Whether it passes or not, the Transportation Investment Act (TIA) creates a unique opportunity for our regional community to learn from the valuable lessons it provides. What we take collectively from these lessons will influence the viability of metropolitan Atlanta for decades to come. If approved by voters, the TIA could provide close to $8.5 billion in new revenue for infrastructure projects in metro Atlanta. In the past we have asked the public to support (politically and financially) large-scale development projects without creating diverse opportunities for these populations to participate, lead and own portions of the process. We have relied on small segments of our communities to develop, promote and implement strategies that affect communities who had little or no input on how success should be defined or measured. While this strategy may have worked or been acceptable in the past, metro Atlanta’s demographic and economic shifts have created a new civic environment in our region – an environment that is more diverse and requires the support and engagement of various interests for the common good.
Our region is no longer black or white. Following the lead of the United States, metro Atlanta is becoming a world region. We have one of the largest Hispanic populations in the United States, and Asians represent the nation’s fastest-growing immigrant population. In 2010, 36 percent of new immigrants were Asian compared to 31 percent who were Hispanic, according to a Pew Research Center report. In the past, metro Atlanta’s economy was driven by the development sector. Our “lava hot” commercial and real-estate markets were the envy of most regions in the United States. Now these markets have experienced levels of unproductivity that will require us to explore new market approaches that may grow, strengthen and diversify our regional economy.
If the TIA passes we must leverage this unique opportunity to promote balanced and sustained opportunities for accessibility, growth and opportunity for all. We must utilize the voices of our changing populations at the beginning, middle and end of large-scale growth opportunities to inform, support and collaborate on decisions that will affect their quality of life for decades to come. More than ever, equity (just and fair inclusion) has found synergy with economic viability. How we prepare and engage our most marginalized communities today including our seniors, communities of color, and our youth –will impact our ability to compete in the global marketplace tomorrow.
Smith is the founder and chief equity officer of Partnership for Southern Equity in Atlanta, www.psequity.org.