City of Atlanta Reflection Paper-Part 1 of 2

State of the City of Atlanta

The City of Atlanta, Georgia, was founded in 1837. Its 2015, the population was an estimated 437,077 (Department of Planning and Community Development, 2016). Atlanta is a vibrant city and promotes sustainability, economic growth, and development. The city of Atlanta has set to ameliorate housing and transportation opportunities as one of the continuous goals to enhance its quality of life. The goal is to make communities better connected with ample opportunities to invest commercially.

The Atlanta Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA), the center of a dynamic region, is the 9th largest in the United States (Department of Planning and Community Development, 2016). The city boasts the world’s busiest airport. It is the hub for several Fortune 500 companies, such as Coca-Cola, Delta, Turner Broadcasting, Porsche, and Equifax (Department of Planning and Community Development, 2016). Unfortunately, the City of Atlanta faces many housing challenges, ranging from affordability and cost-burdened households to high concentrations of poverty and abandoned properties.

With such a strong economy, certain counties in Atlanta, such as Fulton and Dekalb, have had rapid growth. A significant factor that reflects the population growth is the number and type of housing units constructed. According to the Department of Planning and Community Development (2016), the number of units permitted in Atlanta has increased steadily since 2010. There were 89,781 housing unit permits between 2000 and early 2016, almost 85% of which were in multi-unit structures. These types of units are attractive to one-person households as well as small households. However, figures and statistics have shown that the Atlanta housing market is where the median home value has declined while the median cost of rent increased. The Housing and Urban Development (HUD) defines cost-burdened households as those who pay over 30% of their income. Just over half of the city’s households are at or above this critical threshold (Department of Planning and Community Development, 2016).

Furthermore, Atlanta has had one of the highest income inequality rates for years. Piranim (2018) stated that Atlanta’s 2014 income gap is significantly higher than any American city. The city’s wealthiest 5% has an annual income of $280,000 or more, which is over a hundred times more than the bottom 20%, making $14,850 per year (Piranim, 2018). Comparing the map of median household income with the poverty rate in 2014, it is evident that a large concentration of households with a median income over $150,000 is in the north Fulton county, while the poverty rate is higher in the west and the south of the county (Department of Planning and Community Development, 2016).  The overall poverty rate has increased since 2010; for example, the rate went up from 22.6% in 2010 to 25.2% in 2014, a value of around one in four people (Department of Planning and Community Development, 2016).  

Many individuals work low-paying jobs in the hospitality and retail sector and spend more than half of their income on rent (Pirani, 2018). The issue of cost-burdened households has continued to be an area of focus for residents and the city’s housing providers, as evidenced in the City’s Housing Strategy and the Needs and Opportunities plan. Atlanta, the heart of civil rights, has come a long way from racial segregation, but it is currently in income segregation. A poor neighborhood is isolated by social class and a lack of transportation options. Children born poor are likely to stay in poverty from one generation to another (Piranim, 2018).

Aside from the housing issue, another downside to Atlanta’s economic development and population growth is the issue of traffic. I-285 is a highway famed for its congestion despite consisting of 12 wide lanes. The city is ranked 11th among the nation’s most congested cities, with drivers losing 108 hours to congestion; comparably, the national average is 97 hours (JLL Atlanta Research Team, 2019).

According to the Department of Planning and Community Development (2016), the city commute pattern in 2014 identifies 181,347 persons in the City of Atlanta labor force, 42% of whom lived in the city. An additional 12.9% worked elsewhere in Fulton County, excluding Atlanta, 14.1% worked in DeKalb County, and 19.1% worked in the other first-ring counties, such as Cobb, Gwinnett, and Clayton. The remaining 11.4% worked in outlying counties. There was a slight improvement when 54% of Atlanta workers commuted from outside of the city in 2002, compared to 58.4% in 2008. However, these numbers leave much room for improvement. Aside from environmental pollution, these statistics are concerning for two main reasons. First, metro Atlanta’s congestion is on the rise, with the region experiencing a 10% increase in hours lost year-over-year. Second, lost hours equates to lost dollars, as shown in 2018, when congestion costs in metro Atlanta exceeded $1,500 per driver, or over $3.5 billion when aggregated for the region (JLL Atlanta Research Team, 2019).

