Opinion: Assessing city’s progress and work that’s still ahead

As I leave office after two terms as the 59th Mayor of Atlanta, I am proud of the fact that our city is in its best financial shape in 40 years.

By achieving pension reform early on, we launched a turnaround that, eight years later, continues to inspire unprecedented growth and prosperity. It enabled us to increase our cash reserves from $7.4 million to more than $200 million today; elevate our credit rating from near junk-bond status to AA+; balance eight consecutive budgets without once raising property taxes; and attract 19 regional or U.S. headquarters in the last 42 months, many drawn by the rising technology center and innovation hub around Georgia Tech.

We have assembled the largest police force in our city’s history and reduced crime by 32 points.

We have built the framework for a new transportation ecosystem that will better connect neighborhoods to our job centers with the largest expansion of MARTA since its inception; the introduction of the Atlanta Streetcar; the largest expansion of the Atlanta Beltline to date; our new Relay bikeshare program; and the dedication of $550 million for infrastructure repair through Renew Atlanta and the T-SPLOST.

Our new agreement with Delta Air Lines will keep the headquarters of our flagship carrier, and the state’s largest private employer, based in Atlanta for the next 20 years, with an option for 10 more. That pact triggered a $6 billion expansion of Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, which is consistently ranked the world’s busiest and most efficient airport.

We could not have accomplished all this without the meaningful collaboration of our private, state and federal partners, for which I am truly grateful.

But our success means more than fueling our economy; it means meeting the needs, and seeding the dreams, of our residents. Our drive for financial stability has been matched by our passion for equity.

Atlanta is at its best when it is a city for everyone. In the cradle of the Civil Rights movement, our diversity is our greatest strength. We must ensure that it remains so.

That is why we fulfilled my campaign promise to reopen all our recreation centers: The young people in our working families need safe places to study, participate in sports, engage with mentors and learn the character-building skills that put them on the path to productive lives.

It is why, with the help of the Atlanta City Council, we passed legislation establishing the most robust family-leave policy of any government in the State of Georgia; instituted equal pay for equal work by women; and committed to a $15 minimum wage for city employees.

We also opened the Women’s Entrepreneurship Initiative to give promising businesswomen a chance to build their companies surrounded by best-in-class technology and access to capital.

Of course, there is still work to be done. Every successful city faces the challenges we find in Atlanta: affordability, the need for greater mobility, economic inequality, homelessness and sustainability.

Assuring a range of housing options is essential to creating and sustaining vibrant neighborhoods with greater opportunities for the people who live in them.

In July 2016, we adopted a new city ordinance that requires a set percentage of residential real estate units from any development receiving public funds to be leased to working households whose income falls below a certain percentage of the area median income.

The Atlanta Public Schools and Fulton County soon followed with policies of their own.

The redevelopment of the Turner Field neighborhood and the Atlanta Civic Center will add significantly to the inventory of mixed-income housing in our city, as will Post Centennial Park, Atlanta’s first downtown apartment property built in the last 20 years for young professionals and families.

Thirty percent of the new residential units at the redeveloped Civic Center site will be available to low-income and working families.

We must also continue to help the less fortunate. One of my proudest days as mayor came last month when the federal government announced that the City of Atlanta had effectively ended veterans’ homelessness. Now we must ramp up our work to eradicate homelessness for everyone.

Our progress on these fronts must not wane. We must not get distracted.

Mayor-elect Keisha Lance Bottoms will inherit a leading global city, which anchors the ninth-largest metro in the United States, and is powered by the innovation and integrity of 8,500 employees.

Mayor Bottoms will guide a substantially larger city, as well, thanks to the annexation of Emory University, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta – the largest expansion of Atlanta since the annexation of Buckhead in 1952.

Since 2010, by any measure, Atlanta has become a stronger, safer, more diverse and livable place, a global destination that draws 52 million visitors a year who generate $15 billion in spending.

We are an ascendant city, because we achieved so much during the last eight years. We did it the Atlanta way. We worked together. We lifted our city off its knees, and now look confidently to the future, and a region and state that stands ready for our leadership.

Promise made, promise kept.