The well-documented inequities in Atlanta are almost entirely a consequence of a set of mal-intended public policies and private practices that have isolated mostly low-income African Americans into neighborhoods of high distress. Residential housing segregation is arguably the most successful public policy of the 20th century, and it falls upon this generation of public and private leaders to reverse its degradative impact.
Creating private-public partnerships focused on implementing customized strategic interventions is the most effective means for turning unhealthy neighborhoods into healthy ones. These interventions must be organized by a “community quarterback” organization focused on a single neighborhood. The East Lake Foundation, the Grove Park Foundation and the Westside Future Fund are examples in Atlanta. These organizations braid the desires of the neighborhood residents and the partners who can deliver transformative investments with the public and private funding needed to finance them.
These interventions typically include new mixed-income housing developments intended to increase the quality of housing while protecting future affordability, cradle-to-college education investments to ensure that every child from birth to high school graduation has access to an A-plus school, and community wellness investments such as YMCAs, health clinics, parks and transportation infrastructure.
This may sound expensive, but the vast majority of this money is already being spent. But it is being spent in silos and not as part of neighborhood transformation investments. APS is investing in school buildings, the city is investing in public infrastructure, Invest Atlanta is investing in economic development, and philanthropists are investing in distressed neighborhoods. They should be making these investments in a coordinated fashion under the guidance of a community quarterback.
I hope our candidates for mayor, city council and the school board will embrace this approach to achieving the goals we know they all want to achieve. When candidates come knocking on your door, ask them about their strategy for your neighborhood. After all, don’t we simply want everyone to live in healthy, thriving and prosperous neighborhoods?
David Edwards is CEO of Purpose Built Communities.