Problems in the City of Atlanta: Solutions, Reasonings, and Implementations

JLL Atlanta Research Team (2019) stated that “sustained, robust regional growth spurred by a business-friendly environment and relatively low cost of living, has made the region a victim of its own success.”

Problem 1: Affordable Housing

The city has concentrated areas of poverty that need to be addressed. The poverty rate has increased since 2010. As a result, Atlanta needs a diverse and balanced housing stock that provides affordable housing, options to meet the needs at each stage of life, a range of incomes and economic situations, and proximity to jobs and services. There is an insufficient supply of affordable housing to meet the needs of middle and low-income households. Existing affordable housing units are being replaced by market-rate units that are unaffordable to middle and low-income households. I anticipate that a challenge to creating a balanced housing stock is the potential cost of creating it. I propose that it need to be subsidized somehow using governmental funding, and I can identify a tax or a fee that could be used to do this.

Problem 2: Transportation

Atlanta is notorious for its traffic congestion on the highways and the lack of parking space. Building more highway lanes did not help but instead worsened traffic. New residents take to the road for work or school; regional transportation infrastructure cannot handle the influx of growth, and the roads experience strain. The city needs to devise and encourage more public transportation to the mix to deescalate traffic congestion.

These two problems mentioned above correlate with each other, where one is the cause that can affect others and vice versa. Proper development of a housing plan, especially near a commercial area or transportation station, can reduce the need for a commute. Likewise, a collaborative transportation organization can reduce congestion and connect the neighborhood segregated by social class, thus improving the development and utilization of mixed-income housing.

Solution A to Problem 1: Redevelopment

Atlanta needs to create a more sustainable redevelopment project. An excellent example from the past is the Livable Centers Initiative (LCI) plan; it focused on transit-oriented development in the city’s planning efforts. According to the Department of Planning and Community Development (2016), the agency, Atlanta BeltLine, Inc., connected 45 in town neighborhoods via a 22-mile of repurposed old railroad tracks that encircled the city. The plan was created to implement the vision of housing equitably and meet the Atlanta City Council’s goal of creating or preserving 5,600 affordable housing units within the BeltLine Tax Allocation District (TAD).  I agree that the BeltLine is an example of how the city has solved a potential redevelopment problem. This redevelopment line and revitalization have been proven to work and can be utilized for other areas within the city.

Solution B to Problem 1: Public-Private Collaboration

The City Council has signed contracts with private developers on projects like LCI, but they should incentivize private developers to bring adaptive reuse of dilapidated buildings. In my hometown in Augusta, the city has incentivized new development for its historic downtown. When my aunt and uncle were planning on opening a restaurant, the city offered a grant to open a restaurant in the dilapidated downtown areas. Atlanta, likewise, should incentivize developers to build on projects that developers assume might not bring a significant return on investments. While most private entities only care about their financial bottom line, the city council needs to educate the private sector on the humanitarian impact of providing equitable housing for many people. Furthermore, I would help developers in their financial considerations before taking on risks doing projects such as these.

The legislation should also steer private developers to ensure that areas around the BeltLine remain affordable and accessible to all of Atlanta’s residents or create a program that motivates residents through tax reduction. To illustrate, the Neighborhood Stabilization and Affordable Housing Production fostered collaboration between the Atlanta Housing Authority (AHA) and the private sector, develops housing that supports neighborhood stabilization, acting as a catalyst to attract investment (Department of Planning and Community Development, 2016). AHA strategized a Choice Neighborhoods Implementation Grant, which provided $30M in public and private funding to revitalize an existing public housing site and the surrounding neighborhoods in Ashview Heights, Atlanta University Center Neighborhood, and Vine City. As an added benefit, AHA’s investments and commitments also preserve and protect the long-term availability of affordable housing in Atlanta.

