Peeved by a recent post about sprawl, a longtime city planner writes in this week to defend metro Atlanta's "distinguished" history of planning at regional government levels — and to lambaste the state of Georgia for crippling the city's best efforts over the decades. After Atlanta again took the No. 1 spot in a national ranking of sprawling metros, we described the city's planning as being famously awful; the comment came in the wake of national media coverage by the New York Times, Politico and others who have spotlighted Atlanta's checkered history with transportation infrastructure and the fallout from it. The writer is Paul Kelman, a certified planner who retired a few years ago as the longest serving member in Central Atlanta Progress's 70-year history. He offers compelling insight into Atlanta's obese sprawl and notes glints of promise for a more functional future. (Letter has been edited for length; published with permission).
As a long-time planner in Atlanta, now retired, I have to take issue with your gratuitous comment about planning in Atlanta. You wrote: "According to the study, major contributing factors include the sheer size of communities and a lack of urban planning, an area in which Atlanta famously excels." I haven't read the study, but their conclusion that a contributing factor to our sprawling condition is a lack of urban planning (if reported accurately) is just plain ignorant. And your follow-on remark is way out of line.
Metropolitan Atlanta actually has a distinguished history of planning at the regional, county and municipal level. What we don't have is a corresponding distinguished history of local governance that might have put some of our planning into effect. You may have noticed that metro Atlanta is located in Georgia, a state with great promise that has sadly been unable to overcome its anti-city, anti-minority, anti-progress record.
We also suffer from having 159 counties in an area the same size as Florida (67 counties), a condition that creates a nearly perfect environment for sprawl. Developer to County X planners: "If you won't approve my project, I will go next door to County Y, which will greet me with open arms." Our counties are small enough so that this has happened repeatedly, driving development outward. It is only in recent years that the unsustainable sprawl reversed itself. To add insult to injury, our court system in Georgia has repeatedly thwarted good planning via their right-wing philosophy. Think the U.S. Supreme Court writ small.
Despite the obstacles in our way, I am amazed at how much metro Atlanta has been able to accomplish (MARTA, the Olympics, a thriving cultural scene, world-class institutions). I credit our enlightened business community and outstanding not-for-profit sector.
Visit some of our local planners at ARC, local governments and our many CIDs. You will discover truly committed professionals who strive every day to better metro Atlanta. And they even succeed every once in a while.
Paul Kelman, FAICP
(Fellow of the American Institute of Certified Planners)
· Once Again, Atlanta Dominates National Sprawl Study [Curbed]
· Stranded by Sprawl [The New York Times]
· The day we lost Atlanta [Politico]