We’re all at the table, so let’s talk

September 10, 2008

Martha Farnsworth Riche, former director of the U.S. Census Bureau, spoke to more than 150 participants at “The Changing Faces of the Future” Fifty Forward forum, held Sept. 10 at the Morehouse Leadership Center.

Following Riche’s address, two local experts, Jane Smith, executive director of the Spelman College Center for Leadership and Civic Engagement, and Tisha Tallman, President and CEO of the Georgia Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, joined Riche onstage for a Q&A session with members of the audience.

Most of the discussion centered around situations where the benefits of embracing diversity had not yet been realized.

When answering one audience member’s question about maximizing the benefits of diversity in the workforce, Riche said:

 “Atlanta is incredibly positioned to embrace diversity as a positive force, perhaps the leading city in the country in this regard. Anybody in the world can come to Atlanta and be at home. That is a strength that few cities have.”

We’ll have more updates on the forum later, but for now …

 Do you agree with Riche? Is metro Atlanta as welcoming as many of us think it is?


Your Growth is My Sprawl and Vice Versa

September 2, 2008

Since the mid-1990s, the Atlanta region has had a tsunami of growth – almost a million new residents as well as a huge accompaniment of businesses, visitors and public and private investments – which has swept aside capacities, plans and resources needed to meet the demand.

A series of three Sustainable Atlanta Roundtable sessions will bring in a number of respected thought-leaders to discuss the impact of Atlanta’s historic growth and what can be done to ensure a more livable future.

Guests include:

Michael Dobbins, Professor, Georgia Tech College of Architecture

Kay B. Lee, Director, Center for Community Preservation and Planning, Newton County

Randy Roark, Professor Emeritus, Georgia Tech College of Architecture

Scott Bernstein, Founder and President, Center for Neighborhood Technology

Leon S. Eplan, Principal, Eplan Consulting

Dan Reuter, Chief of Land Use Planning, Atlanta Regional Commission

While we’re on the subject of rising to the massive challenge of growth management, be sure to read the candid article below.

A Time To Review Georgia’s Growth Policy

By Dan Reuter

There are many good examples of Georgia cities and counties that are permitting new walkable and mixed use developments, upgrading aging infrastructure and building sidewalks or multi-use paths, such as Athens, Savannah, Morrow Woodstock, Suwannee, Cobb County Gwinnett County and others. 

But we also have cities and counties that are still stuck in the last century of promoting growth and economic development that may have a short lifespan of success. We understand that we are living in a global economy with competition for oil, resources and investments. 

But are we ready to make decisions that can allow Georgia to compete? 

Will the state of Georgia and local governments work together to make new investments in our economic future? 

Full article

Back to the Future

August 26, 2008

In 2005, a group of interested citizens and organizations began a dialogue to create a more sustainable food system for Metro Atlanta, resulting in the creation of the Atlanta Local Food Initiative.

Some of the group’s partners include the CDC, DeKalb County Board of Health, UGA’s Cooperative Extension and Center for Urban Agriculture.

The group “envisions a transformed food system” made safer, more affordable and one that will “rebuild Southern foodways in harmony with the land.”

One of the group’s goals is to launch a farm-to-school program, which are popular in other urban areas surrounded by thriving agricultural communities. Atlanta certainly fits the bill in that regard.

 Some other goals:

  • Preserve greenspace
  • Reduce petroleum
  • Promote healthy eating
  • Build local economies
  • Create new jobs

Check out the initiative’s brand-spanking new report. It’s comprehensive but not in a dull way. And, maybe report isn’t the best way to describe. It’s more like a plan, a roadmap to actually accomplish the goals ALFI has set.

Could this document outline some of the key steps that could lead to a prosperous, sustainable and yummy future for the Atlanta region?

We’re always focusing on the future on this site, but this report suggests that looking at the past is just as worthy an exercise. Back in the day, local markets sold local produce that was chemical-free and grown in a way that didn’t ruin watersheds or require barrels of oil.

And since that food wasn’t trucked half-way across the country, it was less expensive, too. Today, prices – whether gasoline or groceries –  are a big concern for most of us.

We’ve got a lot to learn, a long way to go and every little bit helps. Thanks, ALFI.

Becoming Gwinnett

August 7, 2008

The headline of Mary Lou Pickel’s article in today’s AJC says it all: “Gwinnett’s minorities surge toward majority. A revolution in diversity …”

A revolution indeed.

Gwinnett’s African American and Hispanic populations more than doubled between 2000 and 2007. The Asian community is booming, too. Gwinnett’s explosive growth and the availability of jobs and affordable housing, the article asserts, is attracting the newcomers.

But the numbers are just numbers. The real story, the reason the headline uses such dramatic words as “revolution,” and “surge,” lies with the cultural impact of a majority white county turning into a minority white county.

Is it that big a deal though? It’s happened before, in DeKalb, Fulton, Clayton and Rockdale counties.

