What's the Big Idea? - Features - Atlanta Magazine

What's the Big Idea?

Cover up the Connector. Turn vacant lots into gardens. Demolish Underground. Build the BeltLine. Synchronize the traffic lights. Atlantans have plenty of suggestions for our new mayor. Here are their two cents.

This article originally appeared in our January 2010 issue.

This month Kasim Reed becomes Atlanta’s first new mayor in eight years. He takes office at one of the most challenging periods in the city’s history. But tough times can spawn great ideas. We canvassed dozens of Atlantans to find the most intriguing.

John Morse, contemporary artist and writer
The Connector splits Atlanta like an open wound. Imagine that sunken eyesore—from Memorial Drive to Atlantic Station—completely covered by an undulating, tree-lined promenade with outdoor cafes, bike paths, fountains, soccer fields, dog runs: four long miles of new parkland in the heart of Atlanta! Expensive, yes, but profits from selling slim parcels at the park’s edge for low-rise development would cover the cost. Best of all, this verdant ribbon would finally stitch together our serpentine urban core. Cities around the globe have covered thoroughfares and rail lines to transform blight into beauty. So can Atlanta.

Matt Ruppert, owner of Noni’s Deli
Downtown needs to incorporate more demographics and full-time Downtown residents into the daily mix. A great place to start is Underground. I propose we knock down that pigsty and erect in its place a skyscraper called High Ground. On ground level, we’d have an open, authentic street food vendor market. The bulk of the building’s space should be residential. The High Museum could use the roof to showcase sculptural exhibits amid a landscape of flora designed by the Atlanta Botanical Garden.

Sally Flocks, president and CEO of PEDS (Pedestrians Educating Drivers on Safety)
Atlanta residents are fed up with drivers who threaten pedestrians’ lives by speeding through residential areas and school zones. The city should install speed radar signs on neighborhood streets. Radar signs show drivers how fast they are going. They also collect useful traffic data. Unlike speed humps, they can be used on collector streets and bus routes. They’re effective at getting drivers to slow down.

Sean Sobottka, student at Emory University School of Law
On a drive from Emory to west Midtown, I hit every light on Ponce de Leon between Briarcliff and Juniper. What Google Maps estimated as an eighteen-minute trip took over half an hour in light traffic. Synchronizing traffic lights would be an easy fix to ease congestion.

Jay Pratte, lead keeper at Zoo Atlanta
The most poignant impact this city has had on me since I moved here was the trash one sees in public. Some areas are very clean compared to others, but all of Atlanta should be beautiful. Place new trash and recycling receptacles with a logo at key problem points. Provide an incentive—a tax break or financial reward program—for people to participate in “Clean Mile” sections of the city, promoting ownership and pride in the appearance of our great city.

Peggy Barlett, Goodrich C. White Professor of Anthropology at Emory University
There is a lot of unused land in Atlanta that could be used to strengthen our local food system. The city could grant some tax incentives to encourage landowners to develop an urban farm or a community garden. That’s good for quality of life in the neighborhood, and it produces healthy, fresh food, which helps us combat our declining health standards. Another thing is to use tax incentives to encourage grocery stores to locate in underserved areas. If people don’t have access to a car, it is sometimes extremely difficult to eat healthily.

Darian Cole, North Metro Career Center, Georgia Department of Labor
The train system and just MARTA period needs to run twenty-four hours a day. Some people get eliminated from a job if the job starts at five in the morning, because MARTA doesn’t run at the time.

Susan Bridges, Whitespace Gallery
I recently went to Toronto to attend Nuit Blanche, an all-night art show. People stood in line at 3 a.m. to get into venues held in vacant buildings, grocery stores, and on tops of buildings. Everything was free and the entire city was into it. This “art show” draws about 1 million people into the streets. Atlanta has so many open spaces and so many amazing artists who want and need to have a more active and supportive community. How can we make our great city a cultural center as well? Through education and public art.

Bob Amick, Concentrics Restaurants
The city ought to look into the privatization of the whole process of licensing and inspecting projects within the city of Atlanta. The city has not proven that it can do that efficiently and do that well. You have to spur development and have people want to be there. Development and money coming in creates diversity, which drives all the other pieces of the pie. Plus, all the one-way streets Downtown need to be done away with; everything’s been developed to create a huge exit from Downtown at four o’clock in the afternoon, and that’s counterproductive.

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