By Sam Burnham
2017 has been an eventful year for Metro Atlanta traffic. A fire under an elevated section of I-85 resulted in a collapse of the roadway. A truck overturned on I-75 and spilled a load of foam tomahawks that were headed to the SunTrust Park, the new $1 billion home of the Braves. Other overturned trucks have caused Hazmat incidents that have closed down both I-285 and the Downtown Connector (the combined wrath of I-75 & I-85 which cuts through downtown). A broken gas line led to the buckling of several lanes of I-20. And a sinkhole ate a chunk of 5th Street in Midtown. This doesn't factor in the questionable condition of practically every surface street in the city or the lack of any visible plan to remedy those abysmal byways.
And Metro Atlanta continues to grow.
And as it grows we begin to see more and more pockets of impoverished areas. These are areas with failing schools, ignored infrastructure, blight, and, therefore, a general feeling of hopelessness - failing communities. And as the real estate prices in Atlanta continue to rise, the people in these areas become less and less likely to find themselves capable of relocating to an area that can provide a realistic option for people to become self-sufficient.
It also is a drag on resources. The state just spent several years entangled in a protracted courtroom water war with Alabama and Florida. The biggest factor in that struggle was the amount of water that Atlanta removes from the Chattahoochee basin. This water usage is damaging the mollusk habitats in the Apalachicola estuary. That might just sound like a silly hippie issue but that estuary provides a major industry for the state of Florida. That's not to mention the number of cities and towns downstream that are trying to live off of the water in that river as well.
Throughout that fight Atlanta was pushing for interbasin water transfers. This involves Atlanta taking water from Lake Allatoona, in the Coosa Basin, and piping it to Atlanta, in the Chattahoochee Basin. This might be good for Atlanta, and Columbus, perhaps even Apalachicola but it stinks to High Heaven for Acworth, Cartersville, Rome, Gadsden, Montgomery, and Mobile. If this is the only solution Atlanta can find to provide water for a city that may reach the population density of New York City, we'll find ourselves in another water war; one that we're likely to lose.
In the 19th and 20th centuries, American cities exploded with opportunity and people left rural areas to find their fortunes in the industrial workforce. But America's industrial age is over. There are still jobs in factories but there is no need in hallucinating about a second Industrial Revolution in this nation. Our economy must be reinvented. And it must be reinvented on the lowest levels and let entrepreneurs lead the way to the future.
So I call us back to several pieces I've written on the small towns of rural Georgia. There are many with rudimentary infrastructure in place. It is time to start investigating the possibilities of engaging these areas with private, and perhaps even public investment to enable these places to offer Georgians a more sustainable way of life. We can promote more self-sufficiency, spread the use of resources out over different sources, inspire a sense of community rather than lengthy commutes from bedroom communities ,and provide more affordable housing. In short, revitalizing small towns throughout the state, and the South, can provide a more sustainable life for people.
While Atlanta's sprawl has left it incapable of maintaining it's infrastructure, small towns will leave the dispersion of resources closer to the people who hold the local governments responsible -the citizenry.. These governments will be more efficient and less prone to the corruption we see in Atlanta's municipal departments. And telecommuting, as well as enterprises that can be run from home, will eliminate commutes, save people hundreds of wasted hours a year, improve workforce morale, and make life better for millions.
So as Atlanta becomes less sustainable by the day, we need to look outward for solutions, rather than waiting for a problem to fix itself.
(CC: Charlotte, Nashville, Birmingham, and Memphis)
Historian, self-proclaimed gentleman, agrarian-at-heart, & curator extraordinaire