But yes, to many people it is a big deal. The ripple effect of such a shift changes many things, from the political structure of the county to its civic and business sectors.

For example, perhaps a minority-led Gwinnett will be more accepting of mass transit links to Atlanta.

Another example, courtesy of the AJC article, is that state Sen. Curt Thompson (D-Norcross) “has said he has to campaign in Spanish, Korean, Hindi, Vietnamese and Mandarin to keep his seat.”

Many more such shifts are taking place across Gwinnett County, the rest of metro Atlanta and the entire state.

The big question is, is there anything we should do to help make this demographic shift easier for those who are about to become the majority and for those who are about to become the minority?

 Shouldn’t we at least get together and talk about it?

 It’s time to start the conversation. The next Fifty Forward event, “The Changing Faces of the Future,” will be Sept. 10 at the Morehouse College Leadership Center. Former director of the U.S. Census Bureau, Martha Farnsworth Riche will be the keynote speaker and she’ll be joined by a panel of local experts, followed by an open-house discussion.

 Until then, anyone  want to start talking about this issue now?

The Next Fifty Years

August 4, 2008

Guest Blogger: Lani Wong – Chair, National Association of Chinese Americans and Fifty Forward Steering Committee Member

The Atlanta region has changed dramatically since I moved here 31 years ago. Our population has more than doubled; changing from just a black and white community to a truly diverse population that includes a significant mix of Latino, Hispanic, and multi Asian communities including Southeast Asian, South Asian and Pacific Islanders. We are also attracting various groups from Europe and Africa.


Our community has embraced more diversity in art, culture, religion, and education as we become more international. As our Atlanta businesses expand globally, we are also attracting overseas businesses to our region in unprecedented numbers. As this growth will continue well into the future, our infrastructure has become inadequate to handle the growth. We need to stop just talking about the problem and conducting study after study spending millions of dollars doing so, and starting taking immediate positive actions to address traffic congestion that includes the development of an extensive public transportation system.

Of course, we cannot ignore the environmental impact of the tremendous growth on air quality, water quality, and availability of water; all these resources impact the quality of life for our citizens and corporations. We need to see that community development plans address these and similar challenges when we design the communities of the future including more extensive development of mixed use communities that would include office space, recreation, eateries, and commercial shopping along with sidewalks and bike lanes.


Our region has long faced challenges in the area of educational quality or lack thereof. To continue to attract other businesses and investment here in the Atlanta Region, quality education will continue to grow as a factor in the minds of decision makers. We want to see our public education system improve, showing positive results as evidenced by improved student performance and significantly reduced dropout rates. We need to provide quality, affordable post secondary school educational alternatives to include investing in two year regional colleges and technical schools not just focusing on 4 year colleges and universities.

The Atlanta Region is also challenged in the area of quality, affordable healthcare with a shortage of doctors in primary care and health related professionals. With some of the highest obesity rates in the country centered on southern cities and states, we need campaigns and resources to promote healthier lifestyles. Reducing the obesity rate will contribute towards having a smarter, healthier, more qualified workforce work force to attract better paying jobs to our region while controlling payroll and benefit related costs such as health insurance, disability, and absenteeism due to sickness.


The Atlanta Region continues to be fertile ground for attracting continued foreign investment, but we cannot afford resting on our laurels as other cities and states continue to develop and implement additional programs of their own to compete in attracting some of the same foreign investment dollars we would like to see benefit our own citizens and communities. With Delta Air Lines growing internationally, we should take full advantage to make Atlanta the gateway for International business throughout the world.

Local PBA Channel airs ARC sustainability show

July 24, 2008

Seattle’s Mayor, Rolling Stones Keyboardist and Georgia Secretary of State Speak out on Sustainability

“Looking Fifty Forward: Sustaining a Quality Region” is the topic of the ARC’s latest half-hour “Shape of Things to Come” television show.

Catch the Program on WPBA Atlanta, Channel 30, Sunday, July 27 at 10:30 a.m.

The show features an interview with Seattle mayor Greg Nickels, Sec. of State Karen Handel, United Way of Metropolitan Atlanta President Milton Little.

It also features the sustainability success stories at Emory University and Interface carpet.

You won’t want to miss it.

Real Thoughts from Real People

July 21, 2008

GUEST BLOGGER: Otis White, president of Civic Strategies, Inc.

On July 7, the Civic League for Regional Atlanta did something unusual: It started asking average citizens what they would like the Atlanta Region to look like and work like in the next 50 years. This wasn’t by accident that this was going on at the same time as Fifty Forward. The Civic League is supporting Fifty Forward by convening 18 of these “neighborhood forums” in the next two years.

The first was in Chattahoochee Hill Country in south Fulton County. The format was simple: We invited citizens to come to a meeting in their community and, in two hours’ time, talk about what the future might hold. We don’t make any proposals or offer any plans. We just let participants describe how they thought the Atlanta Region could grow and become healthier and more sustainable. (You can find a detailed report of the forum by clicking here.)

