerie Combs, Corporate Counsel with Prudential Mortgage Capital Company and Sally Riker, Partner with Lowe Engineers.
The Center for Leadership would also like to thank our Day Sponsors Seyfarth Shaw and Lowe Engineers.Odetta is a Program Director with Enterprise Community Partners in their national Community Revitalization initiative. She is a member of the Center for Leadership Class of 2015.