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The Athens-Atlanta Connection

Very interesting juxtaposition of forces arrayed this week, highlighted in separate articles, connected by a major weather event and both predicated on an issue critical to the state and UGA: economic development.

First, the Columns article, Downtown Connector, about the importance of linking the new Office of Economic Development to important partners in Atlanta:

Sixty-five miles is the distance between UGA's hub in Athens and Atlanta, Georgia's economic hub.

That challenge can create another kind of distance between UGA and the state's economic development agencies and industry leaders. The university is overcoming the challenge through its recently established UGA Office of Economic Development in Atlanta, directed by Sean McMillan.

The Atlanta office, located in the Centergy Building on the Georgia Tech campus in midtown Atlanta, positions McMillan to be responsive to industry needs and stay abreast of trends. It allows him to stay in touch with changing economic development needs throughout Georgia. 

Then Tuesday's dusting of snow over the region caused the kind of havoc usually reserved for big-budget feature films. An article by UGA Grady College (and Emory University) professor Rebecca Burns in Politico laid out the dire consequences of Atlanta's physical development:

Metro Atlanta’s patchwork of local governments is rooted in early Georgia history; the state has more counties—159—than any other in the country, save Texas. But while other metro areas strove to consolidate city and county operations in the mid-to late twentieth century, Atlanta grew more balkanized. In the 1970s, while then-mayor Richard Lugar helped to consolidate Indianapolis with Marion County, creating Unigov and making Indianapolis one of the largest cities in the country, the city of Atlanta witnessed an exodus of 160,000 people. The white flight of the 1960s and 1970s, triggered by integration of schools and housing, was followed by reverse migration as blacks from the Northeast and Midwest returned to the Atlanta region but opted to move into the suburbs of DeKalb, Fulton and Clayton counties. Atlanta the city, became—and despite a slow uptick in population, remains—the commercial district to which people commute from Atlanta, the suburbs.

So on Tuesday, as schools, businesses and governments, announced plans to close early, everyone who works in Atlanta headed for the freeways to get home or collect their children. In a press conference Wednesday morning, Mayor Reed reported that one million vehicles were part of the mass exodus from downtown. We’re not morons, Northerners: The problem was not one of Southerners’ inability to drive on icy roads, but of too many cars headed for congested highways.

Emphasis in the original. Granted, everyday is not an emergency of this magnitude. But every news report we read about the hours and hours trapped in cars on highways or children marooned all night in school cafeterias were all textbook exercises in burying the lede. People commuting 40 miles (often more) each way to work is the issue that can lead to majors problems such as those experienced Tuesday. The snow is atmospherics; any number of things can cause massive disruptions when a region is as tenuously connected as this one is.

To then speak of the very meritorious concept of economic development, the transportation/sprawl issue must be front and center. Past planning and politics have left no other choices. The issue has become more difficult, but will only grow more so. The very first step in connecting UGA and ATL should be a literal one, one that also connects all of communities in between.

Build the train.

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