COMMENTARY | The City of Atlanta has several problem areas that should be addressed over the course of 2013. Most of these are problems that are not new to the city, but they need to be addressed soon. Here are three of the most pressing.
Need for Water
Like the rest of the country, Atlanta has a water shortage. The city keeps getting bigger, but the water supplies are shrinking. The city, like the rest of the state, has focused for so long on expensive court battles with neighboring states (Georgia is fighting Alabama and Florida and will soon pick a fight with Tennessee). But hoping for a win in court is not a long-term solution.
The solution: In an interview with WSBTV last year, Atlanta Regional Commissioner Tad Leithead pointed out that the city only captures 1 trillion of the 50 trillion gallons of water that fall on Georgia. Focusing on water problems may not sound sexy for politicians, but former Atlanta mayor Shirley Franklin did well in approval ratings for fixing the city's sewer system.
Too Much Traffic
For years, Atlanta has struggled with having too many cars on the road. In addition to slowing traffic, lengthening commutes, and costing businesses work time and customers, the result has been an environmental catastrophe. Of all the major cities, Atlanta can most clearly blame its smog on having too many cars (other cities can blame geography like hills, elevation, etc.), as well as one of the nation's worst commutes.
The solution: In 2012, Georgia voters rejected a transportation tax that might have helped reduce congestion, even though other states like Colorado have boosted public transportation initiatives. Atlanta already has a decent public transportation system in MARTA, but there's only so much it can do. Perhaps it is time to experiment with the self-driving cars that Google is working on. It would not only reduce transportation if a carpool system can be worked out, but there would also be less work time lost if Wi-Fi were available in these. Plus, these cars run on clean energy, which would reduce the smog problems and burnish the city's image of being a forward-looking town. Money spent now will reduce costs in the future, enabling the city to manage its debt.
Get more information: Find out more about Atlanta's ozone hazards from the Atlanta Regional Commission, and learn how those self-driving cars work.
Schools Need to Improve
Atlanta joined many other cities and counties that had cheating scandals in schools with one that emerged in 2011. However, in 2012, it was difficult to say what improvements had been made. Much of the debate has devolved into the usual demands of more penalties for teachers and opinions that there needs to be more accountability. But none of them really solve the problem, since the entire system is the problem. There's too much teaching to the test and too many disinterested parents and students who believe they'll be passed ahead no matter what they do, as the Freakonomics folks found.
The solution: Just as many states are pushing for flexibility from the system known as the No Child Left Behind Act, the City of Atlanta needs to do so, as well. Otherwise, you could cycle in teachers and administrators with few chances for results. And now that charter schools won in the 2012 election, figure out how to have these provide something different, like one having a special focus on arts, theater, and music, while another tackles vocational opportunities, etc., the way LaGrange (an hour from downtown Atlanta) is having a charter school focus on manufacturing, partnering up with the local Kia Plant.
John A. Tures is an associate professor of political science at LaGrange College in LaGrange, Georgia. He has written on problems and solutions for Atlanta for Southern Political Report, in addition to writing for LaGrange Daily News and providing guest columns for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer.