Friday, January 26, 2007

Why Atlanta Can Ultimately Succeed

As a long time Atlanta native, I visited the zoo as a child, as did my parents, grandparents, great-grandparents. Our family has seen the zoo evolve from an small offering to a medium sized zoo that rapidly became obsolete in the 70’s to restoration in the 80’s to a national level zoo. That it costs around $50 for 2 adults and one child to visit is an affront to my sensibilities, given that comparable zoos, like St.. Louis are even free. The zoo announced today they may wish to leave Grant Park. Why not use the money to build up a mediocre zoo, increase accessiblity, and reduce ticket prices? This mentality and lack of good sense is par for the course in our city.

Two other obvious locations have been discussed. Lakewood is a relatively dangerous area. Just ask anyone who has a steel cage around their AC unit next their house down there, or had their copper piping removed while on vacation. I have personally talked with officers on roadblocks to pick up would-be Johns and prostitutes at Cleveland Avenue one exit south. This is a regular and ongoing operation.

The other is Ft. Mac – with Bush’s increasing the troops, primarily in the Army, we may just see Mac being reopened. After all if was 2nd CenCom behind Cheyenne Mtn and the Pentagon. They have a lot invested in that facility. However, this might be a good spot, as it is easy to find off Lakewood Freeway, easy to secure, and does have at least one direct rail stop and another nearby. But this does not address the real matter of the 100's of millions it will take to relocate when the city desparately needs to fund basic services like Police cars, pensions, and firemen's salaries

The simple solution would be to maximize the space they have, propose an attractive garage facility along Boulevard that sinks into the slope so that the road elevation can only see the roof of the garage. Then on the roof, have tennis courts, inline hockey, pavilions, roller skating, or any number of fun offerings. Then open up the other lot to more handicap spots.

Given that the City of Atlanta is still not doing very well economically despite the past 3 years of operating in the black is a function of the city choosing to blow money on things it really could have reallocated more wisely elsewhere.

The area has a long history of political animosity and brinksmanship among the 15-20 municipalities. We also have a way of stopping in the race to pick up the Golden Apple, much like our namesake Atlanta did when she lost that fabled race. Shortsighted, reactionary, quick and dirty planning characterizes the majority of the decisions made at many levels of Atlanta area society. This is why Atlanta is footing the entire multibillion$ bill for the sewer repairs, which tripled our property taxes in 2003. Our ex-mayor was convicted of criminal fraud, but we could not muster a jury to deliver more than a slap on the wrist to him.

It is why the other counties will not let MARTA in. It is why we are top 5 in pollution and drive times, but continue to build 1950’s style subdivisions in East Bumble amplifying sprawl. It is why we are going to spend $billions on 27 lane I-75 expansion, farm it out for private management (Drexel Burham Lambert), but we cant even get a train to run from Atlanta to Athens to make the trip safer and cheaper for our children. God only knows how many kids have died on GA316 since the $4million rail feasibility study was funded for the Athens rail line in 1994. Give me $4m and in 6 months we would have a bar car, wifi on the other cars, and GT and UGA students designed stops along the way. "I never leave Atlanta without being amazed at the monumental screwups I see from the air," said [former Georgia governor Roy] Barnes (AB '69, JD '72). "If we neglect and allow nature to just take its course, we will become a state of strip malls and mistakes."

It is why there is only ONE interstate off ramp to visit Atlantic Station, which at that time was the nations largest development ($2.2B). The other approaches all require driving through a residential neighrborhood, literally. To drive to IKEA, the worlds largest at 360,000sf, you MUST go through a neighborhood. It is why Atlantic Station has NO STATION, though it is 200 yards from Amtrak, a joke of a station, and 250 yards from the MARTA rail line. Bankhead in the ‘hood has a multimillion dollar station with its own rail spur. Atlantic Station has a bus lane. Brilliant. IT is why MARTA never has serviced the Braves Stadium or the zoo, but it sure serviced Grady Homes. It is why I-20 was rammed through several otherwise vibrant neighborhoods, dividing them, and eventually destroying their values, while there was a viable corridor that runs along Dealk Avenue that could have linked Decatur, Atlanta, Avondale, Lithonia. and Stone Mountain. It is why you can’t even get out to Stone Mountain on the train. There are tracks, they are not in use, and still NO train.

We had trolleys until the late 40’s that ran from Union Point to Decatur, Downtown to Marietta Square. Today, gridlock, waste, frustration, and expense. No trolleys. No alternative means for anyone to get anywhere. Gridlock and hassle.

It is why we demolished the Atlanta Fulton County Statium where the Beatles played, and Hank Aaron hit his famous home runs. We could have had a world class level soccer team based in the stadium. At the center and cross roads of the entire city, it nothing more than a heat generating waste of a field with no other economic value than some parking fees. It is why the Georgia Dome is slated for demo in 2015 and we are going to enjoy a brand new one in 2016. It is why Mayor Franklin referred to the Beltline as the 100 year project, while Salt Lake City and Denver have discussed, master planned, and BUILT there own rail systems in the time we have been talking about doing it. It is why we have interstate billboards asking citizens to report Airport Corruption. It is why if you get a ticket by APD, you have only a hearing date, no time of hearing, nor location. Due process requires all three items be present. It is why Underground Atlanta is losing $7.5m/year, but GSU is spending $1B on new construction on student housing, and never even considered overahauling Underground as a residential area for students. All the bars are out of business there for the most part, and with World of Coke relocating to Centennial Park, there will be little reason for people to run the gauntlet of the street panhandlers to visit Underground. It is why the Zoo and the old and new Braves stadium are not serviced by MARTA rail, meanwhile in 1975, MARTA demo’s a huge chunk of the then viable Underground Mall, leading to its demist 3 years later.

It is why APS has the highest drop out rate in the region. It is why the test lower. I went to Northside High, and in those days it was pretty good (1985). Why did the city let it fall into the hands or cronies with their hands in the till? Good question.

So if the Zoo is going to move, and if it wants to move, no amount of comments on a blog are going to affect their decision much less determine whether the enormous expense would be better allocated on reinforcing there current position so they can increase access through lowered ticket prices and better educational experiences which it does lack except for the most basic informational signage.

My opinion is that Atlanta, despite all of this, still manages to overcome through strength of character, tenacity, and perseverance. We have good climate, clean water, abundant land, good roads, good hospitals, strong banks, and a vibrant business community. We have everything a city needs to grow like Kudzu! The only hinderance is our personal attitudes and the character of those we put in office. We really must take this city back into good management. Mrs. Franklin has done as good a job as could be hoped for, given the devastation she inherited from the Campbell administration. Let’s build on this capital, and in the next 15 years carefully decide how we build the world’s next great world-class city. We will need transit. We will need MUCH better schools. We will need cooperative mindset and unified development codes and standards. We will need third party independent audits of government processes and controls. We will need more referendums. In short, we need everyone who lives here to put aside their pettiness, find something to work on, and get moving.

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