Similarly, I identified a neighborhood in the Midwest of Atlanta called “Blandtown,” which potential for redevelopment as the poverty rate in this area is high. Aside from the Beltline’s redevelopments, a mostly undeveloped area within walking distance would be perfect for this project’s location. Based on my early investigations, it appears that this property is owned by a single owner but is zoned for multi-family. The city planners could design around a mixed-income plan and have it work at the local scale. Public communal spaces should available in between and along the way from residential spaces.

Encouraging housing developments that focus on proximity living also reduces the traffic commute time. Proposal A and B for Problem 1 also directly influence public transit, given the proximity of the site to the Beltline and other public transit such as buses. These proposals have the potential to bring benefits to the traffic problem that Atlanta faces as well.

Solution A to Problem II: Expand Public Transit

After years of experience visiting Atlanta and talking to friends and relatives who live in the area, Atlanta public transit is not being utilized as much because it is not expansive enough to get people to the places they need to be. Atlanta City Council should increase funding for Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority (MARTA) with increased transit access within city limits. The city should develop a balanced, multi-modal transportation system that provides choices for local and regional trips. A proper investment in transportation infrastructure should promote economic development in the regions that it connects. Furthermore, the city should incorporate any suggested changes to existing transit services, facilities, and projects to provide a coordinated region-wide approach and enhance riders’ connectivity. Finally, the plan managers need to create performance measures, monitor public transit usage, and be adaptive to the population’s changes in needs (England, Pelissero, & Morgan, 2017).

Solution B to Problem II: Expand Commute that Does Not Require Automobiles

I would make downtown Atlanta a more bikeable, walkable, and pedestrian-oriented community offering various safe and affordable transportation options, such as sidewalks, streetscapes, greenway trails, bike lanes, and handicap accessibility. As recommended by Atlanta City Council (2013), I would also maintain existing pedestrian and bike facilities and propose future streetcar infrastructure to improve connectivity by creating new streets.

National best practices call for equitable and affordable transit-oriented development to be within one-half mile of public transit. To ensure that the Atlanta BeltLine trails, transit, and parks remain accessible to neighbors within walking distance, affordable housing must be available within the Tax Allocation District. The area is measured from a one-half mile on either side of the BeltLine corridor (Atlanta City Council, 2013). I deduce that people will be more likely to use bike and walking paths instead of using a car if the city makes things easier to get to via these methods.

Reasoning of Solutions for the Affordable Housing Problem

The creation of LCI and other transit-oriented developments improved housing by focusing on redevelopment of the commercial corridors and neighborhood centers. Having a strong, diverse economic base can provide a range of businesses and employment opportunities that meet City residents’ needs. Continuation to revitalize Atlanta’s downtown because it serves as the city’s heart and soul will help ensure its major employers’ vitality.

 I would foster more win-win situations like LCI promoting residential development at new and existing transit stations, which will stimulate mixed-income residential, job creation, and economic development. Deconcentration and segregation of the city can create a chain of issues that turn into social conditions wherein the crime rate increases as dilapidated properties are abandoned and schools become under-resourced (England, Pelissero, & Morgan, 2017).

Reasoning for Expanding Public Transit

Streetcars, arterial bus rapid transit, and enhanced bus service will expand transit options, attract more riders and reduce single-occupant vehicle use (Atlanta City Council, 2013). The large-scale public transportation enhancements and expansions slated for implementation will impact Atlanta’s built environment and change the way people and goods move throughout the region (JLL Atlanta Research Team, 2019). I foresee a positive impact on commercial real estate as well as residential properties. In the near-term, it means temporary disruptions to existing infrastructure as systems are enhanced or developed that during construction may dampen a property’s attractiveness. These improvements will also have a long-term impact as the enhancements and expansions will increase the quality of life, reduce lost revenue due to congestion, and, most importantly, provide better access between people and the workforce (JLL Atlanta Research Team, 2019).   

