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Concerns about the Little City that Could--and Why Voting Locally Matters No Matter Where You Live

Posted Oct 05 2013 8:15am
The sky is so, so blue, day after day after day, and the cityscape appears like Oz between the wildflower meadow and the colorful tunnel murals as I continue to squeeze in bike rides on the Atlanta BeltLine's Eastside Trail (see my overview of the BeltLine here ). I go there like the swallows returning to Capistrano almost daily. I knock out a quick four miles, and they add up. That knee pain I'd grown to accept as a normal sign of aging is gone. Completely 100% gone. My gosh, what is actually possible?

The Trees Atlanta folks (who are some of the hardest working people I see each day) recognize me, as do some others who seem to be on my same schedule. We nod. We wave. We say hello. 

I chat with the cops, including the mounted police, one of whom tells me his daddy and granddaddy are dairy farmers, when he sees the "No Farms, No Food" bumper sticker on my bike. 

I chat with the lady at the bike shop who is getting a rusty old bike repaired so she can ride for the first time in so long she can't even tell me. 

I chat with the leasing agent at loft apartments in the neighborhood I like most (so far--much construction is under way on many new developments as well). I chat with dog walkers and stroller pushers and shop owners. As my husband said to me when he rode with me for the first time yesterday (and loved it), "You chat a lot!" 

But then I come home to the Little City that Could and it's a total disconnect when I see the local newspaper filled with vitriolic stories and the nasty blog posts and Twitter tweets that lambast people who will run into each other in the supermarket. This is what we've become to the public, and yes, the world is still watching what was until recently the newest city in the United States, to see what decisions it makes when given the fresh, clean-slate opportunity to do so. 

I didn't move to this suburb of Atlanta because of the suburb itself. Not because of the churches or schools or family, although yes, it's relatively safe and pretty, and there was some new construction we liked eighteen years ago, and it's turned out well for lots of reasons.

We moved here (as opposed to some other places where we looked and also lived during our five years in Atlanta leading up to the house purchase) because, most importantly, it has easy highway access to Atlanta. That actually was a major deciding factor, and a big benefit to this city's location. Coming from New York, I'm used to city bustle and I like it. I grew up 16 miles from Manhattan and I always considered myself a part of the city, even as I rode bikes, played ball, and visited the local public pool and nearby public beaches out in suburbia. It's therefore natural for me to consider myself to be a part of metro Atlanta, not part of some free-standing island. As Atlanta is consistently making national news for being a top relocation destination for younger generations (as it was for my husband and me as newlyweds), I hope my community will share in that positive energy, not be an exception to the reasons why people are choosing to move here. At the current rate of positive change intown, I'm even realizing that folks with kids who would have traditionally moved to the "burbs" after awhile will not feel the need to do so. 

I give the founding and current city councils and mayors of the Little City that Could a great deal of credit for the vision they have put in place and are trying to implement, even if some mistakes have been made, but I'm concerned at the erosion of that community-developed vision I see possibly happening over the next few years.


I'm concerned because I believe that if we are not careful (and if more people who share my thoughts don't get involved, or at least vote on November 5), we will blow the huge opportunity we currently have in our hands to become a top choice for relocating young professionals from all over the United States and the world. There is more positive energy happening in Atlanta right now than I have ever seen (and I was here throughout the boom years of the Olympics), and my Little City happens to be the general location of the largest concentration of Fortune 500 companies in the southeastern United States--yet, from what I understand, when a major corporation relocated here several years ago, not one of its 500 relocating employees chose my Little City as his or her home. 

After spending so much time intown lately, I truly believe these are unprecedented times filled with exciting opportunities if we recognize the environmental, social, and economic implications and make forward-thinking decisions accordingly.

My Little City cannot count on the schools anymore--just-released SAT statistics show that my county was not even in the top ten counties in what is the 48th state in the nation regarding education. And regarding starting its own school district, I do think that makes sense but I cringe thinking about the kind of short-sighted vision and infighting that may happen as a result, if current local politics are any indicator.

My Little City needs to be at the table (and currently isn't) when metro-wide Atlanta Chamber and other business events are happening regarding the top issues defined as significantly impacting our region's economic sustainability. 

Active seniors on BeltLine is common site
My Little City needs more passionate advocates of healthy living for all ages to stand up and say, "My ability to not only raise my children to have healthy life-long habits but my ability to age gracefully really does depend on the environment in which I live." 

Yes, bike lanes matter. Yes, public greenspaces matter. Yes, removing barriers to living a resilient life matters (my kingdom for the candidates who say they stand for "personal property rights" who are smart enough to know--and brave enough to say out loud--that that includes allowing proven national and local best practices such as small-scale, urban-appropriate backyard chicken-keeping that adhere to appropriate noise and nuisance ordinances). (And for the record, when this came up in my city for a vote a few years ago, the vote was 4-3 against and some of those "no" voters are gone. Public records show citizens supported it by a 4-1 margin. Yet backyard chicken-keeping as an allowable practice is not even included in the zoning rewrite, which is about to be voted on. As I said in this post , I think it's time to sweat the details, not keep asking people to operate "under the radar" and hope no one complains*.)



I have asked all local candidates for their platforms relating to the wide net of triple-bottom-line sustainability principles. You can see my post about this here . I have already received a detailed response from one candidate, and I will be running all responses received in about two weeks on my Sustainable Pattie blog, with a link from this blog. I recommend you do something similar where you live. Don't be afraid to speak up. You will not be alone; this I assure you. I have yet to have one opinion that hasn't been shared by others. And, in fact, by voicing my concerns, I have met some of the best friends of my life, right here in the Little City that Could.

Oh, and for those who are following Around Atlanta in 180 Days , here are this week's visual poetries:


* And, for the record, families have chickens right now and no one has complained, including the city councilor candidate who knocked on a door the other day and was asked point-blank what he thought about it and said they were dirty and smelly, not knowing they were right there as he spoke and have been in his neighborhood for years.
eclectic food-for-thought for a changing world
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