Over the years, I’ve been involved in a number of these open-ended community meetings as a consultant. I always go away impressed by how intelligent, creative and fair-minded people can be when you give them the space to think and talk about something they consider important, like the kind of region they’d like to leave to their children and grandchildren.

And the forum in Chattahoochee Hill Country did not disappoint. This one (like the next two, in Stockbridge and Roswell) was about how we can have growth in our region and a cleaner and healthier environment. We asked people to work in groups of 8 to 10, and write down their ideas on flip charts. In the two hours, ideas flowed from these groups: transit, walkable communities, density in some places and green spaces in others. They imagined new “green industries” that could make the region a leader in environmental technology, and older companies embracing this new technology.

What will people say in other communities? We don’t know. They might agree with the Chattahoochee Hill Country citizens or disagree. They may have entirely different visions of the future or just add to what we heard on July 7. My prediction: In the end, we’ll be surprised by how much wisdom and foresight our fellow citizens have . . . if we give them an opportunity to talk and we take the time to listen.

The Civic League’s Stockbridge Neighborhood Forum will be on Thursday, Sept. 11; the Roswell Forum will be Tuesday, Sept. 16. We’ll have more details on location and time in the weeks ahead.

How Green Is Your Game?

June 27, 2008

GUEST BLOGGERS: Serena Zhang and Rebecca Cutts. Our two summer interns have activated their Wonder Twin Powers to provide you with the selection below.

Your local Starbucks, in addition to being an expert at satisfying your caffeine needs, has branched out to become a leader for going green and creating sustainable changes in the world. Starbucks created the Planet Green Game in which you can explore the town of Evergreen while learning about how to conserve and protect your global resources.

You begin by choosing a character and mode of transportation which can potentially affect your overall score in the game. The goal is to visit all six key destinations, where you partake in green related mini-games and explore global solutions once you have finished the task. These global solutions show how different cities across the globe solve environmental challenges ranging from sustainable developments to climate control.

There are ten bonuses hidden throughout the city that you can find to unlock additional points and information. After you unlock every location and bonus, the game automatically ends and you can see how well you performed out of 10000 points.

It is a fun and interactive way to discover ways to help the environment!

Try it out and tell us what you think!

I Didn’t Know What I Didn’t Know

June 26, 2008

GUEST BLOGGER: Rebecca Cutts, Rising Senior at Emory’s Business School and Fifty Forward Summer Intern

My heart is with non-profit organizations. A cut throat corporate world is not for me.

This is why the Atlanta Regional Commission seemed like the perfect place for me to stretch my legs and become familiar with how non-profits work.

I began interning with the Fifty Forward Program thinking it would be a great way to gain work experience; learn how things work in the real world. Little did I know I would be learning how to make sustainable choices and think beyond my 5 year plan after college.

Before learning the facts, there was a lazy quality to my efforts in making smart choices when it came to the environment. I did have some good habits already instilled before coming to work for ARC. Like recycling, I recycle all my plastics and instead of taking the 12 minute shuttle ride to class I always opted to take the 15 minute walk.

Since coming to work for the ARC on the Fifty Forward Program, I have researched and learned about sustainability, land use, and energy efficiency among many other topics. I began to realize the effect each individual has on the environment. I knew I had to change my wasteful habits, like not shutting my computer off before I go to bed, driving to get the mail, leaving my phone charger plugged in, leaving on random lights not in use, and cutting down on my liberal paper towel use.

Now, I make more of an effort: I drink tap water out of reusable cups, I bring my own coffee mug to work, and I take my own bags to the grocery store and reuse the plastic bags as trash bags. I try to educate my family on the issues. Sure these are just baby steps, but if we all take baby steps…imagine how far we could get.

Become part of the conversation. Educate yourself on the issues and tell us what you think people can do to cut down on waste, not just trash but wasted energy, time, gas, and space.

Up On The Roof

June 24, 2008

GUEST BLOGGER: Serena Zhang, Rising High School Senior and Fifty Forward Summer Intern

Rooftop Greenspace
I, like most people, have been grudgingly complaining about oil prices. However, let us not forget that as human population increases, space is also becoming a pricier and more prized commodity. At a time when our earth is straining to support 6.7 billion of us, we cannot sacrifice green space at the expense of building new infrastructure.

My solution? Use roofs. Roofs, for the most part, have been flat, lifeless blocks-screaming to be filled…with something! We could install solar panels for using sunlight more efficiently or plant a little garden there, where the grass and flowers will have optimal sun.

My vision entails a whole neighborhood park at the top of a residential building! The elevator can easily bring residents to this new “top floor”, where protective shields ensure the inhabitants’ safety. Below the roof surface, soil-encased cells will not only support plant growth, but will also allow extra rainwater to seep down to the storm water storage compartment. The stored water can be then filtered into drinking water or can be used to replenish the soil in times of drought.

In my vision, I hope that developers will not have to choose infrastructure over sustaining greenspace, or vice versa. This is my hope for the future: what is yours?