Challenges like gentrification and rising housing prices have long troubled large cities like Atlanta1 and created significant inequalities in our communities. Development pressure threatens long-standing communities within those cities, their cultural character and access to affordable housing. On Friday, May 1, Southface Institute will host its monthly Sustainable Atlanta Roundtable (SART) online, where participants will hear panelists from the Partnership for Southern Equity, Southface Institute and Focused Community Strategies – Lupton Center talk about implementing healthy development in ways that allow these vibrant communities to remain and thrive.
Below we’ve asked Southfacer Alex Trachtenberg, Senior Project Manager, Policy and Community Impact, to open a window into this complex topic. Register now for SART to hear more about it.
SF: What are your biggest concerns related to development in Atlanta right now?
Alex: One of the challenges of development is to ensure that all affected parties are included in the discussion. Often, the community and public are not included or engaged until a development decision has already been made. Valuing community input, needs, priorities and strategies is the key to creating a truly sustainable and profitable development from a triple-bottom-line approach (people, profit, planet). Unfortunately, development in cities like Atlanta is largely operating like business as usual and, as a result, creating some of the same inequitable and unsustainable outcomes in our communities. We should be leading with people and communities first and considering our long-term sustainability.
SF: How did you get involved in this field?
Alex: I first got interested and involved in this field with my college studies on environmental policy and planning and learning about sustainable development. When I started working at Southface, I began working on sustainability planning and transit-oriented development, which exposed me to more of the challenges and opportunities with development in Atlanta and our region. When I began working with the TransFormation Alliance, a partnership of 30-plus government, business and nonprofits addressing these issues, I started to better see development from the eyes and perspectives of community members and residents. I could see the inequities and unsustainable practices more clearly and believe that we must be able to do better. Atlanta has always been my home, and I’m passionate about working with communities for better outcomes related to how we develop our built environment.
SF: What makes the question of how can we develop sustainably relevant right now?
Alex: Atlanta has been the poster child for unhappy trends in development, such as white flight, urban sprawl and gentrification. We continue to rank at the top,2 and not in a good way, for community indicators related to income, poverty, education, health and environment. The way we’ve developed as a city and region is simply not sustainable and has created significant inequities in our communities. We are a tale of two cities, the haves and the have-nots, the rich and the poor, and our development of the built environment is directly related. It is most relevant now, given the COVID-19 pandemic and the toll it is taking on our most under-resourced and vulnerable communities. The issues present before are now being exacerbated with people being laid off, losing their housing and experiencing impacts on their health and quality of life as a result of the virus. We can now see that our systems and infrastructure are not prepared for or resilient to these kinds of shocks, which will continue in different forms, such as climate change. Hopefully, there’s a silver lining with this crisis and we’ll be able to make significant changes to support all our people.
Sustainable Atlanta Roundtable is a monthly, issue-focused gathering that brings together professionals of multiple sectors, as well as policymakers, members of the media and concerned citizens of Atlanta and beyond, to discuss challenges facing metro Atlanta, Georgia and the region, ranging from water and energy to sustainability in business and industry, urban planning, government policy and more.
Click here to register for the May 1 SART on Development Without Displacement.