The power of knowledge

Metro Atlantans know well the biggest problems facing this region. That, and other insights from an ARC poll, should help us begin moving toward positive solutions next year and beyond.
Illustration by Barry Maguire, NewsArt

Credit: Barry Maguire, NewsArt

Credit: Barry Maguire, NewsArt

Illustration by Barry Maguire, NewsArt

For many metro Atlantans, the final days of the year furnish a welcome respite from the customary rush and hustle of our lives. If we’re lucky enough to take a well-earned break from work duties, our minds may naturally drift toward taking stock of the year’s events and our role in all of that.

We’ll suggest here that cities and regions are likewise capable of that sort of thinking. Done well, a broad, collaborative analysis and reassessment can be a productive tool toward keeping dynamic, growing metros like ours on the path to an even better future.

For the Atlanta metro didn’t get where it is today by chance. Far from it. A lot of smart thinking backed by hard work on most all our parts brought us to where we now stand. Atlanta’s success — or lack of same, in some aspects — really is a joint effort shared by roughly 6 million of us here. We live with the results either way. And, we’d argue, we all have a hefty interest in the end product our city offers the world.

And, as much as it may be convenient these days to fault a generic, amorphous “them” for our problems around here, we need to realize that “them” is really “us.” That’s how it works in Atlanta, Georgia and America.

At a powerful, grassroots level, the real power to elicit change still firmly rests with We the People. In these parts, that means that metro Atlantans from Rex to Roswell and beyond have a real stake in how well our great region engages in a take-no-prisoners global economy.

At the beginning, the end and all points in between, each Atlantan’s opinion counts and every household is a player.

The 2012 thrashing of the long-in-coming T-SPLOST proved this point as frustrated voters sent the penny transportation sales tax on to a nearly 2-to-1 margin of defeat.

That trumping raised two broad questions the metro area is beginning to try and answer on mobility and other issues:

1) What’s next for the region? And the answer goes far beyond the still-mythical transportation “Plan B”?

2) What is the mood of the people? How badly do metro Atlantans really want to see improvements in our key challenges of public education, water, transportation and other issues?

Answering the second question holds the bigger key to unlocking a path forward for this metro, we’d suggest. As the T-SPLOST proved, attaining citizen buy-in and support is a must if Atlanta is to stand a chance at fixing our biggest, widely shared problems.

To that end, assessing people’s current attitudes on these issues is critical. By learning where we now stand, this metro can begin honest, two-way engagement with citizens on work needing to be done.

All of which makes noteworthy the findings of a recent, first-of-its kind poll by the Atlanta Regional Commission. As our federally designated metropolitan planning agency, it was a smart move by the ARC to take the pulse of the region’s residents through a comprehensive survey. It sets a baseline which will be used to measure attitudes over time.

The poll’s results are somewhat predictable in a broad sense. That is a good thing which bodes well for Atlanta’s future. Here’s why.

Average Atlantans realize well this metro’s biggest problems — ones which put the brakes on job creation and growth, in addition to crimping our quality of life. The ARC poll found that the economy, traffic, crime and public education — in that order — were the biggest problems facing the Atlanta region. And, perhaps surprisingly to some, taxes ranked a distant sixth, between the categories of “other” and “public health.”

And, predictably, we like our home. A total of 67 percent of survey respondents rate the metro area a “Good” or “Excellent” place to live.

The ARC’s work also found that 40.9 percent of respondents believed public transportation improvements would provide the best long-term solution to our traffic woes. Thirty percent thought better roads were the best way forward. Only 2.7 percent said doing nothing was an option.

It’s indeed encouraging that metro Atlantans see clearly the common challenges we face and recognize the need to rev up our economy. These findings reinforce our view in the commonsense smarts that are found in all corners of this vast metro.

We know we’ve got work to do. Now it’s up to metro Atlanta’s leaders, thinkers and grassroots alike to continue engaging in a way that lets us get beyond past misunderstandings and on to concrete results.

That is a great regional goal for 2014 and beyond. Free-market capitalism and the cities which profit most from it do not stand still — ever. Neither can Atlanta.