Reasoning for Expanding Alternative Methods of Commute

England (2017) stated that a way to hold down cost is by turning to alternative resources. Bicycle and pedestrian facility planning, construction, and maintenance are cost-effective investments alternative to fixing the city’s infrastructure or expanding transportation choices. They also have low emissions, thus producing less strain on our environment and improving the quality of life overall in the city.

Implementation of Solutions for Affordable Housing

To revitalize the city center, the Council needs to implement measures to identify abandoned structures that accumulate over the years. HUD in the Department of Planning and Community Development (2016) promotes the development of affordable workforce housing and community development policies and fiscal oversight and management of state and federal development contracts and programs valued more than 30 million dollars.

Atlanta’s remediation strategy should focus on duplicating projects similar to the one at the Ford Factory Loft on 699 Ponce de Leon Avenue. In 2016, I visited Atlanta to see a friend who lived in the loft, formerly the Ford Motor Company’s headquarters from the early to mid-1900s. The factory was sold for development in the late 70s and became an apartment complex. Before entering the building, I saw retail shops occupied the first floor. After going into the main gate, I entered the lobby with resident mailboxes and numerous bike racks. Then, I saw an open atrium where many residents gathered to socialize in the center of the complex, which was lit with ample sunlight instead of electricity. These amenities, such as bike racks and shops, are simple moves that can add value to any housing project and convince potential residents to move in, and that I embolden any housing project to be required to include these.

Implementation of Solutions for Transportation

To bring about an implementation, England (2017) mentions that managers often allocate budgets equally across a city’s political units under developmental and redistributive policies. In 2016, the City of Atlanta voted to enhance and expand those services even further via a half-penny local sales tax forecast to fund $2.7 billion in improvements.

After funding and resources are secured, I recommend that the Council consider prior research as a model for implementation and conduct a service survey for the bus, rail riders that MARTA moves 7.9 million throughout Fulton, DeKalb, and Clayton counties (JLL Atlanta Research Team, 2019).   A great example of a bike and pedestrian plan is stated in the city’s comprehensive plan from 2016. The Cycle Atlanta: Phase 1.0 Study corridors connect to all of the MARTA stations within the Atlanta BeltLine loop and the Atlanta Streetcar. The corridors connect directly with 12 of the 24 MARTA stations in the City of Atlanta (Department of Planning and Community Development, 2016).  

References

Atlanta City Council. (2013). Krog-Lake-Elizabeth-North Highland Transportation Strategy. City of Atlanta. https://www.atlantaga.gov/Home/ShowDocument?id=24212

Office of Housing & Community Development. (2021). Inclusionary Zoning and The 2020 IZ Report. City of Atlanta. https://www.atlantaga.gov/Home/ShowDocument?id=49832

Department of Planning and Community Development. (2016). City of Atlanta 2016 Comprehensive Development Plan. City of Atlanta. https://www.atlantaga.gov/home/showpublisheddocument?id=23571

England, R., Pelissero, J., & Morgan, D. (2017). Managing Urban America (8th ed.). SAGE CQ Press.

Piranim, Fiza. (11 October 2018). Atlanta has the worst income inequality in the US, Bloomberg report finds. The Atlanta Journal Consitution. https://www.ajc.com/news/local/atlanta-has-the-worst-income-inequality-the-bloomberg-report-finds/BsUkLHtoLEZEwI504r9oeM/

JLL Atlanta Research Team. (4 November 2019). Atlanta’s Cure for Traffic Congestion: 2019 Q3 Transportation & Infrastructure Special Feature Metro Atlanta invests $13.7 billion to alleviate commute challenges. ArcGIS StoryMaps. https://storymaps.arcgis.com/stories/0eba752bedad4d68a67115ce4967c5d8


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