Georgia's iconic Gold Dome. AJC/Bob Andres.

Opinion: For two (or more) Georgias, two (or more) approaches needed

To be two Georgias, or not to be.

For going on 35 years, that has been the question. It was in the early 1980s that we first heard the notion that our state was really two, variously described as metro Atlanta vs. South Georgia or metro Atlanta vs. everywhere else. There’s an argument to be made that there are more than two.

The temptation under the Gold Dome has been to govern as if this weren’t true. Policy makers are at pains to make their policies attractive to urban and rural alike. There’s even a state entity, aptly named the One Georgia Authority, aimed at “bridging Georgia’s economic divide.”

Yet, the divide has only widened. Governing all for one, and one for all, hasn’t brought shared prosperity.

Nor has the focus on unity actually yielded much comity. The detachment from the capital region felt by the “other Georgia” is instead reciprocated by the typical Atlantan, who’s as likely to have grown up in the Midwest as in Middle Georgia. What’s Hahira to him, or he to Hahira, that he should weep for her?

So perhaps the most promising development in this year’s session is the emerging template for addressing the different needs and wants in various regions.

Two examples stand out. One is the push to organize true regional transit in metro Atlanta. The other is the move to ensure high-speed internet, or broadband, is deployed across rural Georgia.

Transit has remained a dirty word in Republican circles longer than necessary because it is such an urban concern. The recent uptick in interest in places like Gwinnett, north Fulton and even Cobb owes mostly to their increasing urbanization and need to compete with Atlanta proper. It remains a solution best suited to higher-density areas; the difference is the near-suburbs are beginning to gain some density, and are projected to have more by the time new infrastructure can be brought on line.

Alpharetta still isn’t Atlanta, though, so the best model for regional transit isn’t the monopoly service originally envisioned for MARTA. It will look a little different, not just in terms of favoring buses over trains but in terms of maintaining, and coordinating, a handful of service providers. (That’s one of the reasons to favor the House’s version of a transit bill over the Senate’s. Another is the House’s making use of an existing agency and board rather than the Senate’s method of creating a new layer of bureaucracy.)

None of which strikes much of a chord in Alapaha. That’s where the broadband piece comes in.

Hopping online virtually anywhere at high speeds is taken for granted in Georgia’s big cities. Not so in its rural areas, particularly in South Georgia. But their decline will only continue if that staple of education, commerce and, increasingly, health care remains absent.

And the steady stream of their residents bound for metro Atlanta — requiring that even more schools, roads, etc. be built — will likewise carry on.

It would be nice for each area to recognize its enlightened self-interest in helping the other. But simply scratching each other’s back will do. That’s what legislators this year appear to be on the cusp of achieving.

Is there still a place for each to insist on frugality on the other’s part? There better be. Simply agreeing to give one’s counterpart whatever they want, if they’ll agree to return the favor, is a bad plan.

But working on specific solutions for specific needs wherever they appear, and not trying to pretend one size really can fit all, is the way to prod each part of the state to meet its potential.

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