Urban renovation projects stalled

Where am I going today? To the store, of course, to take advantage of the insanely cheap day-old Valentine’s Day merchandise. I mean, teddy bears holding gaudy lace hearts and gobs of candy wrapped in shiny red foil! All at ridiculous, rock-bottom prices! I’m so there… well; I would be, if only it took less time to get there. The closest store to me on my way home from my co-op commute would be the Publix in Midtown. Well shucks, the closure of Techwood Drive makes it much more difficult to access Midtown from the ever-bustling Connector, not to mention the dense traffic that was already clogging up the city’s roads even before the closures.

Atlanta is experiencing an urban renaissance of sorts. New developments all over the city (i.e. Atlantic Station, Lindbergh Center, etc.) have revitalized areas that people once deemed as useless land. High-rise condominiums are shooting up quicker than zits on a pubescent teenager’s face. People are starting to live and play in the city again, which is a refreshing change of pace.

But with the renewal of the city comes serious issues that need to be addressed, especially in regards to the ability of the city to sustain its residents. As the city evolves, the transportation infrastructure must evolve with it. I think that it is a given fact that the intense traffic can be attributed to the population distribution in the city and the lack of an extensive public transportation system to support it.

That’s why I am such a fan of the proposed Beltline, a transportation route developed nearly a decade ago in a Master’s thesis by one of Tech’s own. The proposal utilizes existing train tracks in a loop around the core areas of downtown, providing a very much-needed link between the neighborhoods on the fringe of the city. Additionally, the Beltline would provide more green space and parks to be used by the residents.

I applaud the City of Atlanta for realizing the need for such a system, and hats off to them for taking this proposal into serious consideration. Current Atlanta mayor Shirley Franklin is one of the biggest supporters of the Beltline. The proposed transit lines could help alleviate the worsening traffic situation in Atlanta.

However, the progress of the project was recently stifled by Georgia Supreme Court ruling stating that tax allocation district (TAD) funds could not be used to fund the Beltline. TADs, implemented in 1985, are used to provide public aid to many redevelopment projects, the most notable recent one being the Atlantic Station community.

The controversy arose because the ruling disallowed school taxes, which comprise a good bit of TAD revenues, from being used for projects not directly related to schools. This means that several redevelopment projects will be halted and possibly even cancelled due to the sudden withdrawal of public funding.

I personally find that notion, much like the clearance V-Day merchandise, a bit ridiculous. Atlanta has struggled for many years to become a world-class city with rich culture, a booming economy and solid infrastructure to back it all up. Why are projects so vital to the city’s growth being tangled in a web of bureaucracy?

Don’t get me wrong, I love public education and would not want to detract from the quality of education in any way. But I do think that city lawmakers need to reconsider the restrictions that they have placed on the revenue from the TADs.

It does not make sense to cut so much public funding from projects that are largely responsible for spurring the city’s ailing economy. TADs have been around for many years not only in Atlanta, but also all over the nation. The funds are directly responsible for acting as catalysts to areas and regional economies that people once thought were hopeless. Additionally, the projects have widespread community support; the residents should ultimately decide how their tax dollars are spent.

Instead of cutting the school component of TAD funding all together, the city should reallocate the funds where most needed. Obviously schools were not using any of the money that went to city redevelopment projects, so any type of reallocation would be an improvement on the current education financial situation.

It is silly to give the school systems an exorbitant amount of money while choking the progress of infrastructural improvements in the city. Lawmakers need to think about what is best for the city as a whole instead of getting hung up on things that will keep Atlanta from progressing into a destination for business, tourism and an all-around high quality of living.