Atlanta Regional Commission calls for “A Year of Dialogue”

The Atlanta Regional Commission (ARC) is taking a novel step this year in addressing Atlanta’s weaknesses by asking the residents themselves to do the talking.

In 2015 ARC created eight “action teams” led by 135 millennials, who met throughout the year and formed the ARC’s Plan to promote advancements in city infrastructure, health, livability and economics.

Action Team 7, working to “unite the region with a shared vision and story”, called for 2016 to be a “Year of Dialogue,” where residents would get a chance to express their concerns and reach common goals.

Throughout 2015, the team hosted a series of “Civic Dinner” parties, where citizens talked about the issues they felt were keeping them apart.

Jennie Rudder, Action Team 7 member, said she hopes these outreach efforts will capture the attention of local leaders and policy makers.

“Our hope is to get church, neighborhood and government leaders listening to everyone who is expressing their concerns in these dinners,” she said. “Hopefully then, they will take action and help with funding the projects we are advocating.”

Marcie Howington, another member of Action Team 7, said the two main concerns voiced during the dinners were issues around transportation and traffic.

“Participants seemed to agree that the best way to better connect as a region starts with connecting physically and visually, through public transportation and trails,” she said.

Transportation is one of the major issues the team has targeted, since people living in different counties do not get a chance to interact due to lack of public transit. The team said that Atlanta citizens are worried that if people can’t get around with traffic, the city will not be able to attract new businesses.

Jim Jaquish, senior communications coordinator of ARC, said, according to the commission’s “Metro Atlanta Speaks” public opinion poll, 90 percent of Atlanta residents think that public transit is crucial for Atlanta’s future and will fix traffic problems.

According to population and employment forecasts done in 2015 by ARC, Atlanta’s population will increase by 2.5 million by 2040, which could add another 1.5 million jobs. This anticipated growth could add to the region’s divide, since, according to Jane Jayse, director of ARC’s Center for Liveable Communities, people choose to live near their jobs.

In a press release from ARC, she said, “People choose to live in walkable communities,” A trend which she claimed is accelerating and will continue to in the next 25 years.

“This is why we’re excited for the Beltline project. Besides bringing people together, it is an excellent example of the public and private sector working together to make a change for the better. The trail will unify the area, which is one of our most important goals,” Rudder said.

Elizabeth Sanford, manager of the Community Engagement Center for Strategic Relations, said the team targeted the common identity issue because they felt people should be more interested in their shared identity rather than their differences, and the distance between them.

This sense of regional pride will enable Atlanta citizens to “stand together and compete in the global economy,” according to Sanford.

Howington said, in order to promote unity, Action Team 7 will be supported by the ARC for hosting more Civic Dinner parties and will talk to region’s leaders during the State of the Region.

“Members of our team are already planning to host Civic Dinner Parties in their own communities in the next weeks and months,“ she said. “We will then encourage participants of our discussion to turn around and host their own parties with new people.”

Sanford said the Civic Dinners are open for anyone to attend or host their own.